“Globotics” or Globalization + Artificial intelligence (AI) is changing the world. Globotics means globalization mixed with new kinds of robotics, from artificial intelligence to technologies that make it easier to outsource services jobs. Particularly, globotics is injecting pressure into our socio-politico-economic system (via job displacement) faster than our system can absorb it (via job replacement). Overall, AI and robots will take jobs — but make the world better.
Past globalization and automation were mostly about goods— making them and shipping them. However, the era of globotics is about service-sector automation—driven by information and data.
The competition from software robots and telemigrants will seem monstrously unfair to white collar works who lost their jobs. When white-collar workers start sharing the same pain [as blue-collar workers], some sort of backlash is inevitable.
As technologies reduce the need for face-to-face contact, some developing nations stand to benefit. For example, India, with its sizeable English-speaking population and armies of techies, could become a hub for services outsourcing, just as China was for manufacturing.
Future jobs (that are left) will be more human and involve more face-to-face contact since software robots and tele-migrants will do everything else. In other words, the future economy will be more local and more human.
The problem is the short-term. In the era of globotics, it is important to make the rapid job displacement politically acceptable to a majority of voters. Governments may set the policy goal to protect workers, not jobs.
While the majority of apparel consumed in the United States come from overseas, “Made in the USA” is growing in popularity. According to the 2018 U.S. Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study released by the U.S. Fashion Industry Association (USFIA) in July 2018, around 46 percent of surveyed U.S. fashion brands and apparel retailers report currently sourcing “Made in the USA” products, even though local sourcing typically only account for less than 10 percent of these companies’ total sourcing value or volume. Likewise, the State of Fashion 2019 report published by Business of Fashion (BOF) and McKinsey & Company in November also forecasts that over 20 percent of U.S. fashion companies’ sourcing volume could be from nearshore by 2025, thanks to automation technology and consumers’ increasing demand for speed to market.
However, the detailed practice of the “Made in the USA” apparel sourcing strategy–including who is sourcing, what products are sourced, and what the typical price range of these products remain largely unknown.
To answer these questions, we recently analyzed the pricing, product assortment and inventory information of over 90,000 fashion retailers and 300,000,000 fashion apparel products at the Stock-Keeping Unit (SKU) level based on EDITED, a big data and business analytics tool developed for the fashion industry. For the research purpose, we selected apparel products newly launched to the U.S. market in the past twelve months (i.e., between 1 December 2017 and 30 November 2018) with “Made in the USA” explicitly mentioned in the product description. Below are the key findings:
First, “Made in the USA”
apparel overall are treated as a niche product in U.S. fashion brands and
retailers’ sourcing portfolio.
the 12 months we examined (1 December 2017-30 November 2018), 94 out of the
total 348 retailers (or 27 percent) sold “Made in the USA” apparel in the U.S.
market. The top 10 sellers list includes BOTH retailers that focus on the value
market such as Walmart and relatively high-end department stores such as
Bloomingdale and Saks Fifth Avenue. However, even for these top sellers, “Made
in the USA” apparel accounted for less than 8 percent of their total product
offers on average.
Second, U.S. fashion brands and retailers are most
likely to source“Made in the
USA” apparel for relatively fashion-oriented items, particularly bottoms (such
as skirts, jeans, and trousers), dresses, all-in-ones (such as playsuits and
dungarees), swimwear and suits-sets.
edge for these product categories in the retail market, in general, increasingly depends on unique designs, high
product quality, and speed to market,
which makes sourcing from the United States commercially beneficial. In comparison, imported products are more concentrated
on basic fashion items often competing on price in the U.S. retail market,
including tops (such as T-shirt and polo shirt), underwear, and nightwear.
It is also interesting to note that
“Made in the USA” apparel were predominately women’s wear (92 percent), whereas imported
clothing adopted a more balanced gender combination (63 percent women’s wear
and 37 percent men’s wear). Because the fashion trends for women’s wear usually
are shorter-lived and harder to predict, this result once again indicates that seeking
quick response and shorter lead time for stylish and trendy items could be an
important incentive for local sourcing by U.S. fashion brands and retailers.
Third, consistent with the common perception,
“Made in the USA” apparel overall are pricier than imported ones in the U.S.
