State of the U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry: Output, Employment, and Trade Patterns (Updated March 2019)

The size of the U.S. textile and apparel industry has significantly shrunk over the past decades. However, U.S. textile manufacturing is gradually coming back. Notably, the value added of U.S. textile manufacturing reached $18.88 billion in 2017, the highest level since 2009.

Nevertheless, the share of U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing in the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) dropped to only 0.15% in 2017 from 0.57% in 1998, as the case in most advanced economies with a mature industrial system.

It is also important to note that U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing is changing in nature. For example, textiles had accounted for over 80% of the total output of the U.S. textile and apparel industry as of 2017, up from around 50% in the late 1990s. Meanwhile, clothing had only accounted for 12% of the total U.S. fiber consumption in 2012 (the latest data available), whereas the manufacturing of non-apparel textile products in the United States, such as industrial and technical textiles, has been growing particularly fast over the past decade.

Manufacturing jobs are NOT coming back to the U.S. textile and apparel industry. In 2018, U.S. textile manufacturing (NAICS 313 and 314) and apparel manufacturing (NAICS 315) lost 2,100 and 4,800 jobs respectively. However, improved productivity is one critical factor behind the job losses.

Regarding international trade, the United States remains a leading textile exporter and apparel importer overall. Interesting enough, both the value of U.S. textile and apparel imports enjoyed much faster growth in 2018 than in the previous years. Notably, for the first time since 2001, the U.S. textile sector (NAICS 313) experienced a trade deficit ($172 million) rather than a trade surplus. Meanwhile, the U.S. trade deficit in apparel (NAICS 315) reached $86,097 million in 2018, up nearly 6% from a year ago. These unusual trade patterns could be partially affected by the U.S.-China tariff war, which didn’t seem to be helpful with solving the trade deficit concerns.

by Sheng Lu

Related reading:

Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

16 thoughts on “State of the U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry: Output, Employment, and Trade Patterns (Updated March 2019)”

  1. It makes sense to me that the U.S. retail industry is in a trade deficit – almost all of the clothes sold in the United States to consumers are produced/manufactured overseas in developing countries. We are constantly importing billions of dollars worth of clothes from these countries, while exporting almost no apparel products.

  2. I find it surprising that the U.S. textile industry reached $18.88 billion in 2017. In class, we discussed that over the last couple decades the US textile and apparel industries have significantly declined. This makes the sudden incline to be shocking. Since the United States has improved their productivity this has negatively impacted jobs in the country. The article states that “in 2018, U.S. textile manufacturing an apparel manufacturing lost 2,100 and 4,400 job respectively”. This could be caused by the high number of textiles and apparel we import. If we import products that we can make, than we are giving away jobs. Although, this would come at a higher cost.

    1. I agree with Jesse’s thoughts on the shocking news that the industry is experiencing an incline. The patterns explained in this article are due to the United States’ exports and imports. The more that the US imports the less jobs it has to offer since the production within the US borders has been declining. Prices are too high within the US to efficiently use US factories to make apparel. The US market is not suited to manufacture the high volume of apparel that the US does overseas.

  3. After reading the statistics in this post, I am very intrigued to learn that U.S. apparel manufacturing is on the incline. Throughout the past two decades there has been a major decrease in apparel manufacturing in the U.S.. It is very rare to see a label that says, “Made in the USA,” due to the fact that a large majority of our clothing today is sourced internationally due to the low cost of production. I think it is pretty amazing that the U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing industry rose from $15.3 billion in 2009 to $18.88 billion in 2017. Although the U.S. is a textile exporter and apparel importer, it would be amazing to see the U.S. begin to manufacture more of our own apparel products- this could help our economy and help create new jobs.

    1. I completely agree with this comment, as I was also excited to learn that the US was the leader of manufacturing. It is rare to see a “made in the USA” label and I think many consumers just believe that most of our apparel are made internationally and may not know how well the US apparel manufacturing is doing.

