The Section 301 Investigation against China Divides the U.S. Textile Industry and U.S. Fashion Brands and Retailers

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On April 3, 2018, the U.S. Trade Representative Office (USTR) released the proposed list of Chinese products to be subject to the retaliatory tariff under the Section 301 action. The proposed list covers approximately 1,300 separate tariff lines, including textile machinery. However, textile and apparel (HS chapters 50 to 63) were not on the list.

USTR says it will make a final decision on whether to implement the proposed tariff action after a public hearing process scheduled at around May 15, 2018. Most U.S.-based textile and apparel industry associated have submitted their public comments regarding the section 301 investigation. Because of their respective commercial interests, not surprisingly, the U.S. textile industry favors the retaliatory tariffs on imports from China whereas U.S. fashion brands and retailers oppose the action strongly. Specifically:

National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO)

  • NCTO applauds the Trump Administration’s formal initiation of a Section 301 case designed to address China’s persistent and highly damaging actions in the area of intellectual property theft. NCTO argues that illegal activity on the part of the government of China has gone on for far too long, at the direct expense of U.S. manufacturers and the loss of millions of U.S. manufacturing jobs.
  • The U.S. textile industry is severely disappointed that the retaliation list published by USTR on April 3 does not contain a single textile or apparel product.
  • NCTO argues that China’s illegal IPR activities have damaged the U.S. textile industry and recommend that textile and apparel products be added to the retaliation list.

The United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA)

  • USFIA opposes adding apparel (items classifiable under chapters 61 and 62 of the HTSUS) and other fashion products (such as footwear, handbags, and luggage) to the retaliation list against China.
  • USFIA argues that tariffs are NOT the appropriate mechanism to redress the activities outlined in USTR’s report to the White House. Imposing tariffs on imports of fashion products would do nothing to solve the concerns about China’s IP policies and practices outlined in USTR’s Section 301 report.
  • USFIA believes that the best way to address concerns about China’s IPR practices is action at the multilateral level that includes other US trading partners.

American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA)

  • AAFA strongly opposes the proposed imposition of tariffs on textile, apparel, and footwear equipment and machinery as this will result in increased costs for AAFA members who are making yarns, fabrics, clothes, and shoes in the United States.
  • AAFA believes that a tariff on textile and apparel products would be a hidden tax on U.S. consumers, particularly since China represents such a large source of U.S. imports of these products.
  • AAFA strongly supports the Trump Administration’s efforts to improve the protection of intellectual property rights in China.

VF Sourcing Strategy Case Study Updates (May 2018)

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(Slide above: VF Corporation European Headquarter; Photo Credits: Hannah Wilson)

VF Business Operation General

V.F. Corporation (VF) designs, manufactures, distribute and market branded lifestyle apparel, footwear and accessories. The company offers Jeanswear, outdoor and action sports, image wear, sportswear and contemporary brands. The company markets its products under brands namely, the North Face, Wrangler, Timberland, Vans, Lee, and Nautica, among others. It sells its products to specialty stores, department stores, national chains and mass merchants, as well as through direct-to-consumer channel consisting of VF operated stores and internet sites.

VF reported revenue of $11.8 billion in 2017, down 4.6% over the fiscal year 2016. Gross margin% of the company improved from 48.3% in 2016 to 50.5% in 2017 as benefits from pricing, lower product costs, and a mix-shift toward higher margin businesses. However, gross margin% was partially offset by changes in foreign currency and the impact of restructuring charges. VF’s net income (net profit) substantially decreased by 42.8 percent to $615 million in 2017 from 2016 and net profit% also went down to 5.2% over the period. 

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VF Sourcing Strategy

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VF’s centralized global supply chain organization is responsible for producing, procuring and delivering products to its customers. On an annual basis, VF sources or produces approximately 473 million units spread across more than 30 brands. In 2017, VF’s products are obtained from its 21 self-operated manufacturing facilities and approximately 1,000 contractor manufacturing facilities in over 50 countries. No single supplier represents more than 10% of VF’s total cost of goods sold. In 2017, 23% of VF’s units were manufactured in VF-owned facilities (up from 22% in 2016) and 77% were obtained from independent contractors. 

VF operates manufacturing facilities in the U.S., Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Europe. A significant percentage of denim bottoms and occupational apparel is manufactured in these plants, as well as a smaller percentage of footwear and other products. 

For VF’s self-owned production facilities, VF purchases raw materials from numerous U.S. and international suppliers to meet their production needs. Raw materials include products made from cotton, leather, rubber, wool, synthetics, and blends of cotton and synthetic yarn, as well as thread and trim (product identification, buttons, zippers, snaps, eyelets, and laces). Products manufactured in VF facilities generally have a lower cost and shorter lead times than products procured from independent contractors.

Independent contractors generally own the raw materials and ship finished, ready-for-sale products to VF. These contractors are engaged through VF sourcing hubs in Hong Kong (with satellite offices across Asia) and Panama. These hubs are responsible for managing the manufacturing and procurement of product, supplier oversight, product quality assurance, sustainability within the supply chain, responsible sourcing and transportation and shipping functions. In addition, VF’s hubs leverage proprietary knowledge and technology to enable certain contractors to more effectively control costs and improve labor efficiency. Substantially all products in the Outdoor & Action Sports and Sportswear coalitions, as well as a portion of products for VF Jeanswear and Imagewear coalitions, are obtained through these sourcing hubs.

