The Changing Face of Textile and Apparel “Made in Asia” (Updated February 2022)

Video 1: Asian garment and textile industry seeks a path to a bright and sustainable future

Video 2: Smart tech at E China clothing factory

Video 3: Vietnam’s textile and apparel industry amid the pandemic

Video 4: Fashion has a sustainability problem – here’s how TAL is tackling it

Discussion questions:

  1. How are textile and apparel “Made in Asia” changing its face? What are the driving forces of these changes?
  2. What are the examples of the “flying geese model” in the videos? Overall, why or why not do you think this pattern is still valid today?
  3. How to understand COVID-19’s impact on Asia’s textile and apparel industry? What strategies have been adopted by garment factories in Asia to survive the pandemic? What challenges do they still face?
  4. What is your evaluation of Asia’s competitiveness as a textile and apparel production and sourcing hub over the next five years? Why? What factors could be relevant?  
  5. Anything else you find interesting/intriguing/thought-provoking/debatable in the video? Why?

Note: Everyone is welcome to join our online discussion. For students in FASH455, please address at least two questions. Please mention the question number # (no need to repeat the question) in your comment.

Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

16 thoughts on “The Changing Face of Textile and Apparel “Made in Asia” (Updated February 2022)”

  1. 2. In China, automation of the apparel manufacturer process continues to develop and thrive in their industry. Automation influences labor costs to decline dramatically but also increase efficiency and profitability as well. With their increase in capital with automation, other countries in Asia will begin to transition to taking over the apparel sectors China cannot accomplish with automation. It is possible to see China adopting automation and taking over textile manufacturing, moving up the development ladder. The flying goose model is evident in the developing surrounding Asia countries adapting their industries as China improves its own. 3. During the pandemic, factories in Asia’s textile and apparel industry expected price cuts. They knew this would directly affect their profits, imply strict restrictions, and decreased wages for employees. Factories wished to be rewarded for their compliance in order to survive the pandemic. Strategies that have been adopted in Asia to survive this pandemic have been a social dialogue and action to enforce the policies. A close connection between policymakers and the garment industry will improve the relationship and come to light the unfair treatment of this industry. In Asia, not only there hope is to see improvement of the relationship and conversation but also hope to see enforcement of the policies.

  2. 3. COVID-19 has been a huge factor in production for the past two years. So much has been on hold and cut, which deeply affects every stage in the supply chain. But countries based around production (Vietnam, Bangladesh) have been the most affected. These countries heavily rely on apparel production to give their people jobs. And cutting prices on prices on apparel brands from developed countries gave production jobs in Asia working for under the minimum wage, even fewer wages. Bouncing back from the massive hit from COVID-19 will take time, but there needs to be true change. Leaders from these countries need to create dialogue and announce this issue to show brands from developed countries that these price cuts are not sustainable.
    5. I found the second video very interesting. The “Smart Factory” concept looked very professional and seemed extremely productive. It was amazing that it changed a process that usually takes 15 days to 3.5 hours. However, I wonder if these factories will become more popular in countries like China. China is not an extremely developed country, in fact they are a Tier 3 producer in Asia and is an emerging economy. I wonder if China will have the means to make these factories across China considering their capital. They rely heavily on production jobs as they have a surplus of labor. And I seriously doubt if these factories become popularized that it would be beneficial for them.

    1. 5. I also found the “Smart Factory” video to be extremely interesting. I thought The amount of time it cuts down is almost unheard of. But cutting that much time down it will allow the factory to make hundreds of thoughts of more garments. The first thing that came to mind when watching the video is the lack of workers that were in the factory. So many people need their job at the factory and by having all this new initiative technology it will mank many people lose their job. I also agree with you that these factories will not become popularized in the fact that many people will no longer have their jobs as well as China does not fully have all the resources to make tons of factories like this “Smart Factory”.

  3. Covid-19 has caused a huge decrease in profit as well as price cuts in Asia’s textile and apparel industry. This in turn has caused decreased wages. Covid-19 has also increased the transition to automation and digitization in the industry, which garment factories in Asia have adapted to in order to survive the pandemic. In addition, the other challenges garment factories in Asia are facing is the lack of enforcement on the policies.

