State of the U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry: Output, Employment, and Trade (Updated October 2020)

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 output of U.S. textile manufacturing (measured by value added) totaled $18.79 billion in 2019, up 23.8% from 2009. In comparison, U.S. apparel manufacturing dropped to $9.5 billion in 2019, 4.4% lower than ten years ago (Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2020).

Meanwhile, COVID-19 has hit U.S. textile and apparel production significantly. Notably, the value of U.S. textile and apparel output decreased by as much as 21.4% and 14.9% in the second quarter of 2020, respectively, compared with a year ago. This result was worse than a 15% decrease during the 2008-2009 world financial crisis.  Further, the decline in U.S. textile exports is an essential factor contributing to the significant drop in U.S. textile manufacturing. In the first seven months of 2020, the value of U.S. yarn and fabric exports went down by 31% and 19%, respectively, year over year (OTEXA, 2020). 

Additionally, as the U.S. economy is turning more mature and sophisticated, the share of U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing in the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) dropped to only 0.13% in 2019 from 0.57% in 1998 (Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2020).

The U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing is also changing in nature. For example, textile products had accounted for over 66% of the total output of the U.S. textile and apparel industry as of 2019, up from 58% in 1998 (Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2020). Textiles and apparel “Made in the USA” are growing particularly fast in some emerging markets that are high-tech driven, such as medical textiles, protective clothing, specialty and industrial fabrics, and non-woven.

As production turns more automated, the U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing sector is NOT creating more jobs. Even before the pandemic, from January 2005 to January 2020, 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, 2020). However, improved productivity (i.e., the value of output per employee) could be a critical factor behind the net job losses.

Data further shows that COVID19 has resulted in more than 83,700 job losses in the U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing sector between March-April 2020, of which around 80% have returned as of September 2020. Nevertheless, the downward trend in employment is not changing for the U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing sector.  

Consistent with the theoretical prediction, U.S. remains a net textile exporter and a net apparel importer. In 2019, the U.S. enjoyed a $1,633million trade surplus in textiles and suffered an $80,637 million trade deficit in apparel (USITC, 2020). Notably, nearly 40% of textiles “Made in the USA” (NAICS 313 and 314) were sold overseas in 2019, up from only 15% in 2000 (OTEXA, 2020). On the other hand, because of the regional supply chain, close to 70% of U.S. textile and apparel export go to the western hemisphere, a pattern that stays stable over the past decade.

by Sheng Lu

Discussion questions:

  • Why or why not do you think the U.S. textile industry (NAICS 313 +314) and the apparel industry (NAICS 315) are in good shape?
  • Based on the statistics, do you think textile and apparel “Made in the USA” have a future? Please explain.
  • What are the top challenges facing the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry in today’s global economy and during the COVID19?

Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

17 thoughts on “State of the U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry: Output, Employment, and Trade (Updated October 2020)”

  1. 1) Despite the fact that many people are losing jobs in the industry, I do think that the textile industry is in good shape. The US has experiences a significant trade surplus in textiles and the amount of textiles sold overseas in 2019 has drastically increased from 15% to 40%. The textile and apparel industry is still doing well.

    2) I do think that textiles and apparel made in the USA has a future. US textile output has increased to 66%, up from 58% in 1998. The United States is also experiencing a 1.6 million dollar trade surplus, as well as following a stable export pattern to the western hemisphere. I believe that the US textile industry will continue to steadily grow well into the future.

    3) The biggest challenge facing the United States apparel and textile manufacturing industry will be increasing their apparel export. Although their textile export was at a surplus, apparel export is at an 80 million dollar deficit. The United States needs to find a way to increase apparel exports which will be made especially difficult due to trade regulations and restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    1. May I “challenge” your point for the first question– it is NOT that the trade surplus enjoyed by the US textile sector increased from 14% to 40%, but more US-made textiles end up sold overseas today. However, due to COVID-19, the export market becomes quite unstable. In particular, close to 70% of US textile exports target western hemisphere. is it too risky? or you think it is fine here?

  2. 1. Based on the evidence in this post, it seems that the U.S. textile industry and apparel industry are in relatively good shape. I think that both sectors have promising futures based on the increasing productivity of both the textile and apparel industries. However, since this productivity increase has led to more unemployment within these sectors, it’s questionable how good this will be for the American people in the long run. Clearly, COVID-19 has halted caused harm to the value of U.S. textile and apparel exports; though with the increasing sophistication of the textile industry I believe the U.S. will be able to recover and grow.

    2. Based on the statistics, I do believe that textile and apparel “Made in the USA” have a future. I drew this conclusion because the significant increase in textile outputs along with the change in the nature of the textile industry. In addition, since the U.S. is growing so fast in more tech-driven markets, we can see that American-made textiles and apparel are valuable and have a promising future.