Taking the U.S.
apparel retail market as a whole, close to 40 percent of “Made in the USA” offering
in the past 12 months targeted the premium or luxury market, compared with only
20 percent of imported products. In
contrast, as few as 18 percent of “Made in the USA” offering were in the value
market, which, however, accounted for approximately 60 percent of all imported apparel
sold in the U.S. market. In totality, it
seems U.S. fashion brands and retailers are purposefully targeting “Made in the
USA” apparel for less price-sensitive segments of the market to balance the
high domestic production cost.
On the other hand, when examining
U.S. fashion brands and retailers’ pricing strategy at the product level, “Made
in the USA” clothing was still priced much higher than imported ones for almost
all major apparel categories, except hosiery. Notably, in the past 12 months, the
average unit retail price of “Made in the USA” clothing was 99.2 percent higher
than imported ones in the value and mass market and 36.0 percent higher in the
premium and luxury market. This interesting phenomenon supports the arguments that
U.S. consumers somehow are willing to pay a premium price for products with the
“Made in the USA” label.
Additionally, during the past 12
months, around 46.3 percent of “Made in the USA” apparel were sold at a
discount compared with more than 54.6 percent of imported ones. The advantage
of proximity to the market, which makes speedy replenishment for in-season items
possible, is an important factor behind the more successful control of
markdowns for “Made in the USA” products. For example, data shows that U.S.
fashion brands and retailers replenished approximately 12.7 percent of their “Made
in the USA” offering in the past 12 months but only 2.8 percent of imported
In conclusion, the findings of this study concur with the view that “Made in the USA” apparel are still relevant today. Meanwhile, it does not seem to be the case that “Made in the USA” apparel and imported ones are necessarily competing with each other in the U.S. retail market. With apparel sourcing increasingly requiring striking a balance among various factors ranging from cost, flexibility, compliance to speed to market, it is hopeful that “Made in the USA” apparel will continue to have its unique role to play in U.S. fashion brands and retailers’ merchandising and sourcing strategies.
do you see as the biggest challenges – and opportunities – facing the apparel
industry in 2019, and why?
In my view, uncertainty will remain the single biggest challenge facing the apparel industry in 2019, ranging from a more volatile global economy, the unpredictable outlook of the U.S.-China trade talks to the various possible scenarios of Brexit. While uncertainty creates exciting new research opportunities for scholars like me, it could be a big headache for companies seeking a foreseeable market environment to guide their future business plan and investments.
Meanwhile, the increasing digitalization of the apparel supply chain based on big-data tools and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies means a huge opportunity for fashion companies. Indeed, the apparel industry is quickly changing in nature—becoming ever more globalized, supply-chain based, technology-intensive and data-driven. Take talent recruitment as an example. In the 2018 US Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study, which I conducted in collaboration with the US Fashion Industry Association (USFIA), as much as 68 percent of surveyed leading U.S. fashion brands and apparel retailers say they plan to increase hiring of data scientists in the next five years. Googling “apparel industry” together with terms such as “big data” and “data science” also returns much more results than in the past. It is hopeful that the advancement of digital technologies and the smarter use of data will enable apparel companies to overcome market uncertainties better and improve many aspects of their businesses such as speed to market, operational efficiency and even sustainability.
happening with sourcing? How is the sourcing landscape likely to shift in 2019,
and what can apparel firms and their suppliers do to stay ahead?
on my research, I have three observations regarding apparel companies’ sourcing
trends and the overall sourcing landscape in 2019:
First, apparel companies overall will continue to maintain a diverse sourcing base. For example, in a recent study, we examined the detailed sourcing portfolios of the 50 largest U.S.-based apparel companies ranked by the Apparel Magazine. Notably, on average these companies sourced from over 20 different countries or regions using more than 200 vendors in 2017. Similarly, in the 2018 US Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study, which I conducted in collaboration with the US Fashion Industry Association (USFIA), we also found companies with more than 1,000 employees typically source from more than ten different countries and regions. Since no sourcing destination is perfect, maintaining a relatively diverse sourcing base allows apparel companies to strike a balance among various sourcing factors ranging from cost, speed, flexibility, to risk management.
