Apparel Industry and Trade as an Economic Development Tool: Discussion Questions from Students in FASH455

The apparel sector remains a key economic growth engine for many developing countries in the world today. Data source: World Bank (2021)

#1: In history, the garment industry helps many developing countries start the industrialization process. Given the situation described in the case study, why or why not do you think the Eastern African countries are following the same development path? Should they?

#2: Notably, very few used clothing exported from the United States to EAC countries were actually “Made in USA”—they were originally imported from Asian countries such as China, Vietnam, and Bangladesh. Also, most U.S. used clothing exports to EAC were “free giveaways” by U.S. consumers. Is it ethical for SMART to oppose the used clothing import ban so that its own can make a profit? What is your evaluation? If you were the president of SMART, how would you respond to the ethical concerns?

#3: As we are talking about the opportunities associated with the circular economy, why or why not do you think accepting used clothing imports will lead to a sustainable economic development path for EAC countries?

#4: To which extent do you think automation in garment manufacturing will challenge the conclusions of the textile and apparel stages of development theory we discussed in the class?

#5: If automation can only create “factories without workers” in the US and resulting in more garment workers in the developing countries lose their jobs, should we still support the efforts and make it happen? What is your assessment?

(Welcome to our online discussion. For students in FASH455, please address at least two questions and mention the question number (#) in your reply)

Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

31 thoughts on “Apparel Industry and Trade as an Economic Development Tool: Discussion Questions from Students in FASH455”

  1. #5
    I think in some ways we still should support the efforts of automation. Our world and country is becoming more advanced in technology each year, and this is one of the next steps. Automation is necessary for a lot of reasons. Although, some garment workers will potentially lose their jobs in developing countries, automation also creates more jobs that require tech people and people who are advanced in these kinds of technology. I think either way there can be an advantage and disadvantage, but I do think automation is something that is unavoidable.

  2. #3
    I think that the imports of used clothing can lead to a sustainable economic development path for EAC countries. The use of imported used clothes leads to more sustainability because it is reusing clothing, and allowing it to be used for wearing, or even remaking and using it’s components to create other things.

  3. #3: I think by accepting used clothing imports it will not lead to a more sustainable economic development path for EAC countries because it is stopping them from developing in the way they want to. In one of our readings this week it explains that EAC countries are getting a poor reputation from the overload of used clothing imports at the same time they are trying to build up their local manufacturing, economy, etc.

  4. #1: They are following the industrialization process. The East Asian countries have stopped taking imports from other countries in regards to used clothing. Therefore they have started to expand their manufacturing processes in that they are going to start making their own clothing.

    #5: I do feel as though we should still support these efforts. I feel that introducing automation can increase highly skilled jobs in manufacturing. It can also create an opportunity for garment workers to expand their position if given the opportunity to work on automated machines.

  5. #1: T&C industry was the first industry in History. It is also the first step of industrialization for developing countries since invest in assist of low and sufficient workers are available. It has built the basis for increased welfare and for other, more sophisticated industries to follow.

    #4,5: is automation possible in apparel production ? If yes, it would have already happened. The argument not to invest in more automisation (if possible) make no sense at all. If other industries would have reacted in that way progres was not possible.

  6. #1: The EAC are currently not following the same path because they are reliant on importing old clothing from developed countries. The EAC should not import and instead follow the same path of developing countries to start the industrialization process to grow their economy and fashion industry. The next step would be to improve their factories and produce higher more diverse clothing.

    #4: Automation will challenge labor intensive jobs of developing countries. It will hurt countries that their economy thrives on manufacturing. Usually, automation supports going into the golden age stage where production is at it’s peak. Eventually automation will drive the country into the post-maturity stage because manufacturing jobs decrease and the output is mostly manufactured textiles. However, if the country is dependent on labor intensive manufacturing and automation comes right it, it will disrupt the natural development.

  7. To answer question #1: I think this they are following the same path. When countries look to grow, their plan is to eventually become more industrialized. They took major steps to stop taking imports of used clothing from other countries and focusing more on expand their own manufacturing processes. This is a way to better their economy.

    To answer question #5: I do think it is inevitable for automation to be included more in the fashion industry. This could be beneficial for for high skilled workers because this technology will need a lot of training. The downside of this however will result in a handful of people to lose their jobs.