    3. The top challenge facing the U.S. textile and apparel industries in today’s economy during COVID-19 is the increasing unemployment rates. Since most U.S. textile and apparel production has become automated, there was already a significant decrease in jobs within these industries. We can then clearly see from the data that COVID-19 has resulted in even more people to lose their jobs within these sectors, not to mention countless others. With these employment rates already decreasing to begin with, it’s hard to believe that there will be any opportunities for employment (particularly in manufacturing) in the future.

    1. great thoughts and comments! Echoing what you said, it seems to bring textile and apparel manufacturing back to the US and to create manufacturing jobs in the US textile and apparel industry are two different goals. Regarding covid-19, I think PPE production could be a new opportunity–however, the supply chain for PPE is very different from traditional clothing and it takes time to build the capacity. You may find this update relevant: https://www.etextilecommunications.com/101520-ncto-glas-fall-meeting

    2. I believe quite the opposite, the US unemployment has 33 million plus individuals since COVID hit in March. Many of these people will not have jobs to go back too. The math is very simple no work, no money equals less spending. 2021 will be an absolute nightmare unless they present a new stimulus package and even then it just buys times before the inevitable. It’s gonna be at least 10 years before we reach 2019 Apparel production levels. I see huge losses coming and a glut of clothing being down graded and sold at wholesale prices… people will soon begin to spend money only on quality not quantity. This is pretty much baked in the cake.

      ” You can ignore reality but you cannot ignore the consequences of ignoring reality”- Ayn Rand

      1. • Why or why not do you think the U.S. textile industry (NAICS 313 +314) and the apparel industry (NAICS 315) are in good shape?
        They have both shrunken in size, but the textile industry is gradually making a come back more than the apparel industry. The textile industry has been up by around 23% while the apparel industry has gone down by 4% since 2009. Because of Covid-19 neither the textile nor apparel industry are doing that well. If anything, the textile industry produces more output than the apparel industry, therefore textiles are in better shape than apparel.
        • Based on the statistics, do you think textile and apparel “Made in the USA” have a future? Please explain.
        Based on the article, it says that “Made in the USA” is becoming an emerging market for high tech driven products, medical textiles, protective clothing, and industrial and non-woven fabrics. I think this has a future because production has been increasing even though jobs are not right now, the textile industry is still increasing in outputs.

        • What are the top challenges facing the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry in today’s global economy and during the COVID19?
        The issues that Covid-19 are causing are that many people are losing their jobs in this sector, not only that but the textile and apparel industry is losing money due to COVID-19. Since they can not produce as much, they are losing sales and outputs are going down. 80% of those workers have now returned in September but production was at a huge loss in the second quarter of 2020 down by 21.4% in textiles and 14.9% in apparel from last years production. The decline in textile exports is directly affecting the textile manufacturing

  3. Why or why not do you think the U.S. textile industry (NAICS 313 +314) and the apparel industry (NAICS 315) are in good shape?
    – Despite COVID-19 and the loss of many jobs in the textile and apparel industry, I believe for the time being the US is in pretty good shape. After seeing the trade surplus increase from 15% in 2019 to 40% in 2020, I think this shows promise for the US textile and apparel industry.

    Based on the statistics, do you think textile and apparel “Made in the USA” have a future? Please explain.
    – I believe “Made in the USA” has a future with the US textile and apparel industry. I say this because the US western fashion companies have realized that consumers are becoming more socially aware. This is become prominent in the fact that the US textile output has increased 6%.

    What are the top challenges facing the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry in today’s global economy and during the COVID19?
    – A top challenge I see in the U.S textile and apparel industry is the decline in U.S. textile exports. This is an essential factor contributing to the significant drop in U.S. textile manufacturing.

  4. 1. I think the U.S. textile industry is in better shape than the apparel industry. The U.S. is a capital abundant country and the textile industry requires a lot of technology. I think it will be able to come back from the job losses and the pandemic because its heavily relies on technology, not workers. The apparel industry on the other hand, was in bad shape before the pandemic because we rely so heavily on apparel imports and now with more job losses I don’t know that it will make a full recovery moving forward. Especially since it requires more hands on work and labor and so many jobs have been lost.
    2. Based on statistics, it seems as though “Made in the USA” textile and apparel is doing okay. 40% of these textiles were sold overseas in 2019 which was a huge increase from only 15% in 2000. About 70% of textile and apparel made in the U.S. was staying within the Western Hemisphere which has been staying consistent. Obviously with Covid-19 we are likely to see changes, however moving forward long term I think there is a possibility that “Made in the USA” textile and apparel could do well. The only problem I see is if prices are cheaper in Asian countries, then retailers will obviously want to source from them instead.