Second, while apparel companies are actively seeking new sourcing bases, many of them are reducing either the number of countries they source from or the number of vendors they work with. According to our study, some apparel companies have been strategically reducing the number of sourcing facilities with the purpose of ensuring closer collaborations with their suppliers on social and environmental compliance issues. Some other companies are consolidating their sourcing base within certain regions to improve efficiency and maximize productivity in the supply chain. Related to this trend, it is interesting to note that approximately half of the 50 largest U.S. apparel companies report allocating more sourcing orders to their largest vendor in 2017 than three years ago.
Third, nearshoring or onshoring will become more visible. Take “Made in the USA” apparel for example. According to the 2018 U.S. Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study, around 46 percent of surveyed U.S. fashion brands and apparel retailers report currently sourcing “Made in the USA” products, even though local sourcing typically only account for less than 10 percent of these companies’ total sourcing value or volume. In a recent study, we find that 94 out of the total 348 retailers (or 27 percent) sold “Made in the USA” apparel in the U.S. market between December 2017 and November 2018. These “Made in the USA” apparel items, in general, focus on fashion-oriented women’s wear, particularly in the categories of bottoms (such as skirts, jeans, and trousers), dresses, all-in-ones (such as playsuits and dungarees), swimwear and suits-sets. The advantage of proximity to the market, which makes speedy replenishment for in-season items possible, also allows retailers to price “Made in the USA” apparel substantially higher than imported ones and avoid offering deep discounts. Looking ahead, thanks to automation technology and consumers’ increasing demand for speed to market, I think nearshoring or onshoring, including ”Made in the USA” apparel, will continue to have its unique role to play in fashion brands and retailers’ merchandising and sourcing strategies.
should apparel firms and their suppliers be doing now if they want to remain
competitive further into the future? What will separate the winners from the
2019 will be a year to test apparel companies’ resources, particularly in the sourcing area. For example, winners will be those companies that have built a sophisticated but nimble global sourcing network that can handle market uncertainties effectively. Likewise, companies that understand and leverage the evolving “rules of the game”, such as the apparel-specific rules of origin and tariff phase-out schedules of existing or newly-reached free trade agreements, will be able to control sourcing cost better and achieve higher profit margins. Given the heavy involvement of trade policy in apparel sourcing this year, companies with solid government relations should also enjoy unique competitive advantages.
the other hand, as apparel business is changing in nature, to stay competitive,
apparel companies need to start investing the future. This includes but not limited to exploring new sourcing
destinations, studying the changing consumer demographics, recruiting new
talents with expertise in emerging areas,
and adopting new technologies fitting for
the digital age.
keeps you awake at night? Is there anything else you think the apparel industry
should be keeping a close eye on in the year ahead? Do you expect 2019 to be
better than 2018, and why?
things are at the top of my watchlist:
First, what is the future of China as an apparel sourcing base? While external factors such as the U.S.-China tariff war have attracted most of the public attention, the genuine evolution of China’s textile and apparel industry is something even more critical to watch in the long run. From my observation, China is playing an increasingly important role as a textile supplier for apparel-exporting countries in Asia. For example, measured by value, 47 percent of Bangladesh’s textile imports came from China in 2017, up from 39 percent in 2005. Similar trends are seen in Cambodia (up from 30 percent to 65 percent), Vietnam (up from 23 percent to 50 percent), Pakistan (up from 32 percent to 71 percent), Malaysia (up from 25 percent to 54 percent), Indonesia (up from 28 percent to 46 percent), Philippines (up from 19 percent to 41 percent) and Sri Lanka (up from 15 percent to 39 percent) over the same time frame. A key question in my mind is how quickly China’s textile and apparel industry will continue to evolve and upgrade by following the paths of most other advanced economies in history.
Second, how will the implementation of several
newly-reached free trade agreements (FTAs) affect the big landscape of apparel
sourcing and the existing regional apparel supply chains? For example:
The newly-reached U.S.-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement (USMCA or commonly called NAFTA2.0) includes several interesting changes to the textile and apparel specific rules of origin provisions, such as the adjustment of the tariff-preference level (TPL) mechanism. Whether these changes will boost textile and apparel production in the Western-Hemisphere and attract more sourcing from the region will be something interesting to watch.
