The panel discussion is part of the 2020 Virtual Apparel and Textile Sourcing Show. Topics covered by the session include:
- Impact of COVID-19 on US fashion companies’ businesses and sourcing strategies
- Impact of the 2020 US presidential election on the fashion industry
- Key US trade policy issues related to the fashion industry 2020-2021
- Patterns of US apparel sourcing and trade 2020-2021
- Sourcing from Asia vs. near sourcing from the Western Hemisphere
(Student fashion show–from College of Fashion and Design at DHU)
To enhance students’ global awareness and facilitate cross-cultural exchange, we are very pleased to have several special guests from the Donghua University (DHU) to answer questions proposed by FASH455 students regarding the fashion education in China. Donghua University (DHU), located in downtown Shanghai and formerly known as the China Textile University, has one of the oldest and most prestigious fashion programs in China.
- Luo Wang: a Ph.D. student at the College of Fashion and Design at DHU. Luo received her B.S. in fashion design and engineering from DHU and was an exchange student at the North Carolina State University, College of Textiles.
- Caixia Chen: a Ph.D. student at the College of Fashion and Design at DHU. Caixia received her B.S. in fashion design and engineering from DHU as well. Her research interests include fashion marketing and fashion supply chain management.
- Zongyu Xiong: an M.S. student in the College of Fashion and Design at DHU. Her research interests include cost management in the fashion supply chain.
- Jingjing Wang: a freshman majoring in Fashion Design and Engineering in the College of fashion and design at DHU.
- Bai Li: Bai received her B.S. in fashion design and engineering from DHU and M.S. in Fashion and Apparel Studies from UD. Currently, Bai is a Ph.D. student at UD studying functional apparel design and physical therapy.
Question from FASH455: Why do you choose to be a fashion major—personal interest or guaranteed job offer?
Luo Wang: For me, it is personal interest. Both my bachelor and master degrees were in fashion design. I was interested in the development of the luxury apparel market in China. As China’s economy continues to grow, I have been studying the purchasing behaviors of Chinese consumers for apparel as well.
Caixia: Personal interest.
Zongyu: Personal interest is the main reason above all. And I also hope that I can engage in fashion-related jobs in the future.
Jingjing: I choose to be a fashion major because of my personal interest. But my future work may not be in the fashion area.
Bai Li: Both–personal interest in fashion and a kind of guaranteed job offer because of the engineering component of the major.
Question from FASH455: What classes do you take as a fashion major in China?
Luo Wang: At the Donghua University, we have two departments in the College of Fashion and Design. One is fashion design, and the other is apparel engineering. I was a design major. For my undergraduate studies, I have taken Design Introduction, fashion design, pattern making, Apparel Production, and Marketing Management, Apparel Making Basic Techniques，Fashion Illustration，Computer-Aided Fashion Illustration，Apparel Making Techniques，Apparel Accessory Design，Clothing CAD，Apparel Accessory Design.
For my graduate studies, I have taken Branded Fashion Exertion, Fashion Accessories Art Design, Design management, History of Art Design, Branded Fashion Design, Fashion Brand Constitution, Fashion Comments, Western Modern Art, and Western Art Literary Theory.
Caixia: Fashion marketing, fashion manufacture management, fashion buyer, fashion English, Fashion trade, fashion forecasting, draping, and pattern-making.
Actually, the Donghua Universty offers two fashion majors. One is fashion design which focuses on design. The students majored in fashion design are good at drawing. Another one is fashion engineering, which focuses on draping, pattern-making, fashion trade, fashion marketing etc.
Zongyu: Global marketing of clothing, Market research and forecast, Consumer psychology, Clothing Materials, CAD, Fashion Illustration, Clothing craft, Draping, and some theoretical course.
Jingjing: So far I’ve taken clothing marketing and merchandising, garment production management, fashion retail management, etc..
Bai Li: 1) Engineering basic courses: chemistry, physics, electrical and electronic engineering, and C programming, etc. 2) Fashion design courses: pattern making, trend forecasting, draping, clothing materials, etc. 3) Senior thesis and senior collections for the fashion show
Question from FASH455: What is the percentage of fashion majors in your school that receive job offers immediately after finishing their studies?
Caixia: As I know, around 100 fashion engineering majors graduate from the college of fashion and design at DHU every year. Among them, about 50% receive job offers immediately after finishing their studies, and about 20% will continue to pursue a master degree in China. Another 20% will choose to study abroad.
Zongyu: According to the official statistics released by DHU, the employment rate reached 92.18% for the total 729 class of 2015 graduated from the college of fashion and design.
Jingjing: About 90%.
Question from FASH455: How do your professors tell you about the fashion industry in the United States?
