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

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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. The value added of U.S. textile manufacturing totaled $19 billion in 2018, up 25% from 2009 and reaching its highest level in the past ten years. In comparison, U.S. apparel manufacturing dropped to $9.2 billion in 2018, its lowest level in history (Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2019).

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Nevertheless, the share of U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing in the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) dropped to only 0.14% in 2018 from 0.57% in 1998 (Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2019).

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The U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing is also changing in nature. For example, textiles had accounted for nearly 70% of the total output of the U.S. textile and apparel industry as of 2018, up from 58% in 1998 (Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2019). Meanwhile, clothing had only accounted for 12% of the total U.S. fiber production by 2012, suggesting non-apparel textile products, such as industrial textiles and home textiles have become a more important part of the industry (Census Bureau, 2019).

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Despite the growing popularity of “Made in the USA”, manufacturing jobs are NOT coming back to the U.S. textile and apparel industry. From January 2005 to August 2019, employment in the U.S. textile manufacturing (NAICS 313 and 314) and apparel manufacturing (NAICS 315) declined by 44.3% and 59.3% respectively (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019). However, improved productivity is one important factor behind the job losses.

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Consistent with the theoretical prediction, U.S. remains a net textile exporter and a net apparel importer. In 2018, the U.S. enjoyed a $1391million trade surplus in textiles and suffered a $79,406 million trade deficit in apparel (USITC, 2019). Notably, over 40% of U.S.-made textiles (NAICS 313 and 314) were sold overseas in 2018, up from only 15% in 2000. Meanwhile, from 2009 to 2018, the value of U.S. yarns and fabrics exports increased by 31.3% and 43.6% respectively (OTEXA, 2019). On the other hand, because of the regional trade patterns, close to 70% of U.S. textile and apparel export still, go to the western hemisphere today.

by Sheng Lu

Discussion questions:

  1. Why or why not do you think the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry are in good shape?
  2. Based on the statistics, do you think textile and apparel “Made in the USA” have a future? Please explain.
  3. What are the top challenges facing the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry in today’s global economy?

Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

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

  1. Question: Why or why not do you think the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry are in good shape?

    Answer: Depending on the way one approaches the question, they will land on a different answer. On one hand I believe that strictly in terms of textile exports the U.S. is doing fairly well and is sure to do better in the future. This is largely in part to automation in the industry creating an increase in textile outputs and a decrease in textile jobs. With that being said, it can be argued that in terms of textile employment the textile industry is actually in really bad shape.

    Question: Based on the statistics, do you think textile and apparel “Made in the USA” have a future? Please explain.

    Answer: I believe that textile and apparel “Made in the USA” might have a future if the right technology is made to fully automate the manufacturing process. Currently, the cost of labor in the U.S. is too high for American companies to look toward sourcing from the U.S.

    Question: What are the top challenges facing the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry in today’s global economy?

    Answer: The top challenges facing the U.S. textile industry are automation, trade wars, and ethical sourcing practices.

    1. great comments! do you mind elaborating more why “ethical sourcing practices” is one of the top challenges facing the US textile industry? “Made in the USA” is often regarded as involving lower compliance risk compared with most developing countries.

  2. 1. Both the U.S. textile and apparel industry have been decreasing throughout the past couple of years. The use for textiles in the U.S. is not as desired as it used to be and the apparel industry has drastically been dropping. Automation has been affecting the textile industry and might help improve their system.

    2. I do not think textile and apparel “Made in the USA” has a future. The employment rate in both the U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing has significantly declined by about 50% each in the past 14 years. They have also had a major loss in jobs due to their productivity.

    3. In today’s global economy, automation has become a huge challenge for the U.S. textile industry to adapt too. There have also been many job losses in the industry as well as all the issues with the trade wars affecting the industry.

  3. 1. I think the US textile and apparel industry could be considered in good shape based on the statistics presented by the article. In particular, the textile industry has been observed to maintain its growth although the apparel industry might have to work on improving its manufacturing figures. Still, it cannot be denied that both industries contribute to the national GDP.
    2. “Made in the USA” is a positive effort to improve local textile industry. However, I think we still have a long way to go before this statement would actually be felt by garment workers and consumers in the country. If we have enough resources to reduce imports, maybe this could happen in the near future.
    3. The top challenges faced by the US textile and apparel industry today are the localization of textile and apparel manufacturing, the increasing trade tariffs imposed by governments, technological advancement, and labor conditions in manufacturing companies.