  8. #1: I think giving these countries a lot of used clothing hurts them, but it can also help them grow. I think in moderation used clothing imports can help EACs get ahead and not fall behind, but too many of them can hurt the country with its own development. For these countries to develop themself, I think it may be best to limit these imports and work to build the personal industries in these countries. Relying too much on imported used clothing can hurt their economies.

    #4: This is interesting because technology is taking out the industry a bit. I think this could change the development of countries in the apparel industry and change the way the earlier stages work. What is worrisome is if so many jobs are lost because of this technology. Another point is that I think these countries may be able to develop further with these technological tools. Honestly, I think this could go either way and it really does depend on how each country handles it.

  9. #3: Accepting used clothing imports will not lead to a sustainable economic development path for EAC countries because this was the issue that created landfills and pollution in East Africa. Circulating the clothing imports just around EAC countries will not be efficient, rather it would need to circulate further with other countries in other continents for it to be remotely sustainable.
    #5: I don’t think it would be a good idea to jump into automation right away since it would result in major job loss in other countries all at once. I believe it should be a slower transition over to automation if it meant more sustainability, higher quality, and lower prices, and it would be essential to figure out what roles garment workers can play in this high-tech field. But, automation doesn’t necessarily mean any of those traits, so there is question over whether it’s really a better choice over garment workers.

  10. #1. Based on the case study it seems that EAC countries will look towards industrialization. I believe that this is the natural next step for these countries because they have a large work force and the ability to become a developed country. This is certainly to the benefit of the countries of EAC therefore it is positive change.
    #3. If EAC’s continue to accept used clothing there will be continued waste in their countries. This is not sustainable and does not enforce the reasons countries like the US are sending them our clothes. As a consumer, I look to donate my used clothing to people that it will help and those who need it. As we continue to send extreme amounts of used clothing to countries in East Africa we are contributing to poor sustainable practices.

  11. #1: Countries within the Embryonic stage and Early Export of Apparel stage still tend to rely heavily on apparel imports and so if the EAC is banning these imports, that kind of goes against the development path. However, it is also important to note that most developed countries are not receiving donated/used clothes as a form of economic stimulation and so the EAC banning used clothes imports could show that they want to be able to become a developed textile and apparel industry. Is this counterintuitive, though? Should EAC try to follow the development stages or would it never be able to reach a mature stage?

    #5: This is definitely a tough decision and there are many factors to consider. On one hand, workers rely on these jobs to survive, it is their sole income and way of living, so to take that away feels unethical. On the other hand, some factories are already unethical and so relieving people from toxic work environments could be a good thing. Also, automation can allow for more sustainable sourcing if kept local. Perhaps with new technology and automation, there will still need to be workers to help operate and work on the technology which will provide new jobs, the workers will just have to be re-trained.

  12. 1) I think they are beginning to follow the same path. Being cut off from the used clothes trade almost forces them to create their own apparel which is a good start to learning how to industrialize. Once they get the process down, it could help them to implement it in other areas and become more developed.
    5) I believe that if a process is working well and benefitting the highest number of people, then it should be kept in place. There is no need to fix something that’s not broken, however, a number of issues come to mind that contribute to the argument such as child labor, bad working conditions, etc. So if the US did automate these processes, then jobs would be lost in Asian countries but it could also put an end to child labor as there would be lesser of a need for it.

  13. #1 – East African countries have the benefit of having accessible sea trade with India, Southeast Asia, and China – economies that have been growing in size and capacity in the past 20 years and will do so in the foreseeable future. China in particular has seen its per capita incomes grow by a factor of 4 since 2000. This has led to vast generational changes in wealth that honestly, is just staggering. The more incredible part of China’s growth is that how fluid it is. Most early growth was in industrial ports like Tianjin, now the fastest growing cities in China are financial and technological centers like Shanghai and Shenzhen. In the near future, such growth does not look like it will slow down, but rather accelerate. China is quickly transitioning to a service-based economy centered on exporting technology to other countries. They are quickly becoming a center for higher-end equipment manufacturing like medical devices and microscopes – things that Japan is well-known for doing.

