The Evolving Sourcing Strategies of U.S. Fashion Apparel Companies: Discussion Questions from FASH455

#1 Do you think it is a good move for companies to embrace the “China plus Vietnam plus Many” sourcing strategy, especially after learning about the working conditions in developing countries such as Bangladesh? Do you think this could backfire on companies?

#2 Why or why not do you think sourcing from Asia will become less attractive relative to sourcing from the Western Hemisphere due to the increasing importance of “speed to market” in U.S. fashion apparel companies’ sourcing decisions?

#3 As sustainability becomes more prevalent throughout the fashion industry, will there be a way to lower costs, while still creating garments that are better for the environment, and have transparency with consumers about factory conditions? Why?

#4 According to the article, “more and more well paid and high quality jobs in the US fashion industry will depend on international trade and the global value chain.” How do you feel about the quality of the US fashion industry depending so heavily on factors outside of the US? Do you see this changing in the future, and if so explain how.

#5 Most U.S. apparel companies have already shifted their businesses to non-manufacturing activities such as design, branding, sourcing and retailing. Is it still meaningful to give so much attention to apparel manufacturing in the U.S.?

#6 When purchasing your garments from either online stores or brick-and-mortar stores, do you look to see what country your goods are produced in and on a scale from 1 to 10 with 1 being the least important 10 being the most important, how significant is it to you to know where your goods are coming from and how much of a factor does that play into your buying decision?

#7 If it is predicted that more US fashion companies’ sourcing could be from nearshore due to automation technology, what would happen if they technology was implemented in a place where there were lower labor costs (for the people operating the machines)? Would the US continue to use nearby manufacturers or would they resort to wherever is cheaper?

#8 Do you think “made in the USA” apparel is truly telling the whole story of the supply chain? Do you think that it is truly more ethical? Or do you think it is just a way for retailers to charge more for apparel? If producing products in the U.S. is much more expensive than importing products from other countries, how are companies such as Walmart able to sell products with labels that say “Made in U.S.A”?

[For FASH455: 1) Please mention the question number in your comments; 2) Please address at least TWO questions in your comments]

Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

24 thoughts on “The Evolving Sourcing Strategies of U.S. Fashion Apparel Companies: Discussion Questions from FASH455”

  1. #6 To be quite honest, I have never really looked to see what countries clothing is produced in when purchasing them online or in stores. I think that my main priority has always been to find the cheapest garment that satisfies what I am looking for. However, since learning more about the global manufacturing chain in my classes, this is something I am really trying to work on. I think that it is important to know where my goods are coming from, and even though they have not been a large factor in my buying decisions in the past, I would like to change that in the future. Transparency is a huge thing that consumers want, and I’ve come to really respect and agree with the idea that retailers should be transparent for their consumers.

    #8 I do not think that “made in the USA” apparel is truly telling the whole story of the supply chain because retailers can put “made in the USA” labels if even the smallest piece of the product was made in the USA. I think this is unethical because it is leading consumers, who base their buying decisions heavily on where the product was made, to believe that these products are “made in the USA” when in reality, the majority of the product could have been made globally. I think it’s also unethical because companies can demand higher prices for these products because consumers are willing to pay more for them, so if the product was not truly “made in the USA”, then these consumers are being taken advantage of.

    1. #8 agreed – there are so many components involved in making a single garment, and all the pieces could come from a different country. The final product may be made in the USA, and that’s the only thing that counts for the label and that is the only thing the customer sees – average consumers don’t know much about the apparel supply chain industry. I also agree that made in the USA garments can be overpriced – even though American factory workers are treated better than those in Bangladesh, for example, working conditions still have the possibility to be bad or abusive, especially if employees are illegal immigrants or not full US citizens who don’t want to speak up in the chance that they will be deported for it.

  2. 6. When purchasing garments from either online stores or brick-and-mortar stores, do you look to see what country your goods are produced in? On a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being the least important, how significant is it to you to know where your goods are coming from and how much of a factor does that play into your buying decision?
    I find that I look to see where garments are from more so when shopping online, rather than in a brick-and-mortar stores. It is more convenient to scroll down on a website to look at the information and origin of the product, rather than searching for a tag on an actual garment. The origin of the products I buy would rate a 5 in importance to me, because my ultimate buying decision is based off of the quality of the product in comparison to its price. I am sometimes curious as to where the garment is manufactured, but I choose to buy a product if I believe the quality is of the value that the price is going to cost me.

