USITC Releases New Study on the State of the U.S. Textile and Apparel Manufacturing Sector

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A recent study released by the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) provides a comprehensive review and valuable insights into the state of textile and apparel manufacturing in the United States. According to the study:

First,  data suggests a mixed picture of the recovery of textile manufacturing in the U.S.

  • Total capital expenditures in plants and equipment for the textile sector increased by 36 percent in the 2013–16 period. Interesting enough, much of the new investment is by foreign firms, including new investments by Chinese and Indian firms, as well as by firms from Mexico, Canada, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia.
  • U.S. textile shipments increased in 2017 to $39.6 billion, but remained 3 percent below the 2013 level. The result suggests that rather than simply increasing capacity, some of the new investment is likely replacing existing equipment, as firms upgrade and modernize their manufacturing processes and/or focus their operations on different products. [Note: shipments measure the dollar value of products sold by manufacturing establishments and are based on net selling values, f.o.b. (free on board) plant, after discounts and allowances are excluded]
  • At $10.6 billion, U.S. textile exports in 2017 were also below the five-year high of $12.1 billion in 2014.
  • Employment in the textiles sector declined by 4 percent from 131,000 in 2013 to an estimated 126,000 in 2017. Meanwhile, official data on labor productivity index for yarns and fabrics show steady declines during 2013–16.

Second, some evidence suggests that reshoring has taken place in recent years in the apparel sector, although on a modest scale.

  • For the 2013–16 period, capital expenditures were up 5 percent to $301 million, suggesting capital investment in the apparel sector may be increasing, as the industry begins to adopt more labor-saving technologies.
  • Domestic shipments of apparel showed modest increases in the past two years, reaching $12.0 billion in 2016 and $12.5 billion in 2017, after a record low of $11.5 billion in 2014 and 2015.
  • Employment in the apparel sector steadily declined during 2013–17, down 21 percent from 145,000 workers in 2013 to 120,000 workers in 2017. Official data on labor productivity also showed steady declines during 2013–16.
  • U.S. fashion companies continue to source apparel from the United States, although in a relatively small amount.

Third, the advantages of making textiles and apparel in the United States include:

  • Advantages of producing textiles in the United States include local and state incentives for investment, and the benefits afforded by free trade agreement (FTA) preferences (i.e., the “yarn-forward” rules of origin) that encourage the use of U.S.-produced inputs in downstream production in FTA partner countries, energy cost and the availability and reliability of high-quality cotton. Meanwhile, product innovation and automation are important aspects of the U.S. textile sector’s competitiveness strategy.
  • Advantages of producing apparel in the United States include improved lead times, better quality control, and more flexible production. Many domestically made products also use “Made in USA” branding to capitalize on the buy-American trend and the appeal of “Made in USA.” The adoption of various automation and digital technologies to accelerate the process of product development, improve the fit of the final product and reduce the needs for skilled sewing operators may also help improve the competitiveness.  

Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

13 thoughts on “USITC Releases New Study on the State of the U.S. Textile and Apparel Manufacturing Sector”

  1. Its interesting that the cause of increase in US textile shipments could be because of replacing existing equipment- rather than increasing capacity like I thought, as firms upgrade and modernize their manufacturing processes. It also questions me as to why US textile exports in 2017 have not surpassed numbers from 2014?

    1. great question! The authors of the report and I were just talking about the trade issues this morning. My view is–it is true that “U.S. textile exports in 2017 were below the five-year high of $12.1 billion in 2014.” However, both the value of world trade in merchandise and the value of world trade in textiles suffered a notable decline during that period too. For example, according to WTO, the value of world textile exports in 2016 was only 94% of the level in 2013; this ratio was 92% for the U.S.. So I don’t think the US is losing competitiveness in textile exports. On the other hand, it can be helpful to check the trade flows at the disaggregated product level.

  2. I think it is interesting that the US textile and apparel industry is showing mixed picture, but the US is still strong and present in producing textiles. Textile shipments increased in 2017, but are still 3% lower than shipments in 2015; this is due to the upgrading the machinery and modernizing processes. A steady decline in employment doesn’t always goes hand in hand with a decline in productivity, which is being shown in the US. More efficient production means more clothing being produced in the same amount of time as the older processes. If there are more efficient machinery and less employees, why are companies not shipping enough to reach the 2014 numbers?

    Also, producing textiles in the US is still competitive and a strong industry. Brands want to have the “Made in USA” on their labels for a competitive advantage because of the appeal of having clothing from the US. Is the better time, quality, and organization of producing clothing is keeping the clothing made in USA alive? Or is it all due to brands capitalizing on the “Made in USA” trend that appeals to a lot of citizens?