    Seeing that China could not really hold their cheaper industries in China, they have realized that they need to export these industries overseas, as the Chinese now have the ability to consume much more than before. China is opening up investment banks in Africa and has now set itself the place to get large loans. They are also trying to rebuild the land and sea silk road routes through aggressive leading for infrastructure. East African countries are seeing the situation as a win-win in the short and long term. India and Southeast Asia may be in the same position a few years down the line, meaning that they too will look to other places to export industry. So, it makes sense for East African countries to industrialize what they can do easily – textiles and apparel. Cotton does not have to necessarily be grown in Africa, which has water issues of its own. India and China are already global leaders in cotton production, and can easily ship its cotton for processing in Africa thanks to cheap shipping costs. The same can be said for synthetic fibers. The middle east is the world center for oil and is expanding its petrochemical production rather than just shipping crude to the US and Europe. Africa is really in a good place to grow thanks to its geography.

    The current patterns do seem to suggest that East Africa does want to go on that path. It makes sense on their end to do so. That is why they have been adamant in banning used clothing, even though most clothes often end up in central America and West Africa.

    #5 – Yes, I think we should. It does bring massive benefits to American GDP and production capabilities, along with better consumption. Automation frees up human resources to do as they please, however, the kicker is that there need to be other systems in place to allow for others to excel themselves. Self-driving cars allow for complete autonomous short-distance travel and ‘frees’ up truck and taxi drivers. The issue that transitioning workers to other places is much more difficult than it actually sounds because education is especially tough for older people. 10% of retraining programs actually work in practice, due to things like lack of funding, understanding of how to train them, and the priorities of the students. Factory workers do not necessarily have to be factory workers, and now have the chance to get the job they have wanted – like being in the trades, go to college and work in a job, or be a poet or own a business. Many garment workers will agree that the job is highly demanding, and can be really draining on them even if they love to sew and make clothes.

    The problem that many countries are facing is how to tax these systems. Automation and technology have allowed people in this field to become multimillionaires, with many being left behind and slowly seeing no change in their lives. The scary part was that before the pandemic, most US growth was heavily centered around the Northeast Corridor, LA, and San Francisco. In order to spread these gains, the Government has to take part in reallocating the profits to allow others to prosper. Small business loans, an effective welfare state that incorporates accessible education programs in many aspects, Universal Basic Income, and land management programs that create tourism and environmental jobs should help those displaced be able to pursue their dreams.

    1. Reply to #5: I agree that we can’t look at factories without workers just through the lens of productivity; instead, we must understand how displaced workers affect everyone top-down, especially with the challenge of training people outside of formal education. Increased taxes to support displaced workers in the US may perpetuate the interests of the lower-middle class *if* neither qualifying to receive funded-assistance nor having sufficient skills to compete for technology-focused jobs.

  14. #3. Accepting used clothing hurts the reputation of the EAC countries as it makes them rely on other countries instead of developing their own apparel industry. While the used clothing may help individuals, it hurts the businesses as they can’t compete with the used clothing sales, and therefore they are unable to create their own industries.
    4. Manufacturing apparel is a very labor-intensive job. Developed countries often hire developing countries to do this work as they are able to get cheap labor there. If the apparel industry is able to be more of a technology-based job developed countries may begin moving the apparel industry back to their countries as they will no longer need cheap labor.

    1. Response to your #4: I agree with your point! I also wanted to add that if developed countries bring apparel manufacturing to back their own countries, this could also increase high level and skilled employment in the developed countries as they will need workers to monitor machines and be able to fix them incase of any inquiries. This could also provide developing countries the incentive to create and grow their own apparel markets and supply for themselves instead of us.

    2. I agree that by EAC countries importing used clothing, it makes them rely on other countries. I think it is easy to think that we are doing a good thing by providing a country with something they don’t have, but I think now at this point is has become overwhelmingly obvious that we are now depending on them for our over consumption issues. Instead of giving them the resource of clothing, we should be giving them the resources they need to fuel their own clothing industry.

  15. # 3: I do not think accepting used clothing imports will lead to a sustainable development path for EAC countries. The high amounts of imports of used clothes ends up creating overloads of landfill and pollution. In addition, it does not provide the EAC countries the opportunity to become more developed. Other countries see EAC countries as less strong due to the excessive used clothing imports.
    # 5: I do not think we should support the efforts of automation only creating “factories without workers” since it does not give developing countries a chance to support themselves. Many workers will lose their jobs and this will only cause the unemployment rate to increase; thus leading to a weakened economy.

    1. Very interesting! However, it seems we are doing exactly the opposite—more used clothing are exported to EAC and investors are excited about building fully automated garment factories in the US. Any follow up thoughts ?

