Pattern of U.S. Textile and Apparel Imports (Updated: February 2018)

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The value of U.S. textile imports reached $25,706 million in 2017, up 7.2 percent from 2016 and 77.8 percent from 2000. The value of U.S. apparel imports reached $80,287 million in 2017, slightly down 0.5 percent from a year earlier and up 40.3 percent from 2000.  It is estimated that the value of U.S. textile and apparel imports could change between -2.2% and 7.6% and between -1.2% and 5.3% respectively in 2018.

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Because the United States is no longer a major apparel manufacturer but one of the largest apparel consumption markets in the world, apparel products accounted for 75.7 percent of total U.S. textile and apparel imports in 2017, followed by made-up textiles (17.4 percent), fabrics (5.7 percent) and yarns (1.2percent). This structure has remained stable over the past decade.

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The U.S. imported apparel from as many as 150 countries in 2017. Meanwhile, the Herfindahl index declined from 0.17 in 2010 to 0.15 in 2017, suggesting that overall the U.S. apparel import market is becoming less concentrated. This result is consistent with some recent studies, which show that U.S. fashion brands and retailers continue to diversify their sourcing bases gradually. Specifically, all top apparel suppliers to the United States in 2017 (by value) were developing countries and most of them are located in Asia, including China (33.7 percent), Vietnam (14.4 percent), Bangladesh (6.3 percent), Indonesia (5.7 percent), India (4.6 percent) and Mexico (4.5 percent).

On the other hand, despite the uncertain prospect of the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the U.S. apparel imports from Mexico and Canada enjoyed a robust growth of 5.3 percent and 7.7 percent respectively in 2017 from a year earlier. The result confirms the increasing importance of “speed to market” in U.S. fashion apparel companies’ sourcing decisions and the growing popularity of “near-sourcing.”

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U.S. textile and apparel imports are also becoming even cheaper. For example, U.S. apparel imports in 2017 on average was only 81.1 percent of the price in 1990 and the price of imported fabrics cut nearly by half over the same period.

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Additionally, U.S. apparel imports overall mirror the pattern of apparel retail sales in the U.S. market. This pattern reflects the fact that the performance of the U.S. economy is the leading factor shaping the size of demand for imported apparel. Notably, between 2010 and 2017, the value of U.S. apparel imports grew relatively faster than the value of U.S. apparel retail sales (3.2 percent vs 3.1 percent annually on average). The result suggests that a growing share of apparel products consumed in the United States now come from overseas.

Data source: Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA), U.S. Department of Commerce

By Sheng Lu

Additional reading: Lu, S. (2018). Four key patterns in U.S. apparel imports. Just-Style

Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

4 thoughts on “Pattern of U.S. Textile and Apparel Imports (Updated: February 2018)”

  1. This was an interesting article to read right before graduating and becoming an industry member. I believe its vital to understand the different growing trends of the US Textile and Apparel Industry before going into a career where you could make contributions to these trends, or make solutions to dull the trends. One statistic in particular that stood out to me was that ” U.S. apparel imports overall mirror the pattern of apparel retail sales in the U.S. market”. I found this intriguing because I always assumed with the constant talk of how the US should focus on making more textiles and apparel within our country, that the retail sales would boost. Its interesting to me that there is interest in foreign apparel products although there is such a verbalized need for in country production from higher leaders of our nation.

    1. This can be linked to another phenomenon that us trade deficit expands when the economy grows fast. Demand drives imports.

  2. As the NAFTA is currently being renegotiation under the Trump administration I am anticipating how this will affect US apparel imports. Trade with Mexico and Canada under the NAFTA allows US apparel companies to outsource their products but also have speedy production lead times. I think that US trade with Mexico and Canada has progressively increased as fast fashion has driven the market. Fast fashion companies demand speed to market with short lead times between the design of the product to its arrival in stores that factories in Mexico and Canada “nearby” sourcing can provide. I am curious to see how these negotiations will ultimately affect consumers through fashion trends and product pricing.

  3. Despite the fact that NAFTA is currently being renegotiated, I found it interesting that U.S. imports from Mexico and Canada are still on the rise. Additionally, even though the U.S. has decreasing exports, they are beginning to diversify their imports, which may have future repercussions. I am interested to see how these factors play into the U.S.’s newer role of being a top apparel/textile consumer and not manufacturer.

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