Luo Wang: We were told that a notable competitive advantage of the U.S. fashion industry is in marketing and business strategy. As we know, U.S. has the world’s top business schools and MBA programs; I think this is why our professors told us we need to learn more about the business strategy of U.S. fashion companies.
Caixia: U.S. is one of the largest textile and apparel importers in the world. China — by far is the largest supplier of textiles and apparel to the U.S..
Zongyu: I’m sorry for my limited knowledge. I just know a little about the recent trend of American textile industry moving back to the U.S..
Jingjing: The fashion industry in the United States is quite developed, and it has an important place in the world. However, it also meets bottlenecks at its present development stage. Some classic brands are managed less well than in previous years.
Bai Li: Not much…some professors had limited knowledge of the fashion industry in the States.
Question from FASH455: How do you think globalization has affected China, especially its textile and apparel industry?
Luo Wang: In my opinion, globalization is a double-edged sword that brings China both changes and opportunities. The low labor cost was a significant advantage of the apparel industry in China. With the deepening of globalization, however, China has been strengthening the enforcement of regulations in the social aspects, which focus on improving worker’s welfare and meeting the international labor standards. As a result, China is gradually losing the advantages in labor cost compared with many other developing countries. On the other hand, an opportunity for the apparel industry in China is that we begin to pay more attention to the building of our indigenous fashion brands rather than making knockoffs.
Caixia: It is of grave concerns to some Chinese manufacturers that more and more international buyers now switch to source from lower-cost countries such as Bangladesh and Vietnam. However, in my opinion, Chinese manufacturers still enjoy competitive advantages. For example, Chinese suppliers can provide better quality products and more value-added services. Furthermore, by adopting new technologies, Chinese factories are able to offset the impact of increased production cost through improved efficiency and product quality.
On the other hand, globalization has made it more difficult for Chinese fashion companies to develop its own brands. In particular, the local Chinese fashion brands are facing grant challenges with the flood of international brands into the Chinese market.
Zongyu: For Chinese companies, globalization not only has resulted in more competitive pressures but also has created more opportunities to get access to the world marketplace. Chinese companies realize that they have to embrace a global version and develop high quality and innovative products so as to stand out from the market competition.
In terms of the Chinese consumers, globalization has brought them with more choices of better quality and lower-priced products.
Jingjing: Globalization is a two-edged sword, creating both opportunities and challenges for China. In the past, low-cost labor is a major competitive advantage for China. But now China’s cost advantage is gradually diminishing compared with other less developed countries whereas China is still not “strong enough” to compete on technology with advanced economies.
Bai Li: Of course, globalization has created many new job opportunities in China but also has caused some labor and environmental issues.
Questions from FASH455: What are the working conditions of garment factories in China?
Caixia: The working condition in China’s garment factory has improved significantly as you can see from the pictures below. Automation and technology advancement also play an important role.
Zongyu: Dragons and fishes jumbled together, meaning there are companies in either good or bad conditions. But compared with the past, working conditions in the Chinese garment factories overall have much improved. Most factories have met the 5S (5s is the name of a workplace organization method that uses a list of five words: sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain) or 6S(5s plus safety) requirements.
Jingjing: Following the principle of 5s management, Chinese garment factories overall are getting cleaner, more orderly and more modernized.
Question from FASH455: Does it bother the Chinese people that American companies send work to China to produce cheap labor?
Zongyu: It is just my personal view: exporting textile and apparel is necessary for China as a developing country to generate economic growth and create job opportunities. But China is also transforming and upgrading its economy.
Jingjing: I think it is a normal phenomenon in the developing world. Actually, Chinese companies have started to offshore production to less developed countries with cheaper labor.
Anything else you would like to share with our students?
Luo Wang: As a pillar industry supporting China’s exports and foreign exchange earnings, the textile and apparel industry is a sector of strategic importance to China’s national economy. You can find the world’s most complete textile and apparel supply chain in China, from material planting to retailing. I would strongly recommend you to come and visit China, from its garment factories in Guangdong province (located in the South Part of China), online apparel retail businesses in Zhejiang Province (for example, Alibaba), to Shanghai where you can enjoy the most novel way of clothing shopping. Further, in today’s supply-chain based economy, China plays a critical role in linking the textile and apparel industry around the world. I am sure understanding China will help you shape a big picture of the global textile and apparel industry and beneficial for your future careers.
Questions from our DHU guests for FASH455 students:
- What do Americans think of “Made in China” today?
- Do the classes you take help with your career preparation?
- Have you taken any internship classes at UD? What did you do?