  16. #3 – I think that EAC countries accepting used clothing imports could possibly lead to a sustainable economic development path. A lot of used clothing ends up in landfills or it ends up being burned. If the EAC accepted these clothing imports it would keep a lot of clothes out of landfills. If the EAC came up with a way to take these imports and use the fabric from the garments to manufacture something newer and better, then it would not necessarily hurt the nations pride because they are creating something new just with “old” fabric. This could potentially create a circular economy because EAC countries could then sell the new clothes they made back to the US.

    #5 – I think that this is a tough question to answer. As humans, we are always striving to create something better, stronger, or something that will make peoples lives easier. To just stop automation because it would result in job loss would be going against our nature. I think that we should still support the efforts of automation, but provide education to the garment workers. The developing countries could try to encourage their workers to get educated on how machines work, so that they are the ones who have the ability to use them. It is also tough for garment workers in developing countries to receive education, but I do not think that we can simply just stop innovating.

  17. #4: Already reliant on capital and tech-intensive processes, automation in textile manufacturing will not challenge the conclusions of the textile and apparel stages of development theory *if* starting in the Golden Age. In the Golden Age, we peak in self-sufficient textile manufacturing. Automation, however, may jeopardize the evolution from the “embryonic stage” to the “Post-maturity” stage if starting before the Golden Age, in which our output structures and international trade patterns for apparel will no longer need labor-intensive manufacturing. Thus, automation disrupts the Early Exporting and Advanced Production Stages to jump to declining employment in Full Maturity.


    #5: I think developing countries, such as the US, should support efforts to create factories without workers. However, high-skilled employment disproportionately hurts developing countries, opposed to developed countries that benefit from tapping into their comparative advantage in the capital and tech-intensive industries plus higher income level and population. The US already offers the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) Program to help train displaced employees. Developing countries, unfortunately, may lack similar resources to support low-wage manufacturing workers who lose their jobs to automation.

    1. Hi Sarah. I agree with #5, I think it would be beneficial for the US to support efforts to create these factories, since it is inevitable for us to move with technology. However, It does become tricky when you start to factor in how it might start to effect developing countries. The Trade Adjustment Assistance will help American to adjust to the changes, but the less developed countries will struggle because of it.

  18. #3: I don’t necessarily think accepting used clothing imports will lead to a sustainable economic development path for EAC countries because its only really benefitting the US and other exporters of the used clothing in terms of sustainability. The developed countries are practicing sustainability by exporting the used clothing because it avoids overloads of waste and stays out of landfills by getting imported to underdeveloped countries. Furthermore, if these EAC continue to accept the imports they will contribute to keeping the circular economy in the fashion industry. The EAC countries don’t have the capital and technology to product enough to export, but if the EAC countries stop accepting the used clothing, they have the chance to become more industrialized. If we think about it there is no developed country that is based on used clothing imports, so giving the EAC countries the opportunity to export could help them be more sustainable instead of just accepting the used clothing.

    #5 It is kind of a sticky situation to stay whether or not we should support the efforts of automation. On the one side, automation would cause garment workers in developing countries to lose jobs which will increase the unemployment rate and lead to poor relationship with theses countries. The US already has strong connections with many developed countries we get our imports from and the implementation of automation in the US would tarnish our strong relationships we already formed. Furthermore, we would be taking away the opportunity for the developing countries to support themselves. On the other hand, our country is all about change, innovation, and an easier to get things done. The automation in factories would increase jobs in the IT and engineering industry for people in the US, but also eliminate the poor working conditions in the developing countries such as child labor.

    1. I answered #3 and #5 but for some reason I couldn’t separate the responses, so #5 starts in the middle.

    2. Response to #3: I appreciate your reply to question #3 as it has brought up many good points that I have not considered. If you think the U.S. is only making itself sustainable by exporting used garments to developing countries, where can we put the used garments instead while still benefiting both parties? Could the import of used clothing help the developing countries with their growth by giving them materials to turn into new products?