  4. Seeing as the U.S. textile and apparel industries have been declining steadily over the last few decades, it is interesting to see that U.S. textile production is increasing. This is due to the increases in technology that make the U.S. more capable of textile production. The U.S. depends heavily on Asia and for their apparel imports, decreasing the need for U.S. apparel manufacturing. Due to the reliance on developing countries, U.S. manufacturing jobs are decreasing. U.S. jobs regarding textile production would also decrease due to the technological advances that eliminate jobs.

  5. Although the US T&A industry has shrunk over the past decade, I was not surprised to hear that textile manufacturing in the US is gradually increasing because of the change in its nature. As technology increases and textiles are most often created using technology, it makes sense that there has been an increase in textile manufacturing. On the same token, it makes sense that manufacturing jobs are not returning to the US because those jobs are often times more labor intensive. Manufacturing jobs in the US are less likely due to labor costs. In relation to that, the US is still a leading textile exporter and apparel importer. I was not surprised by this information because it supports the theories of developing and developed countries involvement in the T&A industry.

  6. I think that the United States is in a great place being the “leading textile exporter and apparel importer overall” in terms of international trade. I believe that this gives the nation power and exclusivity and can leverage better negotiations with this applied status. While the nation has experienced a trade deficit for the first time in a while, I do believe that the country can get trade back up to a surplus hopefully soon.

  7. US Textile and apparel companies should care about the trade dispute because this directly affects the cost of their manufacturing. As tariffs continue to rise, the balance sheets will not be profitable and end up costing the company more to produce than to sell the goods. When the prices eventually get too high, they will need to find new places to source their products for cheaper. In the long run if they do not find new places to source their products or start to source them in the United States then they will lose customers because prices will be to high.

    1. I agree, the U.S. fashion market currently relies heavily on fast fashion and cheap production and while although these methods of producing clothing is not the best or sustainable, it is what the clothing market in the U.S. is based around.

  8. It is no surprise that the textile industry is growing while the apparel industry is shrinking. Between automation and trade policies, these initiatives are at the expense of the apparel industry. For example, the ‘yarn forward’ rule would raise prices for apparel brands and customers, but benefit textile manufacturers within NAFTA regions. In addition, there has been an increase in job loss under this sector because production is becoming automated. This also supports the point that the nature of textiles is changing because manual labor is diminishing.

  9. It is very interesting to see these graphs and charts that prove that the textile industry is growing and apparel manufacturing is shrinking in the US. We have learned that this is due to the fact that textile manufacturing is capital intensive and we have the resources here to produce textiles. However, we outsource apparel because it is labor intensive and third world countries have those resources. Both industries, however, are producing more output with a steady amount of labor due to the fact that technology is helping and resources are becoming more efficient.

  10. In this article it is stated that although manufacturing jobs are decreasing exponentially, production is rising. This is also stated in Case Study 3: Perverse Effects and Unintended Consequences of T-Shirt Trade Policy. This was confusing to the first factory workers who started losing their jobs in 2007-2008, as well as textile manufacturers who had to close their factory doors. They ended up pointing fingers at countries like China and other foreign competitors, and many presidential candidates/US government officials began to promise to “bring jobs back to America,” but foreign competition wasn’t the problem. Factory jobs all over the world were being wiped away because of the growing technology and innovation in the textile/apparel industry. We still see this happening and although it is at the cost of laid-off workers, productivity has been level or rising for quite some time. The problem is that now, since textile manufacturing is capital-intensive, it requires workers with more skills, qualifications, and education to get the job done – which many factory workers don’t have, and it’s not like getting post-secondary education in America is easy or cheap.

  11. It is not surprising to me that while the apparel industry is shrinking the textile industry continues to grow. With the addition of the “yarn forward”rule, prices of apparel for both the brands and the customers would continue to rise. I also thought it was interesting that the nature of textiles is continuing to change because of the decrease in manual labor.

  12. I was surprised that the United States is a leading textile exporter. I know that the United States produces textiles domestically, but I did not realize that they export more textiles than other competing countries. I did not find it shocking the amount of apparel the United States imports, as fast fashion has been on the uprise within the U.S. in recent years. I additionally found it very interesting that the United States has been experiencing increases in apparel manufacturing. I would have imagined U.S. apparel brands to seek clothing from other countries to be manufactured at lower costs.

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