Guest Speaker: Jason Prescott
Jason Prescott founded JP Communications INC in 2005 and rapidly established TopTenWholesale.com and Manufacturer.com as the largest US-based B2B global trade network for manufacturers, retailers, department stores, discounters, importers, wholesalers, buyers and brands. A decade later, in 2016, he established the Apparel Textile Sourcing trade show platform with the China Chamber of Commerce for Import & Export of Textile & Apparel to connect the global B2B network of over 2 million with manufacturers around the globe via in-person events. By 2020, the ATS brand has created the fastest-growing trade shows in the industry producing annual events in Miami, Toronto, Montreal, Berlin and virtually.
Jason is active in search marketing models and technology and provides consulting and seminars in around the world for organizations looking to invest in the USA market. He is the author of two best-selling books, Wholesale 101 and Retail 101, published by McGraw Hill as well as articles on business and technology appearing in B2B Online, Omma, IMediaConnection, CEO Magazine, Entrepreneur Online, and been cited in Inc Magazine, Business Week and Forbes Online.
Moderator: Kendall Keough
Kendall Keough is a recent graduate from the University of Delaware (UD) with a Master of Science in Fashion & Apparel Studies. She also graduated from the UD with a Bachelor’s Science in Fashion Merchandising & Honors in 2019. Kendall was a recipient of the 2018 YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund national case study competition. While studying at UD, she also held several leadership positions, including serving as the President of the Synergy Fashion Group between 2018 and 2019. Kendall is the author of several recent papers addressing the U.S. textile and apparel industry and related trade issues, including: Explore the export performance of textiles and apparel “Made in the USA”: A firm-level analysis. (Journal of the Textile Institute, 2020); US-Kenya trade deal – Here’s what the apparel industry wants (Just-Style, 2020); ‘Made in the USA’ textiles and apparel – Key production and export trends (Just-Style, 2020).
Kendall: What has motivated you to get involved in the apparel business, especially running the Apparel Textile Sourcing Trade (ATS) Shows, which has grown into one of the most popular and influential sourcing events today?
Jason: We started our company in 2005 w/ our flagship product – www.TopTenWholesale.com – which is a search engine for wholesale suppliers and products. In 2010 we acquired www.manufacturer.com – a sourcing platform to find global producers and manufacturers. It would be fair to say that never in our wildest imagination did we think we would be producing some of the world’s top sourcing trade fairs in the apparel and textile industry. I’d like to say it was a natural evolution but to be frank the opportunity came up over a cup of tea with a very good friend of mine, Mr. Chen Zhirong – Director for the China Chamber of Commerce for Import & Export of Textiles (CCCT) – in Dec 2015. What started from a cup of tea wound up growing into a trade show company that now produces events 4 cities, 3 countries and 2 continents (Miami, Toronto, Montreal, Berlin).
More than 200 of the world’s top producers of apparel, textiles, accessories, footwear, and personal protective equipment will exhibit virtually at Apparel Textile Sourcing trade shows this fall. Attendance is always free and the interactive event also specializes in seminars, sessions, workshops and panels from experts in the industries of sourcing, fashion, design and retail.
Kendall: COVID-19 is the single biggest challenge facing the textile and apparel industry today. From your observation, how has COVID-19 affected textile and apparel companies’ sourcing practices? What will be the medium to the long-term impact of COVID on textile and apparel sourcing?
Jason: The fallout from the pandemic – particularly in the textile and apparel industry – and how it impacts sourcing, has had such a far-reaching magnitude that it’s still very challenging to figure out how sourcing practices will be impacted. Over the long term, there is no question that this pandemic will speed up near-sourcing, on-shoring, digitization, and real-time production. The interim has resulted in massive layoffs, geo-political uncertainty and a turbulent political atmosphere that has rattled the cages of just about every sourcing director. The industry has seen purchase orders defaulted on, behavior in the supply chain that should not be tolerated, and a general lack of accountability. I also have no question that as we continue to emerge out of the pandemic there will be an advanced focus much more on the global revolution of sustainability, fair labor practices, plus a far-keener eye on the eco-systems in which the textile industry lives and breathes.
Kendall: There have been more heated debates on the future of China as an apparel sourcing base for US fashion companies, especially given the escalating U.S.-China trade war and the COVID-19. What is your view?
Jason: It should be noted that more than a billion dollars of trade in the textile sector in China was lost in export shipments to the USA during the first half of 2019 – primarily due to the trade war. The pandemic has since crippled exports of textile and apparel – in not just China – but also in every sourcing region on the planet. While many media outlets and others talk about the demise of China as a producer for textile and apparel that is just not the case. The Chinese have built an infrastructure, invested billions of dollars in the best technology, and have mastered the art of production over the last 3+ decades. We must not also forget that much of this infrastructure was built with trillions of dollars by the world’s leading brands, retailers, and governments. To bail on that would not be prudent. The Chinese are extremely adaptive and there is no question they have taken the time during the pandemic – and I should also note that they have emerged quicker than anyone else from the pandemic – to invest much more in technology, made-to-order, customization, and enhances on sustainable practices by utilizing more renewables.