  4. 2. An example of the flying-geese model can be seen in China because they base the model on economic advancements and developments. More advanced economies are focused on creating capital and technology-intensive products while less developed economies are focused on more labor-intensive products. When a developed country starts creating capital-intensive products, they relocate the labor-intensive products to be produced in less developed countries. I think this model is still valid today because it is evident that some countries such as the US have the advantage of technology while other less developed countries are more focused on physical labor such as Bangladesh.
    3. COVID-19 had a huge impact on Asia by decreasing consumer buying which led to a decrease in workers’ wages and the loss of jobs. The pandemic also affected their ways of working since there were heavy restrictions in the workplace. Garment factories have been working on strict policies concerning the safety of the workers and human rights issues. In order to tackle these challenges they still face due to the pandemic, brands are also looking to focus more on omnichannel retailing, including e-commerce, so customers are able to shop online so stores can still make sales after being closed due to the pandemic.

  5. I answered questions 1 and 5! Rebuilding after the COVID-19 pandemic is critical, as are proactive measures to manage key drivers of change, such as technological transformation, environmental sustainability, climate change, shifting trade patterns, demographic shifts, and the drive for gender equality in the workplace. These are all pressing concerns. They agreed that in the future, an industry-wide strategy based on mutual assistance and societal dialogue would be important. For example, major trends like automation and digitization, shifting trade partners, climate change, and changing customer demand are already disrupting the fashion sector the covid 19 epidemic may hasten some of the predicted upheavals. I also found it quite intriguing to hear about the latest Smart tech at a garment factory in east China’s Xiamen City. Workers’ wages have increased and the factory’s productivity has increased thanks to the use of smart technology, which also provides a more pleasant working environment.

  6. 4. I could guess that Asia’s textile and apparel industry will have an extreme competitive edge in becoming the production and sourcing hub over the next five years. Due to their efficient and smart technology, they have the speed advantage of being able to make one garment in 3.5 hours rather than waiting 3 whole days for production. This is appealing for brands who need to make up for lost time when factories were shut down and orders were pushed back due to the pandemic. Although this is an attractive quality of Asia’s textile and apparel industry, I wouldn’t expect them to automatically assume the position of the number one sourcing hub. It seems that Asia’s supply chains are receiving some resistance, setbacks, and challenges, post-pandemic. For example, changing consumer behaviors as well as continued lockdowns and supply chain distributions make it difficult for these producers and manufactures to rebound as well as they hoped.
    5. I find these circumstances curious as it seems the ultimate goal is a more sustainable, inclusive, and fair textile and apparel industry, however sustainability to me looks like a slower process, with less product, and more made-to-order garments. Meanwhile, sustainability here looks like AI robotics, less waste, but still tons of fast fashion. What does sustainability look like to you or what to do you make of the matter?

    1. Good point! I checked the latest US apparel import data yesterday: about 75.2% of US apparel imports came from Asia in the first quarter of 2022, up from 72.8% in 2021. It seems Asia as a whole unshakably remains the dominant apparel sourcing base for US fashion companies despite the shifting market environment (e.g., supply chain disruptions during the pandemic). https://www.datawrapper.de/_/xIi7G/
      One unique advantage of “Factory Asia” is its complete supply chain—everything can be locally available, especially textile raw materials and textile accessories. This is NOT the case for the western hemisphere supply chain or the EU. This explains why Asian countries can be more “resilient” during COVID-19 whereas no evidence shows US apparel sourcing from CAFTA-DR and USMCA necessarily expanded.
      Welcome for any follow-up comment

  7. 3. During COVID-19, Asian textile and apparel manufacturers expected price drops. They were well aware that this would have a direct impact on their profits, implying strict restrictions and lower wages for employees. In order to survive the pandemic, factories desired to be credited for their cooperation. In Asia, strategies for surviving the pandemic have included social dialogue and action to enforce policies. A close relationship between lawmakers and the garment industry will strengthen the communication and bring to light the industry’s unfair treatment. In Asia, there is hope not only for improved relationships and conversations but also for policy enforcement.
    5. The second video piqued my interest. The “Smart Factory” concept appeared to be very knowledgeable and remarkably effective. It was incredible how it reduced a process that typically takes 15 days to 3.5 hours. However, I am curious whether these factories will be more prevalent in nations such as China. China is not a highly developed country; rather, it is a Tier 3 manufacturer in Asia and an emerging economy. Given their capital, I question if China will be able to build these factories all over the country. They depend heavily on manufacturing jobs because they have a labor surplus. And I truly doubt that popularizing these factories will be advantageous to them.