  4. Why or why not do you think the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry are in good shape?
    I think the U.S. textile industry is in good shape with producing a product but is not in good shape of employing Americans. I believe the rise in industry is due to technology and population growth.

    Based on the statistics, do you think textile and apparel “Made in the USA” have a future? Please explain.
    I feel to the general public made in the USA will be profitable because they don’t understand the whole concept of producing garments. however, now I do not feel pride when buying a US item unless the product specifically says that all parts of the production chain were produced in the US.

    What are the top challenges facing the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry in today’s global economy?
    The top challenges facing the US is the advancement of technology and cheap labor in other countries. If products can be produced faster and cheaper in another country, a brand will move production to that company. A huge issue is the risk of tariff wars against China because most of our products are made in China. One change to price cause a ripple effect in the US economy.

  5. #1 The U.S. textile and apparel industry are at two different stages. While both have had a decrease in jobs, the apparel industry has seen a much large decrease almost eliminating it from the industry. Due to the globalization of the textile and apparel industry, the future of the U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing industry seems to be uncertain.

    #2 “Made in the USA” may not have a future given the statistics from the article. As stated in the article, employment in the U.S. textile and apparel industry has drastically decreased as automation has taken over. Made in the USA is diminishing as the textile and apparel industry globalizes. Although textiles are more promising for the U.S., they often go unrecognized as to where they are being made, therefore, “Made in the USA” will struggle as the years go on.

    #3 The top challenges facing the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry in today’s global economy stem from the over saturation and over competition throughout this entire industry. As we have discussed in class, fashion companies have so many options when it comes to sourcing. These abundance of options often cause fashion companies to go to developing nations to source products and the U.S. is left without business. Additionally, trade continues to be a top challenge for the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry because it often limits the ability to make certain products or experience the globalized industry.

  6. #1 I do not think the U.S. textile and apparel industry are in good shape. There has been a decline in the contribution of the T&A industry to the U.S. GDP despite technological advancements. Perhaps if the U.S. gave up on investing money into textile jobs as the industry became more automated a larger profit could be made.

    #2 I think that textile and apparel Made in the USA have a future, but one that looks different from the past. Textile and apparel made in the USA would have to be highly automated because of the increasing cost of labor. US textiles are still used due to trade deals like NAFTA and CAFTA that are essential to creating the slight trade surplus. As long as these deals remain there will be a Made in USA textile industry. The US should continue to focus on highly specialized products, like those used in the medical field. This is where they have an advantage.

    #3 The top challenges facing the U.S. textile and apparel industry are competition and trade wars. Competition from nations producing cheaper products reduces the market for Made in USA products. Trump’s trade war with China creates an uncertainty that makes any kind of production difficult to navigate.

  7. Why or why not do you think the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry are in good shape?
    1. Overall the US T&A industries are both in good shape. When compared to 30-40 years ago where there were plenty of manufacturing jobs and made in America was thriving, you could argue that today the industries are not good. However if you compare the T&A industry over the past 10 years and take into account globalization and outsourcing, they are doing fine. Jobs in both sectors appear to have slowed down in declining and are starting to stabilize. Textile is still a valuable export for the US and is growing, despite the decline in jobs the industry has seen in the past.

    Based on the statistics, do you think textile and apparel “Made in the USA” have a future? Please explain.
    2. Made in the USA has very little future. The capacity and skill of our factories just do not compete with those around the world. Additionally we do not have a labor intensive country to be a major supplier of apparel. The US has capital and that is important in advancing technology in automation and producing textiles. The price of producing in the US would be too high, and the apparel industry is already behind the major suppliers like China. Premium goods may have a chance at having a successful future as made in the USA because customers are willing to pay the higher price for those products.

    What are the top challenges facing the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry in today’s global economy?
    3. The US T&A industry must face trade regulations, whether it is the trade war with China or the formation of CAFTA and what those rules will establish. There is also the challenge of automation. The US is a very developed country that is always looking towards innovation and efficiency, but so are other key players in the world and the US must devote a lot of time and money into improving automation in order to stay competitive in the little amount of goods we do export.