Kendall: Many studies suggest that fashion companies continue to actively look for China’s alternatives. Do we have a “Next China” yet– Vietnam, Bangladesh, India, Ethiopia, or somewhere else?
Jason: No we do not have a next China yet. The production in many regions that have competent supply chains – like Vietnam – are full and at over-capacity. It should further be noted that a large portion in places like Vietnam are owned in partnerships thru the Chinese. Simply stated, many of the other regions such as Bangladesh, India, and the AGOA regions lack infrastructure and the decades of experience that the Chinese have.
Kendall: Some predict that near sourcing rather than global sourcing will become ever more popular as fashion companies are prioritizing speed to market and building a shorter supply chain. Why or why not do you think the shift to near sourcing or reshoring is happening?
Jason: This is correct. On-demand production, near-sourcing, and the evolution of digitization will of course lead to increased manufacturing domestically. Neither of these options are yet a solution for the high-volume production which is at the heart of the industry. I will agree that the continued emergence of micro-brands, and continually evolving shifts in consumer behavior which generally has resulted in ‘disloyalty’ to brands is another factor that makes on-shoring or near-shoring more attractive.
Kendall: Building a more sustainable and socially responsible textile and apparel supply chain is also growing in importance. From interacting with fashion brands and retailers, can you provide us with some updates in this area, such as companies’ best practices, issues they are working on, or the key challenges that remain?
Jason: The circularity of the industry encompassing the producer, the brand, logistics, and the consumer will continue to evolve in their social responsibilities and awareness of sustainable practices engaged in by the brand. There are great organizations out there like WRAP, TESTEX and Better Buying who are growing and have a much larger voice than what they have had in the past. Post-pandemic, I believe we will see social responsibility as one of the top priorities with so many millions of people displaces from COVID-19.
Kendall: For our students interested in pursuing a career in the textile and apparel industry, especially related to sourcing, do you have any suggestions?
Jason: The top suggestion I can offer is to pursue experience as you are actively engaged in your studies. One of the key elements I can advise of is to take the time and learn culture over language. Having a cultural understanding of the key regions where sourcing occurs will catapult your career and bring significant relationships to the table that you never thought you would have had before. Also, attend trade shows! Walking thru international apparel trade shows – like The Apparel Textile Sourcing – will help you immerse yourself with numerous different nationalities and personalities that you would otherwise never have the chance to meet. Jump on any opportunity you can to go abroad. Especially to regions in Asia and Latin America. Most importantly never forget that your credibility in life is everything and maintain the highest pedigree of integrity as possible.
The original interview (in Spanish) is available HERE. Below is the translated version.
Question: Is there a reversal in the globalization of fashion?
Sheng Lu: The fashion industry is becoming more global AND regional — the making and selling of a garment “travel” through more and more countries. Just look at the label of a Gap sweatshirt: it is an American clothing brand, but the product is “Made in Vietnam,” and the label includes the size standards in six different countries. The business model of the fashion industry today is “making anywhere in the world and selling anywhere in the world.”
Q .: What do you mean the industry is becoming more “regional”?
Sheng Lu: The trade flows of textiles and apparel today are heavily influenced by regional free trade agreements (FTAs). For example, while China is known as the world’s largest apparel producer and exporter, nearly 50% of the clothing consumed by European consumers are still produced by EU countries themselves. Notably, consumers have different expectations for clothing: many are price-sensitive, but others prefer more trendy items, which requires “near sourcing”—this explains why fashion companies have to adopt a more balanced sourcing portfolio.
Q .: Is the price still the most important factor in fashion companies’ sourcing decisions?
Sheng Lu: Sourcing is far more than just about chasing for the lowest cost. Sourcing decisions today have to consider a mix of factors, ranging from flexibility, speed to market, sustainability, to compliance risks. In fact, few companies “put all eggs in one basket.” My recent studies show that both in the United States and the EU, fashion companies with more than 1,000 employees, typically sourced from more than twenty different countries—sometimes even exceed forty. Behind such a diversified sourcing practice is the necessity to strike a balance between so many different sourcing factors.
Q .: Is apparel sourcing becoming more diversified today than a decade ago?
Sheng Lu: From my observations, fashion companies are souring from more countries and regions than a decade ago, but not in terms of producers. Especially in the last two or three years, I see some large companies are consolidating their supplier base to build a closer relationship with key vendors. The reason is the same as mentioned earlier: a very competitive price is not enough for apparel sourcing today.
Q .: How has the tariff war between the United States and China affected apparel sourcing?