    3. The biggest issues in the U.S. apparel and textile sectors now due to Covid are that more and more companies are looking to move away from sourcing from the Western Hemisphere and instead source from Asian countries where textiles and apparel can all be made within the same country or neighboring countries. This requires less shipping back and forth from far apart countries which clearly could have a big impact on the U.S. sectors if retailers are taking their business elsewhere. Along with this, there have been so many lost jobs in the apparel and textile industries that it might be difficult to build these sectors back up moving forward.

  5. 1) I believe that the US textile and apparel manufacturing sector is in relatively good shape at this time. The US is a capital intensive country, which is needed for the increasingly automated textile industry. As stated in the article, the output of US textile manufacturing totaled $18.79 billion in 2019, up 23.8% since 2009. While COVID-19 did take a hit on the industry, I think that the use of technology will be able to kickstart the industry again. Not to mention that machines are able to easily shift in their production, like to PPE for example, to produce whatever products are being demanded at that time. Also, “Made in the USA” products are becoming more and more popular in emerging, tech-driven markets.
    2) Based on the statistics, I do believe that textile and apparel “Made in the USA” does have a future. Nearly 40% of textiles “Made in the USA” were sold overseas in 2019, a huge increase from the 15% in 2000. Also, textile products accounted for over 66% of the total output of the U.S. textile and apparel industry in 2019, almost a 10% increase since 1998. This can be attributed to tech-driven emerging markets. If the US can continue improving their technologies like they have been, I think the future will be promising.
    3) I think that one of the biggest challenges facing the US textile industry and the apparel industry in today’s global economy and during the COVID-19 is more companies shifting their sourcing practices to Asian countries. Even before COVID-19, companies were always trying to find the cheapest sourcing practices. Now, with COVID-19 costing companies a large amount of money, this is more important than ever. If Asian countries are able to manufacture almost any product with their raw materials at the cheapest price, they will want to leave the Western Hemisphere and move their. With all necessary inputs at their fingertips, companies will also not have to spend as much on transportation costs. This could be detrimental to the US textile and apparel industry, especially since the US is already in an over $80 million trade deficit in apparel.

  6. * Why or why not do you think the U.S. textile industry (NAICS 313 +314) and the apparel industry (NAICS 315) are in good shape?
    * Though the US Textile industry is changing in nature, I do believe that even despite current circumstances it is in pretty good shape. However, this statement is all relative. We can observe the loss of jobs and declines in the T&A industry across the board. With this being said, the US is very capital intensive and has the ability to bounce back after taking hits because of COVID. Further, we can observe an increase in productivity and a trade surplus
    * Based on the statistics, do you think textile and apparel “Made in the USA” have a future? Please explain.
    * Being that the US textile and apparel industry has new and innovative technologies and further, has observed a large increase in “Made in the USA” exports, there is in a future in this market space. With this being said, it will be a very competitive space as production costs are significantly lower overseas. With the Covid pandemic however, there is an opportunity for the USA to really step up in this market.
    * What are the top challenges facing the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry in today’s global economy and during the COVID19?
    * With all of this uncertainty because of COVID, major challenges for the U.S. textile and apparel industry would include the decreasing employment rates, plummeting sales, and decreasing exports (as there is a deficit).

  7. 1. Why or why not do you think the U.S. textile industry (NAICS 313 +314) and the apparel industry (NAICS 315) are in good shape?
    I think without the affect of COVID-19, the U.S. textile industry and apparel industry are in a good shape. The U.S. Textile and Apparel industry is in a period time to change and redefine its position in the market. As a developed country, the US is a capital intensive country. The good part is the US textile industry is technological and the US is the only source of textile for the West Hemisphere. But the problem is it may be hard for the textile and apparel industry to provide a huge number of working position in a short time.
    2. Based on the statistics, do you think textile and apparel “Made in the USA” have a future? Please explain.
    From my point of view, I think textile and apparel “Made in the USA” have a future. One of the advantage of US textile and apparel industry is technology and innovation. As a developed country, the US is able to provide technological products to better satisfy the demand of consumers. We can see that there is a huge prop up from 1998 to 2019.
    3. What are the top challenges facing the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry in today’s global economy and during the COVID19?
    One of them is the cost of production in the US is not competitive enough comparing with those apparel manufacturers in the Asian or other developing countries. Brands and retailers are alway looking for the cheapest suppliers. This is a main challenge that the US textile and apparel industry need to solve.

    1. Great points Lizzy! I agree with your statement that without the affects of Covid-19 the US textile and apparel industry are in good shape. We are a developed country that is capital intensive and have become a power house over the past few years.

      I certainly hope that “Made In the USA” has a future. Although, I’m not sure when that day will come. The USA relies so heavily on importing and haven’t found a successful way to source domestically yet. I agree with you that the USA is able to provide technological products to better satisfy the demand of consumers but unfotantely I think we’re still a long way from being about to truly produce “Made In the USA” taglines.