    1. great thoughts! Referring to your first point, here is the tricky thing that I found: according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), the value added in the US textile industry (NAICS 313+314) has been growing steadily whereas the value added in the US apparel industry (NAICS 315) fell to a record low in 2017. So the selection of economic indicators may affect the outcomes.

      On the other hand, personally, I am still cautious about the sizable return of apparel “Made in USA” unless the production can be largely automated. Particularly, it doesn’t seem US fashion brands and retailers are interested in shifting their business models back to manufacturing (or they didn’t show interest in investing the manufacturing capacity).

  3. I think its great that the U.S. is making and exporting products again. According to the data it seems that the U.S. has fallen way behind in recent years and it might take a little while to get back to the numbers we saw a few years ago but I think the U.S. is moving in the right direction. Having something say “Made in the U.S.A” is still rare today but I know when people see those labels they feel like they are supporting their countries economy so I think that people will eventually start to prefer to buy products that were strictly made in the U.S. and hopefully that can strengthen the U.S. market.

  4. I think that is is interesting that though the number of shipments increased in 2017 that they are still lower than shipments in 2015. This is because companies are working on upgrading and modernizing the process of the textile industry. They are lower by 3% due to this. This is something that I think will increase over time, that the number of exports will meet the numbers from 2014 and even surpass them. This I believe will happen due to the increase in technology. Technology increases efficiency and speed when it comes to the T&A industry allowing the U.S to meet the 2014 number of exports. Something I also found interesting about this article is the benefits that are included for local and state incentives by the FTA that encourages the use of U.S produced inputs in downstream production. Product innovation and automation are important aspects of the U.S textile sectors competitiveness strategy as well. I think that with all this in place the U.S will have no problem meeting and surpassing that textile exports of 2014.

    1. Just a note that “Shipment” here means the value of sales. Why do you think ‘upgrading” and “modernizing” will necessarily result in a lower /higher shipment? Also, what makes you reach the conclusion that “in place, the U.S will have no problem meeting and surpassing that textile exports of 2014.”?

  5. I think it is definitely important that the US is getting back into the manufacturing industry because we have definitely been over powered by other countries recently. It has become so much cheaper to get things made in other countries so the US has stepped back. People rarely own things that are made in the US so this will definitely help us get back into the global trade industry and keep us relevant.

  6. I believe that it will be beneficial for America to rejoin the Textile & Apparel manufacturing industry in a bigger way. Although the industry was never fully out of America, we did see a major decrease in American T&A manufacturing due to overseas manufacturing being more inexpensive and more efficient. However, I am glad that America will once again regain a share of the industry. Not only will it be great for creating more jobs, but it will also most likely mean more sustainable manufacturing. Many small businesses in America that are focused on sustainability manufacture in America so that they can constantly be in contact with the factories and work with them to be socially responsible.

  7. I’m not surprised by the fact that statistics show a drop in various regions in America’s T&A industry because in reality that’s not what we’re known for. I’m glad to see that we are slowly building up again and have maintained some spot in the T&A industries light, but I don’t think it will grow at the rate expected or wanted. I know there is a current push for manufacturing to be brought back to the US for apparel and textiles but I don’t see it happening, and I think these numbers support it. We don’t have the man power, skills, or local resources to maintain a large role like many want for the US. There does need to be some kind of increase but I think looking at the overall picture and our relationships with others is key to that, not just focusing on the US alone.

  8. We know from discussing in class that the U.S. never completely stopped manufacturing domestically, but I think it will be very beneficial that the U.S. is increasing its textile and apparel manufacturing. It will allow the U.S. to remain more competitive with other manufacturing countries and while I don’t see the growth to happen largely over a short period of time I think it will eventually be realized and help the country regain more control over the T&A industry.

  9. It was interesting to read about the mixed picture of the recovery of textile manufacturing in the US and reshoring. After reading through the first two sections, as well as the third section about the advantages of still making textiles and apparel in the US, it makes me wonder what will be the outcomes in 5-10 years from now. In the recovery of textiles section and the reshoring section, it mentions how employment has declined in the textiles and apparel sector. Then, once reading about the innovations, automations, and various digital technologies in the advantages of making textiles and apparel in the US, it made sense as to why employment would go down. That leaves me to wonder, how beneficial will automation and machinery be to the US 5-10 years from now? Yes, I understand it will save time and energy to make products, but if it’s going to cost people jobs, won’t the economy go down and will it still be considered an advantage?

  10. I believe that it is important for America to become more involved in the textile and apparel industry, however I think that there are other jobs that can be filled in addition to production that can help to stimulate the economy, while also helping global economies. If America cuts out trade completely, it is likely that other countries will suffer, but there must be a middle ground in which both America and other countries can thrive.

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