  8. 1) Why or why not do you think the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry are in good shape?
    The U.S. textile industry is in pretty good shape but the U.S. apparel manufacturing industry is not doing as well. The value of the US textile industry has gone up about 25% in the past 10 years, but the apparel industry dropped to $9.2 billion, which is the lowest it’s ever been. This is mainly because the US is good at producing textiles for other countries but it’s cheaper for other countries to produce apparel and import it into the US.

    2) Based on the statistics, do you think textile and apparel “Made in the USA” have a future? Please explain.
    No, I do not think textile and apparel “Made in the USA” have a future. The statistics show that US textile jobs have declined by 44.3% and apparel manufacturing jobs have declined by 59.3%. Cheaper manufacturing in other countries and automation will prevent this from ever happening. Retailers will always be trying to source from cheaper countries like Vietnam and Bangladesh but if manufacturing does come back to the US it will mostly be operated by machines and robots, which won’t provide many jobs anyway.

    3) What are the top challenges facing the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry in today’s global economy?
    The top challenges facing the textile and apparel industry today are the constant change of pace within consumers, sustainability, the US China Tariff War, and technology. Consumers constantly changing what they want has created the need to produce clothing at a very fast rate, which has also caused brands to source from countries that can provide quick cheap labor. This has also resulted in a lack of sustainability when making these clothes. The tariffs imposed on goods coming from China has forced brands to source from other countries that provide cheaper labor. As technology advances it is replacing people completely and performing their jobs more efficiently, therefore decreasing the total number of jobs in the textile and apparel industry.

  9. 1. Why or why not do you think the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry are in good shape?
    The U.S textile industry and the apparel industry are not in good shape at least in my eyes. Both have decreased over the years and new challenges keep rising. At the moment tariffs and automation, will these two benefit them or will it just make it worse?

    2. Based on the statistics, do you think textile and apparel “Made in the USA” have a future? Please explain.
    Textile and apparel “Made in the USA” will only have a future if the consumers are willing to pay more. The consumer has the power to make this work, and only they can make it work. There are so many aspects to making products in the US such as sustainability, animal-free cruelty. ethical issues and fair pay, which all will increase the price of a product. The consumer has to be okay with the price and understand it is quality vs quantity. Until then the answer is no.
    3. What are the top challenges facing the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry in today’s global economy?
    The top challenges facing the US textile and apparel industry in today’s economy is automation, tariff war, fair pay, and sustainability. We want a lot from a product but the question is what are we as the consumers willing to do to get that?

  10. Question #1 I am not sure if “good shape” is a way we can describe the U.S. textile industry and apparel industry. I think the textile and apparel industry within the United States are headed in two different directions. The textile industry is doing well by exporting more than they import, and the apparel industry has a trade deficit. While American textiles seem to be on an overall incline due to technological advances, the apparel industry is not in a “great shape” because of the labor required to create these garments are at an extremely low cost to produce elsewhere.

    Question #2 The United States continues to have a surplus when exporting yarn and fabric, but apparel continues to be more popular to outsource. Although the textile and apparel industry is declining, people are beginning to get more interested in “Made in the USA” products. They are more expensive, but when targeted as more ethical and sustainable product, I think it will peak the interest of Americans. I hope that the U.S. textile and apparel industry can have a positive future, but it will be difficult to do.

    Question #3 The biggest challenge for the U.S. textile and apparel industry is that products can be created elsewhere at a less expensive cost. Most consumers want cheap products and often see quality as secondary. The U.S. does not have the history of Western Europe to create luxury goods or the manpower to create them the way a developed country can. When it comes to the U.S. vs. the rest of the world it is interesting to see how they are seen as superior in an industry where they mostly outsource product.

  11. 1. Why or why not do you think the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry are in good shape?
    The U.S. textile industry is in good shape. Production value has increased, even though employment has gone down. The U.S. remains a strong exporter for textiles. The apparel industry on the other hand is not in very good shape. Apparel imports to the U.S. have increased gradually over time, and many U.S. retailers work offshore to have their apparel assembled. It won’t be easy for the apparel industry to build itself back up in the U.S.