Sheng Lu: The trade war between the United States and China is having big impacts on apparel sourcing that go beyond the two countries. Notably, American fashion brands and retailers are moving sourcing orders from China to other Asian countries such as Vietnam and Bangladesh. However, finding China’s alternatives is anything but easy. Despite the tariff war, China remains a competitive player in apparel sourcing. The unparalleled production capacity that can fulfill orders nearly for any products in any quantity, and the ability to comply with complex sustainability and social responsibility regulations are among China’s unique competitive advantages. Understandably, companies are not giving up sourcing from China, as there are few other “balanced” sourcing destinations in the world. That being said, it is important to recognize that the big landscape of apparel sourcing is evolving. Even in Europe, which is not having a trade war with China, apparel “Made in China” is seeing a notable decline in its market share.
Q .: How is China adapting?
Sheng Lu: The textile and apparel industry in China is undergoing a structural change. Partially caused by the tariff war, apparel producers in China are increasingly moving their factories to nearby Asian countries (especially for big-volume and/or relatively low value-added product categories). Meanwhile, China itself is changing from an apparel producer to become a leading textile supplier for other apparel-exporting countries in Asia. This is NOT a temporary move, but a permanent transition, which has happened in many industrialized economies in history. Somehow, the tariff war has accelerated the adjustment process, however.
Q .: Will Africa be the next hub for apparel sourcing in the near future?
Sheng Lu: As textile and clothing trade is turning more regional-based, Africa is facing significant challenges to become an attractive tier-1 sourcing base for Western fashion brands and apparel retailers.
Q .: Why is that?
Sheng Lu: In general, there are three primary apparel import markets in the world: the United States, the European Union, and Japan—as of 2018, these three regions altogether still accounted for as many as 70% of the world apparel imports. Surely, Asian countries are important apparel suppliers for all these three regions. However, each of these three markets also has its respective regional suppliers—Mexico and Central & South American countries for the United States, China, and a few Southeast Asian countries for Japan and Eastern European countries for the EU market. Other than geographic proximity, often, these regional suppliers also enjoy preferential market access to the US, EU, and Japan provided by regional free trade agreements.
Africa, on the other hand, is not close to any of these three major apparel import markets geographically. Why would fashion companies in the United States, Japan, or the EU have to source from Africa when there are so many other options available?
Q .: For price?
Sheng Lu: Several trade preference programs currently offer apparel exporters in African countries preferential or duty-free market access to the United States, the EU, and Japan (such as the African Growth Opportunity Act and the EU and Japan Generalized System of Preferences programs). However, sourcing from Africa will entail other extra costs—for example, the raw material cost will be higher as yarns and fabrics have to be imported from Asia first, and the transportation bill could be costly due to the poor infrastructure. Further, not like their counterpart in Asia, the apparel industry is not regarded as a development priority in many African countries, which continue to rely heavily on the export of raw materials instead. Manufacturing for the local market is also complicated—apparel producers in Africa are struggling with both the cheap clothing imported from Asia and the mounting used clothing sent from the West.
Q .: It is said that fashion might be the most regulated sector in international trade other than agriculture. How to explain this?
Sheng Lu: I think we need some changes here. For example, in 2018, textiles and apparel accounted for only 5% of the total U.S. merchandise imports but contributed nearly 40% of the tariff revenue collected. This phenomenon, which makes no sense economically, is the result of the industry lobby—trying to protect domestic manufacturers from import competition.
As another example, around 15%-17% of Mexico’s clothing exports to the United States do not claim the duty-free benefits provided by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), as the NAFTA rules of origin strictly require the using of regional yarns and fabrics for qualified apparel items. In the end, companies prefer bigger savings on the raw material cost than claiming the NAFTA duty-saving benefits. We should think about how to modernize these trade rules and make them more supply-chain friendly in the 21st century.
Meanwhile, policymakers are developing new regulations to address some emerging areas in international trade, such as E-commerce, labor standards and environmental protection. Increasingly, trade policy is moving from “measures at the border” to “measures behind the borders.”
(photo courtesy: Amcham Vietnam)
Herb Cochran is the Executive Director at the American Chambers of Commerce (AmCham) Vietnam. He has helped transform AmCham Vietnam into an influential organization that promotes trade and investment between Vietnam and the United States, with a focus on developing networking, information-sharing, and advocacy activities to improve the business environment.
Herb mobilized AmCham Vietnam members’ substantial efforts to conclude negotiations on the Vietnam-U.S. Bilateral Trade Agreement and Vietnam’s WTO Accession, and to have these two agreements approved by the U.S. Congress. As a result, trade between Vietnam and the U.S. increased from $1.2 billion in 2000 to about $36 billion in 2014. And Herb expects that total Vietnam-U.S. trade will reach $ 72 billion in 2020.