  8. I definitely think “Made in the U.S.A.” textile and apparel products has a significant future ahead. 40% of textiles Made in the U.S. were sold overseas in 2019, which is a huge increase from 2000, where only 15% of textiles were sold. Although this is a slow increase and we can’t source everything yet as well as other countries can, the U.S. apparel and textile industry is definitely making strides to increase exports. However, we do heavily rely on importing materials and it will be a hard shift going forward, especially after the Coronavirus.

  9. 1.) I wouldn’t necessarily say the textile and apparel industry are in good shape, but they could be in a worse position. It has been shrinking for a while now and then with COVID it took an even bigger hit. The industry is slowly coming back, but it’s going to take time for the damage that has been done, considering it’s worse than the Recession in 2008. “This result was worse than a 15% decrease”. There has been a significant loss of jobs as well. If COVID didn’t happen, I think the industry would be at a much better place.
    2.) Based on the statistics, I think textile and apparel “Made in the USA” have a future. “The output of U.S. textile manufacturing totaled $18.79 billion in 2019, up 23.8% from 2009.” Since the output is high, it makes me think that the US is in a good position for growth.
    3.) I think COVID alone is the top challenge the industry is facing. Its one huge domino effect. There’s lack of business, so there’s lack of factories, lack of money, no workers, etc. Another problem is how there are many other suppliers out there that are much cheaper than the US. We need to be more competitive in our market.

  10. 1. After reading this article, I do believe that the U.S. textile industry (NAICS 313+314) and the apparel industry (NAICS 315) are in decent shape. I think this because the U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing is still growing/increasing because there is a market for products that are “Made in the USA”. I also think that because of the medical supply shortage at the beginning of the pandemic it is likely that more medical textiles will be produced domestically rather than internationally.
    2. Based on the statistics, I do think that textiles that are “Made in the USA” have a future because of the emerging markets that are high-tech driven, such as medical textiles, protective clothing, specialty, and industrial fabrics, and non-woven. It is hard to say if the apparel industry for “Made in the USA” products will have a future because I do not see the fast fashion market slowing down anytime soon and large US fashion companies know that they can produce these kinds of products at a lower cost in Asia. Furthermore, because of so many people losing their jobs or suffering financially I believe that many of these consumers will only want to buy cheap apparel.
    3. The top challenges facing the U.S. textile industry and apparel industry in today’s global economy and during COVID-19 are the growing unemployment rate, potential inability to increase exports, and possible challenges to source from Asia such as shipping/transportation costs increasing or factories closing due to financial issues.

  11. 1. Why or why not do you think the U.S. textile industry (NAICS 313 +314) and the apparel industry (NAICS 315) are in good shape?

    I think that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. textile and apparel industry were in good shape. From 2009 to 2019, the output of U.S. textile manufacturing increased by 23.8% with a total of $18.79 billion in 2019. Meanwhile, COVID-19 has definitely affected and prevented these numbers from increasing. In the second quarter of 2020, the value of U.S. T&A output had decreased by 21.4% and 14.9% since 2019. The toll that the T&A industry has taken during the current pandemic was worse than the toll that it had taken during the 2008-2009 world financial crisis, which was about a decrease in output by 15%. With a decrease of demand for textile exports from the U.S., ultimately a drop in U.S. textile manufacturing came as a result with a decrease U.S. yarn and fabric exports by 31% and 19%. More than 83,700 people working in U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing have lost their jobs during the months of March and April of 2020 as a result of the pandemic, and although as of September 2020 80% of employee’s have returned, there is still downward trend in employment that will not likely shift. I would say ultimately, the U.S. T&A Industry were in good shape before the pandemic hit, but has suffered severe losses since the pandemic has hit that is changing the trajectory of the industry’s growth and success.

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

    Based on the statistics, I think that textile and apparel “Made in the USA” definitely does have a future. I think that during the current pandemic, emerging markets such as medical textiles and protective clothing will especially succeed because of the high demand for PPE such as masks, gloves, face shields, etc. Over the past decade, data has shown that because of the regional supply chain, about 70% of the U.S. T&A exports go to the Western hemisphere. Regardless of the fact that emerging markets that are high-tech driven that include medical textiles and protective clothing are succeeding, I think it is unlikely that the U.S. will become a net apparel exporter. This is because with so much financial instability not only domestically but internationally, people are more likely to rely on fast fashion because of their low prices.

    3. What are the top challenges facing the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry in today’s global economy and during the COVID19?

    The top challenges facing the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry in today’s global economy and during COVID-19 consist of the decrease in consumer demand because of financial instability, growing unemployment, and trade regulations that have been imposed. U.S. fashion retailers and brands should also consider the impact on their manufacturers overseas who have struggled financially during the pandemic due to order cancellations and issues relating to payments.

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