    7. It is predicted that US fashion company’s sourcing could be from more nearshore manufacturers, due to automation technology. What would happen if the technology was implemented in a place where there were lower labor costs? Would the US continue to use nearby manufacturers or would they resort to wherever is cheaper?
    The US would continue to manufacturer with nearby automation technology, because the speed to market would be faster than that of cheaper labor countries. If both manufacturing locations, nearshore and lower labor-costing, were using automation technology, the decision for the US could more heavily be weighted on speed to market. The fashion industry today is changing everyday and exponentially getting faster with the influence of social media. It would be more beneficial for US fashion companies to use automation technology to manufacture products nearby, so they would be able to get products to customers faster and at a more accurate time for the product to be in the market.

    1. 6. I agree that it’s easier to only look at the country when online shopping. I think that is especially interesting because more and more people shop online nowadays. So what other information should be provided online to help make the consumer make an informed decision that is not there already? However, I find that I typically look at the tag to see what it is made of and the care instructions as well, even when shopping in brick and mortar stores because I want to know how I have to care for an item before I purchase it. As a result, I end up looking at where it was made.

    2. 6. I definitely agree that its easier to see the garment origins when shopping online, and this also could be important if you are shopping on a cite you haven’t been on before, because it could reflect the quality of the garment. I also tend not to look at the garment label for a country when shopping in stores, since it doesn’t tend to affect if I want the product or not as much as factors such as price do.

  3. #2 Sourcing in Asia is slowing in popularity because of the rise in labor costs in countries like China and Vietnam (with the exception of Bangladesh). Additionally, “speed to market” is significant regarding fast fashion and 1) how consumers want their clothes immediately and don’t want to pay high shipping costs to quickly ship clothes across the globe, and 2) how quickly trends go in and out of style – if retailers want to be successful, they must forecast as closely as possible the amount of inventory of a certain garment/style so that it is available for customers while it’s hot, and is not taking up space as surplus merchandise when it’s not.

    #6 Because of my fashion education, I have grown to be a more educated and aware consumer. I don’t have the means to buy only quality products that are made ethically, but instead I buy more expensive, high quality products I know are made ethically once every couple of years as an investment. I am definitely a smarter shopper than I was a few years ago, as well as a smarter consumer – I really want to be better at recycling and repurposing clothes I no longer care for, so I don’t have a massive closet.

    1. #6 I do agree with your point that I am able to pay more attention to important aspects of retail and products because of my education and awareness that I have gained throughout the years. I definitely think there is much more I can do for the environment and industry and will work towards that just like you.

  4. 6. Personally, I do not look at where my clothes come from until after I buy them and get curious about it, it is a bad habit that stems from being an uninformed consumer like most people in the market. I am purchasing less and less “fast fashion” and more garments that are better quality, last longer, and I am not purchasing clothes every time there is a new trend. After becoming more informed about labor practices in other countries I am definitely more likely to check where my clothes come from before I purchase them and make better, more informed decisions that I can hopefully spread to other people.
    8. I do not think “made in the USA” is telling the whole story, perhaps the textile itself is made in the US but, most likely not the entire product. That being said, I do not believe “made in the USA”= more ethical. I do not think that the label changes where the product was made or how it was made except, maybe a piece of it was constructed in the US. It is definitely possible that companies claim that a product is made in the USA to charge more and to make those that want more ethically produced products to purchase them. It shows that when Walmart sells cheap goods that are made in the USA, that maybe there is more to the story, and that it is not actually. This furthers my first point by saying that it is important to me that I make more informed decisions and research where my clothes come from, as should other people, especially if they want goods that are created in a socially responsible environment. Consumers cannot just take what they are given, it is important for them to research and find out the truth for themselves.

    1. 8. I definitely agree with your thoughts on “made in USA”, since we fashion students have learned that even if just the last pocket was sewed on in America, they can put the “made in USA” tag on it. It very well could have come from Bangladesh in a sweatshop where the minimum wage does not equal the living wage. In this case, obviously, the garment would not have been made sustainably.

    2. I agree. Between taking classes focusing on sustainability and conversation, I have started to veer away from “fast fashion” apparel. On a scale from 1 to 10, it is about an 8 when considering where our clothing comes from. Between Rana Plaza, child labor, etc. I avoid shopping at stores that are not transparent about their production process or are known for having poor working conditions. In a time when “fast fashion” is in such high demand, many companies will sacrifice ethics to meet these demands. Personally, I think the well – being of workers and the environmental impact from production far outweighs the need to follow trends.

  5. #3 Hopefully, as sustainability becomes more prevalent through the fashion industry, there will be a way to lower costs. Since fast fashion currently rules the industry, many companies and manufacturers are not employing sustainable techniques. However, if sustainability moved to the forefront for all companies, instead of just specific brands or outdoors companies, perhaps the methods and technology used to manufacture sustainable fashion could be improved due to the increased interest and use. With increased interest and use, there will be more invested in the technology needed to improve the manufacturing process.