With Herb’s leadership and support, AmCham Vietnam’s committees and industry sector experts have helped improve mutual understanding on key issues in U.S.-Vietnam trade and investment, including implementation of trade agreements, preserving Vietnam-U.S. apparel trade, strengthening governance and anti-corruption efforts, improved industrial relations, Project 30 (simplification of Vietnam’s administrative procedures), work force development for modern manufacturing, promoting trade and investment between the U.S. and Vietnam’s Southern Key Economic Region, and the Asia Development Bank’s strategy for the economic and social development of Vietnam and the Greater Mekong Subregion.
Prior to joining AmCham, Herb was Commercial Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi and Principal Commercial Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City. He helped establish the commercial office of the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, hiring staff and establishing trade and finance programs, including the U.S. Export-Import Bank, Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), and U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA). In 1998-99 he established the commercial office of the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City.
Herb also served as Regional Director, East Asia and Pacific, U.S. Commercial Service, based in Washington DC. His responsibilities included program, personnel, and budget support for the commercial departments of 15 United States Embassies in the Asia/Pacific region, from Tokyo, Seoul, and Beijing in Northeast Asia, to all the countries of Southeast Asia, and down to Australia and New Zealand. Other international working experiences of Herb include: Commercial Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, Commercial Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, Japan, U.S. Consulate General in Osaka, Japan, and Action Officer at the State Department’s Office of Japanese Affairs.
Born in North Carolina, Herb earned a B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (History), and a Certificat from the Institut d’Études Politiques (Sciences Po) in Paris. He is also a graduate of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in Washington DC (National Defense Strategy).
Sheng Lu: Can you provide us an overview about the US-Vietnam business ties?
Herb Cochran: Vietnam has succeeded at attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) and increasing trade. U.S. – Vietnam trade in 2015 will likely reach over $45 billion, another annual increase of over 20%. Vietnam accounts for 25% of all U.S. imports of goods from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The numbers are likely to reach $80 billion and a 33% market share by 2020.
More details can be found from a few recent AmCham statements to government officials and to press inquiries:
- AmCham Statement at the Vietnam Business Forum, Dec 1, 2015
- AmCham Statement at Vietnam Business Forum, Jun 2015
- Vietnam – U.S. Trade Status and Outlook, Oct 2014
Note: Vietnam Business Forum a “structured dialogue” of about three hours 2 times a year, in June and in December, where the business associations present their views of the business ties and business environment and suggest areas for improvement.
Sheng Lu: What are the main reasons that U.S. companies come to invest in Vietnam? Are most U.S. business operations in Vietnam profitable?
Herb Cochran: Foreign Direct Investment into Vietnam has been increasing recently, as companies prepare for ASEAN integration, for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and for the expectation that 59% of global middle class consumer spending will be in the Asia – Pacific region by 2030, up from 23% in 2009. For example:
- P&G announced a $100 million Gillette razor blade factory, in Binh Duong
- Nestlé recently opened a $237 million coffee processing facility, in Dong Nai
- A Korean firm, Hyosung, that has a 40% share of global spandex production, recently opened a new factory.
These are all world-class factories, by global companies, for export to ASEAN, TPP, and Asia-Pacific markets. Not to mention the high-tech investments by Intel, Samsung, Apple, and others in the microelectronics and consumer electronics sector.
Main reasons that U.S. companies come to invest in Vietnam include:
- Availability of low cost labor
- Availability of trained personnel
- Stable government and political system
Regarding Vietnam’s business and investment environment, please also see the summary below from ASEAN AmChams’ Business Outlook Survey 2016.
Sheng Lu: Given the increasing labor cost in China, many people see Vietnam as an alternative sourcing destination for labor-intensive products such as apparel and footwear. What’s your view on this trend?
Herb Cochran: I agree. In Aug 2013, we had a delegation visit AmCham HCMC from AmCham Hong Kong, Footwear and Apparel Committee. They said, “We represent 80% of the apparel and footwear sourcing in the world. We are in Hong Kong because most of our sourcing is in China. But we are leaving China, for various reasons. Vietnam’s participation in TPP is certainly an attraction, but we are leaving China with or without TPP. We want to know if Vietnam will welcome us.”
It should be particularly noted that between 2013 – 2015, about $3 billion was announced in FDI in textiles to meet the yarn-forward rules of origin requirements of TPP. One estimate projects Vietnam’s apparel exports to the U.S. under TPP “… would be as high as US$ 22 billion” by 2020. Another projects that Vietnam’s apparel and footwear exports would increase by 45.9% over the baseline by 2025. A third expert said she expects the TPP will “change the sourcing landscape drastically;” and Vietnam’s share of the U.S. apparel import market could go from 10% to 35% very quickly.” [Note: 35% of the U.S. apparel imports market is $35 billion. I think this is the most interesting estimate, a microeconomic estimate from an industry expert and not a “macroeconomic model estimate.”] And Mr. Le Tien Truong, Deputy Director of VINATEX, expects that Vietnam’s exports of textiles and apparel could reach $50 billion by 2025. [I think this estimate is overoptimistic.]