  19. #3 I think accepting used clothing will not lead to sustainable economic growth for EAC countries. This is because as these countries are accepting sued clothing, they are not focusing on building their own industry or developing. Furthermore, accepting clothing does not help stimulate the economy which makes these countries worse off. They need stimulation in the economy. Not only do they need to stimulate their own economy to grow, but it will help them build up an industry there. Accepting used clothing seems great because it is giving clothing a second life but these countries accepting them may become too reliant and not growing.
    #5 This is an interesting question because I think it is hard to say what the right answer would be. My assessment would be to support efforts of automation because the development of technology is very important, but I do understand how it can cause workers to lose jobs. The workers in certain countries of less capital probably will not lose their job because those countries do not have the means or resources to support such technology. I think that we should still do business in these countries, so we do not leave these workers high and dry. It is important to still think about these countries, we do not want their economy to be lessen. Additionally, I don’t think outsourcing totally to automation is the answer because technology can sometimes fail us.

  20. #5 If automation can only create “factories without workers” in the US and resulting in more garment workers in the developing countries to lose their job, I think we should not support the efforts and make it happen. And this is for many reasons. It is quite clear that technology is taking over many aspects of our lives. What we have all been experiencing lately is online schooling. And although technology is fast and efficient and helps us advance in our skills, if we rely on technology for everything, there will be nothing left for us to rely on human beings for. On top of that, technology is causing job loss, thus hurting employment in the U.S. and other countries. In order for our economy to stay afloat, we need to keep employment rates up by slowing down on the use of technology. This is also because technology can’t do everything. If a machine breaks or it processes the algorithm incorrectly we still need human beings to come in and fix it. At the same time, as we discussed in class, technology relies on simple and basic formulas in order to perform specific activities. Meanwhile, humans are able to think critically and creatively. By taking these human skills out of the process of manufacturing garments, we may see that using more machines could be worse.

  21. #3 A circular economy, in essence, is to keep garments or other products from ending up as waste. This process keeps the product in motion and constantly reuses and recycles the materials into new products instead of allowing it to be thrown away and never used again. The ultimate goal is to not lose finite resources. Thus, I think accepting used clothing imports will lead to a sustainable economic development path for EAC countries. This is because these garments are not being thrown into landfills and sitting there to pollute the Earth. Instead, this gives opportunities to EAC countries to take in these used resources and possibly turn them into new products or utilize them into something more valuable.

  22. #3 I do not think accepting used clothing imports will lead to a sustainable economic development path for EAC countries. By EAC countries not producing their own clothing, that leads to them becoming very dependent on what we can provide. EAC countries have already discussed how they are overwhelmed with the amount of clothing we send them. It sounds like this will boil down to more of a consumption issue. By EAC countries not having much of a fashion industry, there are missing out on many economic and job opportunities that come along with the industry. While it may seem nice in terms of clothing not going to waste, I see it more as we are just dumping our countries mess and problems onto them while profiting on it and holding the EAC countries back from economic development.

    #4 Automation in garment manufacturing will most greatly impact the following stages.
    v Embryonic stage
    v Early export of apparel
    v More advanced production of fabric and apparel
    These are the stages where technology and automation have not yet taken over labor intensive jobs, so if automation were to come in in these stages, it would decrease employment.

  23. #3
    I believe that if EACs accept used clothing as imports from developed countries, this can bring both advantages and disadvantages to their economy and overall wellbeing. The advantage of accepting used clothing is that they might be required to pay a tariff for these imports which can be beneficial because they’re putting money in to help fuel their economy. Another advantage is that this helps to keep clothing in the clothing cycle which is much more sustainable than just throwing a garment away. However, if the only way that EACs are getting clothing is by importing it from other countries, they will have no way to generate and strengthen their own textile and apparel industry. Without the strength of this industry, the economies of EACs could suffer.

    I believe that automation and the introduction of technology within the textile and apparel industry is inevitable. Technology is becoming more and more advanced with time and I believe that it would not be smart if the textile and apparel industry did not utilize the technology that is available. This being said, I believe that there must be a balance between using automation in factories as well as still providing people in underdeveloped countries with jobs. Whether this is having half the amount of machines in a factory or teaching people how to use and operate these machines, it is important that we do not allow automation and machines to cause a drastic rate of unemployment.

  24. To answer the first question, I feel like they are following the same path because when countries are looking to grow they are also looking to become more industrialized. They took steps to stop taking imports of used clothing from other countries and have been trying to expand their own manufacturing processes, which is better for their economy. To answer the fifth question, I feel that we should still support automation due to the advancements of technology each year that we continue to see. Automation will create more jobs that require those who are familiar with technology. Although will be good and bad things about automation, it is almost completely unavoidable and should be dealt with either way.

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