In 2017, close to 80% of Asian countries’ textile imports came from other Asian countries, up from around 70% in the 2000s. Similarly, in 2017, 85.6% of Asian countries’ apparel imports also came from within the region. The negotiation of the Regional Comprehensive and Economic Partnership (RCEP) is likely to conclude in 2019, whose membership includes member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and other six economies in the Asia-Pacific region (Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand). Will RCEP result in an ever more integrated Asia-based textile and apparel supply chain and make the Asia region even more competitive as an apparel sourcing destination?
October 16, 2018, the Trump
Administration notified U.S. Congress its intention to negotiate the
U.S.-EU Free Trade Agreement. Between
2013 and 2016, the United States and EU were also engaged in the negotiation of
a comprehensive free trade agreement– Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership
(T-TIP) with the goal to unlock market access opportunities for
businesses on both sides of the Atlantic through the ambitious elimination of
trade and investment barriers as well as enhanced regulatory coherence. The T-TIP
negotiation was stalled since 2017, although
the Trump Administration has never officially announced to withdraw from the
II. Negotiating Objectives
January 11, 2019, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) released
objectives of the proposed U.S.-EU Free Trade Agreement after
seeking inputs from the public. Overall, the proposed agreement aims to address
both tariff and non-tariff barriers and to “achieve fairer, more balanced trade”
between the two sides.
Regarding textiles and apparel, USTR says it will secure duty-free access for U.S. textile and
apparel products and seek to improve competitive opportunities for exports of
U.S. textile and apparel products while taking into account U.S. import
sensitivities” during the negotiation. The proposed U.S.-EU free trade
agreement also will “establish origin procedures for the certification and
verification of rules of origin that promote strong enforcement, including with respect to textiles.” T-TIP
had adopted similar negotiating objectives for the textile and apparel sector.
III. Industry viewpoints on the agreement
January 2019, leading trade associations
representing the U.S. apparel industry and the EU textile and apparel industries
have expressed support for the proposed U.S.-EU Free Trade Agreement. In general,
these industry associations recommend the agreement to achieve the following
First, eliminate import duties. For example:
Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA): “We
support the immediate and reciprocal elimination of the high duties that both
countries maintain on textiles, travel goods, footwear, and apparel.”…” We also
support the immediate elimination of any retaliatory duties imposed by the
E.U., as well as any duties imposed by the U.S. (that led to that retaliation).
The duties impose costs on activities, including manufacturing activities in
the U.S., and undermine markets for U.S. exporters in Europe.”
Apparel and Textile Confederation (Euratex):“The
European Textile and Clothing sector faces high tariffs while exporting to the
US market from 11% to up to 32% for some products, namely sewing thread of
man-made filaments, suits, woven fabrics of cotton, trousers and t-shirts. Zero
customs duties while ensuring modern rules of origin will allow EU companies to
boost exports and offer more choice to American consumers and professional
Second, promote regulatory coherence (Harmonization). For example:
AAFA: “The E.U. and the
United States both maintain an extensive array of product safety, chemical management,
and labeling requirements regarding apparel (including legwear), footwear,
textiles, and travel goods.”…” Yet they often contain different requirements,
such as testing or certification, that greatly add compliance costs.”…” We
believe the U.S.‐E.U. trade agreement presents an important opportunity to achieve
harmonization or alignment for these regulations.”
Euratex: “Maintaining high
level of standards while eliminating unnecessary burdens, removing additional
requirements and facilitating customs procedures that impede business are top
priorities. Mutual recognition of the EU and US standards will preserve high
level of consumer protection on both sides of the Atlantic. Convergence on labelling (fibre
names, care symbols and wool labelling),
consumer safety on children products and flammability standards is key for the
T&C sector.” “EURATEX believes the EU and US standardization bodies should
cooperate on setting standards for Smart Textiles taking into account the
industry views for facilitating development and trade of such products of the
Third, adopt flexible/modern rules of origin. For example:
AAFA: “We should also support higher usage of the agreement by making sure the rules of origin reflect the realities of the industry today…”the yarn forward” rules, although theoretically promote usage of trade partner inputs, in practice they operate as significant barriers that restrict the ability of companies to use a trade agreement in many cases”…” We need to incorporate sufficient flexibilities into the rules of origin so that different supply chains –and the U.S. jobs they support – can take advantage of the agreement.”
Euratex: “Zero customs
duties while ensuring modern rules of
origin will allow EU companies to boost exports and offer more choice to
American consumers and professional buyers.”
The National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO), which represents the U.S. textile industry, hasn’t publically stated its position on the proposed U.S.-EU Free Trade Agreement. However, NCTO had strongly urged U.S. trade negotiators to adopt a yarn-forward rule of origin in T-TIP. NCTO also opposed opening the U.S. government procurement market protected by the Berry Amendment to EU companies.
IV. Patterns of U.S.-EU textile and apparel trade
United States and the EU are mutually important textile and apparel (T&A)
trading partners. For example, the United States is EU’s largest extra-region
export market for textiles, and EU’s fifth largest extra-region supplier of
textiles in 2017 (Euratex, 2018).
the EU is one of the leading export markets for U.S.-made technical textiles as
well as an important source of high-end apparel products for U.S. consumers (OTEXA,
2018). Specifically, in 2017, U.S. T&A exports to the European Union
totaled $2,572 million, of which 73.2% were textile products, such as specialty
& industrial fabrics, felts & other non-woven fabrics and filament
yarns. In comparison, EU’s T&A exports to the United States totaled $4,163
million in 2017, among which textiles and apparel evenly accounted for 48.7%
and 51.3% respectively.
V. Potential economic impact of the agreement
By adopting the Global Trade Analysis Project (GTAP) model, Lu (2017) quantitatively evaluated the potential impact of a free trade agreement between the U.S. and EU on the textile and apparel sector. According to the study:
the trade creation effect of the agreement will expand the EU-U.S.
intra-industry trade for textiles. Meanwhile, the agreement is likely to
significantly expand EU’s apparel exports to the United States.
the trade diversion effect of the U.S.-EU Free Trade Agreement will affect other
T&A exporters negatively, including Asia’s T&A exports to the U.S. market
and EU and Turkey’s T&A exports to the EU market.
Third, the U.S.-EU Textile and Apparel Trade might affect the intra-region T&A trade in the EU region negatively but in a limited way.
Overall, the study suggests that the EU T&A industry will benefit from the additional market access opportunities created by the U.S.-EU Free Trade Agreement.One important factor is that the U.S. and EU T&A industries do not constitute a major competing relationship. For example, the United States is no longer a major apparel producer, and EU’s apparel exports to the United States fulfill U.S. consumers’ demand for high-end luxury products. The U.S.-EU Free Trade Agreement is also likely to create additional export opportunities for EU textile companies in the U.S. market, especially in the technical textiles area, which accounted for approximately 40% of EU’s total textile exports to the United States in 2017 measured in value. Compared with traditional yarns and fabrics for apparel making purposes, technical textiles are with a greater variety in usage, which allows EU companies to be able to differentiate products and find their niche in the U.S. market.
Further, the study suggests that we shall pay more attention to the details of non-tariff barrier removal under the U.S.-EU Free Trade Agreement, which could result in bigger economic impacts than tariff elimination.
On December 21, 2018, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) released negotiating objectives of the proposed U.S.-Japan Free Trade Agreement (USJTA). Overall, USJTA aims to address both tariff and non-tariff barriers to achieve fairer and more balanced trade between the two countries.
Regarding the textiles and apparel sector, USTR says it will “secure duty-free access for U.S. textile and
apparel products and seek to improve competitive opportunities for exports of
U.S. textile and apparel products while taking into account U.S. import
sensitivities” during the negotiation. USJTA also will “establish origin
procedures for the certification and verification of rules of origin that
promote strong enforcement, including with respect to textiles.” According to
the 2015 Trade Promotion Authority Act, the earliest day to start the USJTA
negotiation will be in mid-January 2019.
Regarding the potential economic impact of USJTA on the textile and apparel sector:
First, the overall economic impact is likely to be modest given the limited U.S.-Japan bilateral trade flows for textiles and apparel. Data from the UNComtrade shows that in 2017 U.S. exported $220 million textiles (1.7% of the total) and $141 million apparel (4.7% of the total) to Japan. Meanwhile, U.S. imported $550 million textiles (1.9% of the total) and $104 million apparel (0.1% of the total) from Japan. In comparison, over 70% of U.S. textile and apparel exports went to the Western-Hemisphere and U.S. imported textiles and apparel mostly from NAFTA & CAFTA-DR members and other Asian countries (such as China and Vietnam).
Second, the elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers under USJTA could expand the bilateral trade flows for technical textiles. Notably, the top categories of U.S. textile and apparel exports to Japan in 2017 were mostly technical textiles such as specialty and industrial fabrics, filament yarns, and non-woven textiles. Likewise, the top categories of Japan’s textile and apparel exports to the U.S. in 2017 also include special purpose fabric, non-woven fabric, and synthetic filament fabrics.
Third, the textiles and apparel-specific rules of origin (RoO) is likely to remain a heated debate in the USJTA negotiation. To protect the interests of the U.S. textile industry and the Western-Hemisphere regional textile and apparel supply chain, most free trade agreements enacted in the United States adopt the so-called “yarn-forward” RoO. Even though USJTA may not be a too big deal economically, the U.S. textile industry is unlikely to give up the RoO fight. However, most free trade agreements enacted in Japan adopt more liberal fabric-forward rules of origin. As textile and apparel production in Japan is increasingly integrated with other Asian countries, the strict “yarn-forward” RoO could prevent Japanese textile and apparel exporters from enjoying the preferential duty benefits under USJTA fully. On the other hand, adopting a liberal RoO in USJTA is also advocated strongly by U.S. fashion brands and apparel retailers.
To better understand companies’ latest sourcing practices, we recently examined the detailed sourcing portfolios of the 50 largest U.S.-based apparel companies ranked by the Apparel Magazine. Specifically, we conducted a content analysis of each company’s publicly released annual reports and their financial statements from 2014 to 2017 (the latest information available), with a focus on the following two research questions: 1) How have the sourcing strategies of U.S. apparel companies evolved? 2) How have the evolving sourcing strategies affected companies’ financial performance? Here are the key findings:
apparel companies overall adopt a diverse sourcing base. Among the 50
companies we examined, on average they sourced from over 20 different countries
or regions using more than 200 vendors in 2017. These results echo the findings
of the 2018 U.S. Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study released by the U.S.
Fashion Industry Association (USFIA) in July. Based on a survey of nearly 30
executives from leading U.S. fashion brands and apparel retailers, the study
also found companies with more than 1,000 employees typically source from more
than ten different countries and regions. Also, larger companies, in general,
adopt a more diverse sourcing base than smaller ones.
Second, while U.S.
apparel companies are actively seeking new sourcing bases, many of them are
reducing either the number of countries they source from or the number of
vendors they work with. Specifically, among the top 50 U.S. apparel
companies examined, around 28 percent increased the number of countries or
regions they use as sourcing bases between 2014 and 2017. However, over the
same period, 52 percent chose to consolidate their existing sources base, but
on a small scale. Likewise, among the top 50 U.S. apparel companies examined,
approximately half reduced the number of vendors they use between 2014 and
2017, compared with 33 percent that chose to source from more vendors.
Third, for risk
control purposes, most U.S. apparel companies avoid relying too much on any
single vendor; however, some companies have begun to allocate more sourcing
orders to its largest vendors. The top 50 U.S. apparel companies we
examined on average assigned no more than 10 percent of their total sourcing
value or volumes to any single vendor in 2017. This practice suggests that
minimizing supply chain risks is a critical consideration of U.S. apparel
companies’ sourcing strategy. Nevertheless, between 2014 and 2017, around 45
percent of apparel companies we examined raised the cap slightly.
Fourth, regarding the financial implications of the adjustment of sourcing strategies, companies that diversified their sourcing bases between 2014 and 2017, in general, were able to reduce sourcing cost and improve gross margin. In comparison, U.S. apparel companies we examined that consolidated their sourcing base between 2014 and 2017 suffered a slight decline in their gross margin percentage.
On the other hand, however, there was no clear pattern between a company’s choice of sourcing strategy and their net profit margin. While multiple factors could come into play, one possible explanation for the results is that that either diversifying or considering the sourcing base would incur additional management cost for the company.