Below is a historical comparison of U.S. imports of apparel from China, “2nd Tier Countries,” and “Other.” from 2005 to 2025. The actual trade statistics from 2005 to 2015 show that U.S. Imports of Apparel from China doubled from 2005 (when quotas on WTO members were lifted) to 2010, but they have been “flat” since then. Value of imports from 2016 to 2025 are forecasted numbers.
Sheng Lu: In your view, what commercial opportunities does the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) present to U.S. companies in Vietnam, especially in the textile and apparel industry?
Herb Cochran: The most authoritative study was done by Professor Peter Petri of Brandeis University and the Peterson Institute. According to the findings:
The TPP would increase Vietnam’s exports from the expected “baseline” in 2025 without TPP of $239.0 billion (of which apparel and footwear exports would total $113 billion) by $67.9 billion to $307 billion (of which apparel and footwear exports would increase by $51.9 billion to $165 billion). In percentage terms, total exports would increase by 28.4% over the baseline, and apparel and footwear exports would increase by 45.9% over the baseline. Total Net Exports increase: 67.9 / 239.0 = 28.4%.
In addition, the expected Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth benefits are substantial, Vietnam’s GDP in 2025 with TPP, would be 10.5% higher than the baseline estimate. This is particularly important now that Vietnam is in a “structural growth decline” period, according to the World Bank. Those are economic projections that give a general idea.
Sheng Lu: How is TPP discussed in Vietnam such as its local media?
Herb Cochran: Very positively. For example, see the below link: “89% of public in Vietnam thinks the TPP is “ … a good thing.” http://www.amchamvietnam.com/30448353/89-of-public-in-vietnam-supports-tpp-pew-research/
Part of the reason for this positive viewpoint is the series of seminars that we in AmCham HCMC organized in 2013 to explain about the TPP, create better understanding of and support for the TPP especially in the Vietnam business community.
Sheng Lu: What is the outlook for TPP ratification in Vietnam?
Herb Cochran: Very good. At the closing ceremony of the 14th Plenum of the 11th Party Central Committee, the Party General Secretary, Nguyen Phu Trong, said members of the Party Central Committee reached consensus on the signing and ratification of the Trans-pacific Partnership Agreement in conformity to laws on signing and joining international treaties. Mr. Trong said: “The TPP will bring great benefits but also opportunities and challenges to Vietnam. These challenges have been identified during Vietnam’s 30 years of renewal and international integration. With efforts, creativity, and determination of the Party, army, people, and the business community, we are confident that we will overcome all challenges and grasp opportunities created by the TPP to achieve rapid, sustainable growth.”
Sheng Lu: While living in Vietnam, have you encountered any culture shock? Can you share some stories with our students?
Herb Cochran: No culture shock. During my career as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer, I lived in Vietnam, Japan, and Thailand for about 22 years, so I am used to living abroad. And I have lived in Vietnam since Jan 1997. I guess rather than “culture shock,” you might say that I have “culture insights” from time to time. The most common insight here in Vietnam is how polite, warm and gracious most people are. It is still a traditional society, very family oriented. One cultural insight is how they celebrate “death anniversaries” for many years, with special celebrations on certain multi-year anniversaries, to keep family ancestors in their memories, called lễ giỗ.
Sheng Lu: Last but not least, for our students interested in working/interning in Vietnam, do you have any suggestions?
Herb Cochran: It’s very tough to get started. Click the below link for some comments that I have put together in response to many questions: http://www.amchamvietnam.com/faqs/faq-how-do-i-find-employment-opportunities-with-amcham-member-companies/. A short commentary is that I think it is probably better to start in the U.S. with a large organization that has global operations, e.g. Walmart, Nike, etc., and learn about that organization’s international operations and get started that way. Especially when your students are younger, maybe not yet married, no children, etc. One real problem for American citizens is that they are taxed in the U.S. and in the country of employment, so that they are generally 25% to 50% more expensive than U.S. non-citizens.
Julia K. Hughes is President of the United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA), which represents textile and apparel brands, retailers, importers, and wholesalers based in the United States and doing business globally. Founded in 1989 as the United States Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel with the goal of eliminating the global apparel quota system, USFIA now works to eliminate tariff and non-tariff barriers that impede the industry’s ability to trade freely and create economic opportunities in the United States and abroad. Ms. Hughes represents the fashion industry in front of the U.S. government and international governments and stakeholders.
Ms. Hughes has testified before Congress and the Executive Branch on textile trade issues. She is recognized as an expert in textile and apparel issues and frequently speaks at international conferences including the Apparel Sourcing Show, MAGIC, Foreign Service Institute, National Association of Manufacturers, Cotton Sourcing Summit, International Textiles and Clothing Bureau, Young Presidents’ Organization, World Trade Organization Beijing International Forum, and others.