    #7 I do not necessarily think that US fashion companies would resort to wherever it was cheaper if the technology was implemented in a place where there were lower labor costs for the people operating the machines. The US companies would have to consider other factors, like speed to market, tariffs, shipping costs, and compliance with rules and regulations. It is also important to consider the relationship a company has with a factory; it is important to build trust between the company and factory. If the current factory manufactures the products to the company’s standards at an efficient speed and complies with the company’s rules, it could be a difficult decision and bring upon new challenge to leave a positive relationship to enter business with a new factory further away just to pay them less money. A company would determine the best fit by looking at different pros and cons of the factories that adopted these machines at a lower labor cost. Lastly, it would depend on the company. A fast fashion company and outdoors company could have different perspectives and priorities. As a result, they would want different things from a manufacturer. While cost is definitely a priority, it is not the whole picture.

    1. great comment! Also, from our guest speaker, it seems fashion brands and retailers are NOT placing “all eggs in one basket”. Rather, they are using diversification to minimize the risks involved in sourcing and strike a balance among various sourcing factors, from cost, speed to market, flexibility to agility. I expect companies’ management system for sourcing will become ever more complicated and systematic.

  6. #3 I believe that in the future there will be such an advancement in technology that allows for sustainable methods and procedures to be actualized. I think there will be a merge of lower costs and sustainable garments and companies will want to be more transparent because they will be proud of their ability and consumers will have more interest in their products and ethics. Once this pricing becomes more and more popular, the price of sustainability will lower and trickle down.

    #8 “Made in the USA” apparel is not telling the whole story of the supply chain. I believe that there are two meanings of “Made in the USA,” one being that the product is completely made ans sourced in the USA, or that one single piece of the garment is made in the USA. This is the reason why this sort of marking is not the whole story. It could potentially be more ethical, but not all the time. I think it does add more face value to the product due to the high retail price that the product usually entails and the assumed thoughts people have of products made domestically. Producing products in the USA is more expensive compared to importing products from other countries, yet retailers like Walmart are able to sell products with this label because not all pieces and procedures have to be made in the USA. IT could be a single button from a pair of pants that allows the product to be “Made in the USA,” and for that reason, the price can be lower.

  7. #3 I do not think there is a way to simultaneously lower costs of production and create garments that are better for the environment. However, I do think it is possible to be more transparent with the consumer, without it costing the company too much. By taking small steps towards a more sustainable process, customers will become more attracted to the company and purchase more from them, further raising profits. I am hoping with the advancement of technology, our industry will continue to find ways to lower costs and create more sustainable garments.

  8. #6 In all honesty I never look at the tag to see where my clothing comes from. I am very price driven and generally head straight to the clearance section in stores or online. I think I should start to be more conscious of my purchasing behaviors and I think there are some companies out there who are making that easier. For instance, Everlane is extremely transparent about where and how they source their products. They also show you how they price. To me this is a good business strategy because I would be willing to pay the higher price they sell at because I can see where my product is coming from and why it is the price it is.

  9. 6. When I buy clothing, I don’t look at where it’s from and I’m usually not curious about it. It could be bad because this makes me and uninformed consumer like many other shoppers. I have been steering away from fast fashion and have been more into better quality, long lasting clothing. Now that I know more about labor practices in other countries, I am more likely to see where my clothing is from when I purchase them and make better decisions based on this.
    8. In my opinion, “Made in the USA” apparel is not telling the whole story of the supply chain. I think that there are two meanings of “Made in the USA,” which is that either the product is completely made and sourced in the USA, or that one single piece of the garment is made in the USA. In my opinion, it adds more value to the product due to the high retail price because of the assumption of the products production, since producing products in the USA is more expensive.

  10. #2. I think that sourcing from Asia will become less attractive with time. As the prices for sourcing within Asia continue to increase, production has began to shift to other locations. Additionally, producing in the Western Hemisphere is more attractive for US apparel companies because it allows their speed to market to become faster. This will allow for companies to produce trendier items and get them out to consumers as fast as possible. With cheaper costs and faster production, what more could US apparel companies want?

    #6. When I purchase garments, I unfortunately rarely look to see where they are being produced. I usually do not check because I often times base my purchase decisions off of price. As a college student, I do not have much money to spend on clothing so I tend to purchase things that are within my personal budget. I think that it is important to know where clothes are being produced and it should definitely be something that I, as a consumer, should be more careful about. On a scale, I would say it is probably around a 3 for me. I sometimes look at the labels out of curiosity, but if an item is poor quality I am less likely to spend money on it, regardless of the price.

  11. #3
    There will eventually be a way to lower costs with creating sustainable garments in the fashion industry, but as of right now, this is a difficult task that manufacturers are having problems with. Since these textiles and materials are more expensive to produce, it has become difficult for manufacturers to find a way to keep the production costs low while making these high quality garments. However, I think that is possible to have transparency with consumers about factory conditions. Just by having companies becoming more open about their sustainability practices and factory conditions have made consumers more aware of where their garments are coming from. This will also make consumers more attracted to the brand or company and become more loyal to the brand by purchasing the garments in the future.

    Reply

    1. Actually, we just did a study looking at fashion retailers’ pricing strategy for sustainable apparel items. It is interesting to note that in most countries we examined, sustainable apparel are priced relatively higher than regular apparel, especially in luxury & premium market. The higher retail price for sustainable apparel can be the result of a mix of factors, including more expensive raw materials like organic cotton, higher marketing spending on promotion and consumers’ less price sensitivity towards sustainable apparel items. Does the result seem reasonable to you?

  12. #2 – I think sourcing will become less attractive in Asia as consumers are wanting their clothing faster and faster. With the growing popularity of fast fashion, speed to market is important in sourcing and production. Companies want to get their clothing to consumers as fast as possible. This is why manufacturing in the western hemisphere will become increasingly popular. There are many countries, such as Mexico and other countries in middle America, that have the resources to manufacture. This ultimately seems to be quicker and more convenient and I feel we will be seeing a big shift in the upcoming years.

    #6- It is rare that I look at the country of origin tag when I am buying garments in a store or online. Even when I do I don’t think it influences my decision that much. The only time in the past that it has influenced my decision is when I see “made in Bangladesh” tags. After learning about the Rana Plaza incident a few years back, I have struggled to buy and wear garments made in Bangladesh. I know that this situation has happened in more countries than just Bangladesh, but it is hard to not buy clothes made in third world countries when most of the clothes I can afford are. Plus, the “made in the USA” tag is not always 100% accurate. Overall, because of the unknown and complicated aspects of the production of our clothes, it makes it very hard to shop consciously based on a country of origin tag.

  13. #6 When purchasing garments from either online stores or brick-and-mortar stores, I almost never look to see what country the garment is produced in. Being honest, I would rate the significance of knowing where my goods are coming from about a 5 in importance to me. I do care where my garments are coming from in regard to the working conditions of the factory workers and how sustainably the product is made, but it does not play that much into my buying decision in the sense that if I really like a garment and it is not made sustainably I will still buy it. The country in which the garment I am purchasing is made in really is not something I pay much attention to when purchasing. However, after taking this course it is something that I find myself noticing more when making purchases.

    #8 I do not think “made in the USA” apparel is truly telling the whole story of the supply chain. I feel this way because retailers will often say that a product is “made in the USA” even if the majority of the product is made elsewhere. Often retailers will put that label on the product to make it more appealing to buyers. I do not feel that this is ethical because consumers are being fooled into thinking that the product they purchased was made fully in the USA, whereas in reality it is made in many different countries. I feel that it is definitely a way for retailers to charge more for apparel because most people are willing to pay more for a product that is “made in the USA”. Companies such as Walmart sell products that say “Made in USA” even the same way that other retailers do, the product has one portion of it that is made in America and Walmart presents the whole product as “Made in the USA”, even though to keep the product inexpensive they source globally.

  14. #6: Before taking FASH455 I can honestly say I have never once cared to check where my clothes were produced, because it was something I never felt was important or even remotely payed attention to. But, after taking a full semester to learn about trading and importing and exporting, it is now something I find a great interest in paying attention to. Knowing the conditions of some of these countries now, what they have gone through, and who sources with who, I feel it is something that everyone should focus on. I do not know if it will affect my buying decisions as of right now, but in the future since I plan to keep up-to-date with the fashion industries sourcing world, maybe it will gear me more towards garments made in specific countries rather than others.

  15. #6 Before taking this course, I never really put any thought into where my clothing came form or what the care label said. For the most part I just thought most labels would say “made in china”. Now I am more informed on these matters. I know that clothing is sourced from so many different countries around the world, even though china may be a main source for clothing it is not the only one. Now, I like to see rare countries on the care label. When I see this I think to myself, this could have been sourced from a developing country so that the developing country could create more jobs and money and word towards bettering their economy and work towards becoming a developed country. I now pay more attention to where my clothing was sourced from because I am now more aware of the working conditions in some of these countries within their supply chains. As of now, it does not affect my buying decisions because I do not necessarily have the means as a college student to not purchase fast fashion clothing or clothing that may have been sourced from a poor working condition country, and that is because that clothing is cheaper and more affordable for me. However, knowing all of this I do know that when I am in the industry working, I have gained enough knowledge and insight to change issues like these and hopefully educate my peers, and coworkers who are unaware of issues going on within the industry to make a change within consumer purchasing practices, and better buying practices from buyers within their suppliers.

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