    2. Based on the statistics, do you think textile and apparel “Made in the USA” have a future? Please explain.
    I think there is potential for “Made in the USA” to have a future. Textiles “Made in the USA” most likely have a better chance at thriving because the U.S. is already productive in the making of textiles. Despite the employment dropping drastically, textile production is improving, so there is a chance there. However, it might be harder for apparel “Made in the USA” to have a future. The U.S. does not have all the means right now to be a strong apparel creating source. It would take a lot of time and money to make this happen, and many U.S. retailers don’t have that in their plan.

    3. What are the top challenges facing the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry in today’s global economy?
    Today the top challenges facing the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry in today’s global economy is technology and automation in general. Many of the jobs lost in the textile and apparel industries in the U.S. have been because of advancements in technology. The new automation creates higher productivity numbers than human workers could. Yes, some jobs have been lost due to outsourcing from other countries, but technology is always evolving and is bound to continue to improve production in industries like these.

  12. #1. The U.S. textile industry is doing fairly well, but unfortunately, the apparel industry is not in great shape. This is apparent in the past ten years as the value added of U.S. textile manufacturing totaled $19 billion in 2018, up 25% from 2009 and reaching its highest level. On the other hand, U.S. apparel manufacturing dropped to $9.2 billion in 2018, which is reported to be the lowest level in history. With this being said, these statistics demonstrate that slowly textile manufacturing is coming back but apparel manufacturing is continuing to decline.
    #2. Based on the statistics, I do not believe textile and apparel “Made in the USA” have a future which is apparent in the ‘Apparel Manufacturing Jobs in the U.S.’ graph. This chart displays that manufacturing jobs are not coming back to the U.S. textile and apparel industry. This is seen from January 2005 to August 2019 where employment in the U.S. textile manufacturing and apparel manufacturing declined by 44.3% and 59.3%. I believe that there would need to be many changes and it would a take a long period of time before employment in the U.S. textile and apparel industry started to grow.
    #3. The top challenges facing the U.S. textile and apparel industry in today’s global economy pertain to trade wars. As sourcing prices increase in certain countries, U.S. fashion brands have the ability to move from country to country in order to find the cheapest and fastest manufacturer. This prevents the guarantee of ethical labor practices as companies are just looking for cheap labor. Additionally, it restrains the growth of U.S. textile manufacturing jobs as companies are relying on sourcing overseas rather than domestically.

  13. 1. Despite the decrease in U.S. apparel manufacturing, I still believe the U.S. textile and apparel industry are in good shape. The textile industry is noted to be gradually returning with its highest level in the past several years. With that being said, the apparel industry has dropped to the lowest level in history. In my opinion, this is an issue that can potentially be solved in the future and the success of one industry still leaves them in good shape.
    2. Based on the statistics, I think textile and apparel “Made in the USA” have little hope for a positive future. Charts show that manufacturing jobs aren’t returning to the U.S. T&A industry. As the U.S apparel manufacturing industry has dropped to the lowest level in history, it’s hard to believe that U.S. companies will ever stop outsourcing from countries with lower costs.
    3. I believe that the top challenges facing the U.S. T&A industries in today’s global economy are the increase in technology and increase in sourcing from foreign countries. While the decrease in T&A manufacturing jobs is constantly blamed on the outsourcing from foreign countries, a main factor to this issue is an increase automation. Technology has and will continue to remove many jobs in the future. The increase in overseas production will continue to negatively impact the U.S. T&A industries due to their lower and competitive prices. Although this is viewed negatively, the lower prices will help retailers stay in business.

  14. #1
    The textile industry within the United States is in good shape it is steadily increasing. The US continues to be a large exporter of textile products to outside countries. On the other hand, the apparel industry in the United States is not in good shape. Overall production is declining and the total cost of manufacturing has reached an all time low in 2018.
    #2
    There is a very little future for “Made in the USA” because of how there will be no jobs returning to the textile and apparel industry in the US. Because of the decline in apparel manufacturing in the US, it seems as though many products sold domestically will continue to be produced internationally.
    #3
    I believe that the top challenge facing the US T&A industry is the increase in technology within other foreign countries. Top exporters of apparel are becoming more and more efficient when it comes to producing clothing and the US cannot keep up. Most US fashion retailers are already outsourcing outside of the US and now with the increase of technology that is likely to continue.

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