Products obtained from contractors in the Western Hemisphere generally have a higher cost than products obtained from contractors in Asia. However, contracting in the Western Hemisphere gives VF greater flexibility, shorter lead times and allows for lower inventory levels.

This combination of VF-owned and contracted production, along with different geographic regions and cost structures, provides a well-balanced, flexible approach to product sourcing. VF intends to continue to manage its supply chain from a global perspective and adjust as needed to changes in the global production environment (VF Annual Report, 2015, 2016, 2017).

“Third-Way” Sourcing Update

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VF has the goal of 40/40/20 for factory ownership. They want to own 40% of the factories they use, utilize the third-way approach in 40% of the factories, and use transactional sourcing for the other 20% (Glaser, 2014).

VF has expanded its Third-Way manufacturing program to sub-Sahara Africa, in addition to the third way factories VF works within Bangladesh, Cambodia, the Dominic Republic and Nicaragua. VF is looking into Africa because, while Africa may not be as efficient as Asia currently, there is potential to get it to 80% efficiency in the coming years. It could also be cheaper to source from Africa given the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) with the United States

Since its creation, VF has split its “Third-Way” factories into three different categories: light, medium, and heavy. Light Third-Way is having engineers consult with the factories and visit each week. The medium Third-Way involves having an engineer on site and a long-term commitment to the supplier from VF. Lastly, the heavy Third-Way involves profit-share and open book costing as well as sharing of research and development (R&D) (Barrie, 2015). 

Trust continues to be a central theme in Third-Way sourcing, as does having the right people on board with the initiative. VF also believes that any positive changes made to the factories because of the Third-Way program will ultimately help the whole industry and drive positive change, even if the changes are used for other companies that source from the same vendor (Barrie, 2015).

What Do You Take Away from FASH455?

 

I encourage everyone to watch the video above, which provides an excellent wrap-up for FASH455 and reminds us the meaning and significance of our course. The names of several experts featured in the video should sound familiar to you too, including David Spooner (former U.S. Chief Textile Negotiator and Assistant Secretary of Commerce), Julia Hughes (president of the US Fashion Industry Association) and Auggie Tantillo (president of the National Council of Textile Organizations).

First of all, I hope students can take away essential knowledge about textile and apparel (T&A) trade & sourcing from FASH455. As you may recall from the video, in FASH455 we’ve examined the phenomenon of globalization and its implications; we also discussed various trade theories and the general pattern of the evolution of T&A industry in a country’s industrialization process; we further explored three primary T&A supply chains in the world (namely the Western-Hemisphere supply chain, “Factory Asia” supply chain based on the flying geese model and the phenomenon of intra-region T&A trade in Europe); last but not least, we looked at trade policies that are unique to the T&A sector (e.g.,: tariff, the quota system, and the yarn-forward rules of origin) as well as the complicated economic, social and political factors behind the making of these trade policies. No matter your dream job is to be a fashion designer, buyer, merchandiser, sourcing specialist or marketing analyst, understanding how trade and sourcing work will be highly relevant and beneficial to your future career given the global nature of today’s fashion industry.

Second, I hope FASH455 helps students shape a big picture vision of the T&A industry in the 21st-century world economy and provides students a fresh new perspective of looking at the world. Throughout the semester, we’ve examined many critical, timely and pressing global agendas that are highly relevant to the T&A industry, from apparel companies’ social responsibility practices, the debate on the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and Trump Administration’s trade policy agenda to the controversy of second-hand clothing trade. It is critical to keep in mind that we wear more than just clothes: We also wear the global economy, international business, public policy and trade politics that make affordable, fashionable, and safe clothes possible and available for hardworking families. This is also the message from many of our distinguished guest speakers this semester, and I do hope you find these special learning events enlightening and inspiring.

Likewise, I hope FASH455 can put students into thinking the meaning of being a FASH major (as well as a college graduate) and how to contribute to the world we are living today positively. A popular misconception is that T&A is just about “sewing,” “fashion magazine,” “shopping” and “Project Runway.” In fact, as one of the largest and most economically influential sectors in the world today, T&A industry plays a critical and unique role in creating jobs, promoting economic development, enhancing human development and reducing poverty. As we mentioned in the class, globally over 120 million people remain directly employed in the T&A industry, a good proportion of whom are females living in poor rural areas. For most developing countries, T&A usually accounts for 70%–90% of their total merchandise exports and provide one of the very few opportunities for these countries to participate in globalization. Indeed, T&A is such an impactful sector, and we are as important as any other majors on the campus!

Last but not least, I hope from taking FASH455, students can take away meaningful questions that can inspire their future study and even life’s pursuit. For example:

  • How to make the growth of global textile and apparel trade more inclusive and equal?
  • How can trade policy promote and support textile and apparel manufacturing in the United States?
  • How to make sure that tragedies like the Rana Plaza building collapse will never happen again?
  • How will automation in apparel manufacturing change the future landscape of apparel sourcing?
  • How to use trade policy as a tool to solve some tough global issues such as labor practices and environmental standard?
  • Is inequality a problem caused by global trade? If global trade is the problem, what is the alternative?

These questions have no good answers yet. But they are waiting for you, the young professional and the new generation of leaders, to write the history, based on your knowledge, wisdom, responsibility, courage, and creativity!

So what do you take away from FASH455? Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments.