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

12 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.

  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.

  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.

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