  8. Covid-19 sped up digital transformation and the adoption of technologies. While multiple strategies have been adopted by garment factories in Asia to survive the pandemic, one major strategy includes automation and digitalization. For example the second video Smart Factory in Vietnam has adopted smart technologies making clothes easier and more efficient. This technology has slashed the process of producing one garment from 15 days to 3.5 horse, a 20% increase of production capacity. Adoption of AI technology similar to that in the Smart Factory can be adopted across the supply chain in various ways to improve a variety of issues, not just efficiency issues. Technology will allow Asia to rethink and rebuild a stronger, more efficient, and more sustainable T&A industry.

  9. #3. Manufacturing companies have started making masks like woven masks and masks for the health industry to keep the the revenue constant. Beginning of COVID, there was a shortage on masks and hospitals were running out of surgical masks because everyone was trying to get their hands on one. Now, almost all fashion companies are producing their own masks to not only be safe, but also a fashion accessory. With it being two years after the initial hit of the pandemic, there are now more masks than anyone can imagine. They come in different sizes with any logo/print someone can think of. They are also more prepared to deliver the export orders that are coming in. There is also government support like easing the trade barriers to help make importing/exporting easier for fashion suppliers. Vietnam still challenges with how to receive the orders from the major importing countries like the US and Europe.
    #5. I also find it interesting how Asia is changing their ways to become more sustainable and implementing new practices. Even though the last video shows how they’re trying to be more eco-friendly, they still get the title of being one of the countries with the least sustainability efforts out of all the supply chains. My thought is are the articles just focusing on one supply chain too much where they think all of Asia is being unsustainable, or are they lying about their sustainable efforts.

  10. 2. The flying geese model is represented in these videos because we see China moving towards using automation. China has been growing in capital, which has allowed them to move out of apparel and into textiles. Doing this helps not only create much shorter lead times, but it allows them to pay workers fair wages because of the money they’re saving on production time. I think this pattern is still valid today because we see many other countries taking over the apparel production needed because it is more labor intensive and cannot be accomplished with automation.
    5. Something I found interesting from the first video was when Kalpona Akter said we can talk about inclusiveness, policies, workers rights, etc., all we want, but helping fix the problem is the important and meaningful part. Because if we are just talking about them and no action is being done, then what is the point? I thought this was a really strong message because we talk about so many issues and policies that should be in place in class, but if no one actually acts on these issues, then nothing will change for the workers.

  11. 3. Many workers took extreme pay cuts during the time of covid 19. In Cambodia, factory employees lost $122 a month, only making minimum wage. They suggested that retailers and businesses consider introducing fair prices. Factories also faced major losses and businesses often expecting them to cover some of the rising costs of transportations and materials but this was often not feasible. Automation and digital aspects of the fashion manufacturing process was a growing trend, but now covid-19 has accelerated that. Many have leaned into this to survive the pandemic such as E Clothing in China and their smart tech manufacturing technology. Many others will soon follow this route in order to keep up with growing consumer demand post pandemic and the challenges that are still occurring with that.
    5. I thought the video on the smart factory was very thought provoking. This was mainly due to how intensely it is able to minimize the time needed to create a garment and the effects saving so much time and producing so much more could have on the industry. This could lead to heightened success and profit, however also a great loss to those who are working factory jobs. For many places that produce garments, these factory jobs provide a living for a huge portion of the population.

  12. As stated in the article “The sheer size of China’s concerted attempts to build their economy, to subsidize, to produce national champions, to force technology transfer, and to distort markets in China and throughout the world is an unprecedented challenge to the global trade system,”. China has the equipment, resources, and workers that can always keep them one step ahead of every other country. If they continue to do so they will remain the superpower they are known to be. COVID has resulted in price reductions across Asia. They want to be compensated for adhering to the stringent limitations imposed on them during the outbreak. To establish a viable industry, they must collaborate both inside Asia and beyond the globe. Workers will be the ones who suffer the most if they are not vigilant. Asia is assuring a vibrant social dialogue and emphasizing the need for lifelong learning vital skills for this shift. Female representation is equally essential.

  13. 4. The second video is a good example as to how Asia’s use of technology has allowed them to stand out amongst their competition. The pandemic proved that companies needed to work with suppliers who are able to provide a faster tun around time. The new technology used will take jobs away from garment workers, but may develop higher skilled jobs. The resources and technology used will make them more viable and competitive. Other factories and countries will have a difficult time meeting the demands of fashion brands without the use of such advanced technology. The factors relevant would be time, quality, and ethical working conditions. These are factors that could keep Asia as the leading sourcing base in the next five years.

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