Ms. Hughes served as the first President of the Organization of Women in International Trade (OWIT) and is one of the founders of the Washington Chapter of Women in International Trade (WIIT) and WIIT Charitable Trust. In 1992, she received the Outstanding Woman in International Trade award and in 2008, the WIIT Lifetime Achievement Award.
Ms. Hughes has an M.A. in International Studies from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a B.S. in Foreign Service from Georgetown University.
Special thanks to Samantha Sault, Vice President of Communication for the U.S. Fashion Industry Association for facilitating and supporting this exclusive interview. Ms. Sault is responsible for the development and execution of the association’s communications strategy, including public relations, policy research and messaging, and social media. Prior to joining the association, Ms. Sault honed her communications expertise at DCI Group, a global public affairs communications firm headquartered in Washington, D.C. Previously, she worked in media as a web editor and fact checker at The Weekly Standard and an editorial assistant at Policy Review, the journal of the Hoover Institution. She began her career in the apparel industry at 17 at abercrombie kids in Bethesda, Maryland.
Sheng Lu: Our students are interested in knowing who the members of the U.S. Fashion Industry Association (USFIA) are. Can you name a few of your member companies?
Julia Hughes: Our members range from major global brands and fast-fashion retailers, to small importers and wholesalers. While all of our members must be doing business in the United States, our membership roster also includes some international companies with a retail presence in the United States. Some of our most actively engaged members include iconic brands and retailers like Ralph Lauren, Macy’s, Levi Strauss & Co., JCPenney, Urban Outfitters, PVH Corp., and American Eagle Outfitters. We also represent small and medium-size importers, wholesalers, and manufacturers that you might not know by name, but supply to many of your favorite brands and retailers—companies like Michar, MGF Sourcing, and Golden Touch Imports, to name a few.
Sheng Lu: The USFIA is an advocate for trade liberalization and removal of trade barriers. Can you talk with us about the benefits of free trade, especially for the fashion industry both in the United States and globally?
Julia Hughes: As you know, USFIA was originally founded in 1989 (then known as the United States Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel) with the mission to eliminate the global quota system. We were successful! But of course, as you also know, that work is not over. The quotas may have gone away, but there still are import barriers that are unique to the apparel industry. USFIA member companies continue to face some of the United States’ highest tariffs. Textiles and apparel, combined with footwear, still account for some of the highest peaks in the U.S. tariff schedule, with many double-digit tariffs and a high of 32 percent.
Not only are these tariffs higher than on other products, but these tariffs also are a regressive tax. We believe it is simply wrong for a single mom to pay a 32 percent import tax for her baby’s onesies and a 16 percent tariff for her baby’s booties, while the wealthy pay a 1.2 percent tariff for their silk scarves. In total, apparel tariffs take more than $10 billion out of the pockets of hard-working Americans annually. So eliminating these tariffs would be an immediate benefit to American consumers and to American families.
But even removing these tariffs would not mean that there is “free trade.” For example, the fact that the United States maintains these peak textile and apparel tariffs creates problems for new policy initiatives to expand export markets for U.S. products. Market access for American brands and exports is hindered by prohibitively high tariffs in attractive third country markets such as India and Brazil. Our own peak tariffs only encourage other governments to maintain their own high apparel and textile tariffs to “protect” their domestic industries. American brands such as Levi’s and Polo are among the most recognized brands in the world. American yarn spinners and fabric makers operate highly efficient operations that make them among the world’s most competitive producers. For all of these companies, we need every opportunity to remove barriers to trade.
There is a great opportunity to create high-paying jobs here in the United States, too. Fashion brands and retailers offer quality design, product development, logistics, sourcing, and service jobs in the United States, along with manufacturing jobs. These jobs are supported by global value chains, and will be on track to grow IF free trade agreements contain rules of origin and market access provisions that will decrease the cost of those fashion products. This would not only help the brands and retailers grow and create more jobs, but also help consumers by providing access to affordable, high quality apparel.
Finally, free trade isn’t just about tariffs – but also non-tariff barriers like regulations, certifications, and testing requirements all represent non-tariff barriers to trade. And since today’s global brands are selling everywhere from the United States to the UK to Japan to Dubai, we are working to eliminate these barriers, too.
Sheng Lu: The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a buzzword for the fashion industry, with Vietnam and China at the core of the discussion. Many people see Vietnam as an alternative sourcing destination to China for labor-intensive apparel and footwear products. You’ve visited both Vietnam and China recently. What’s your first-hand observation? How competitive is “Made in Vietnam” compared with “Made in China”?
Julia Hughes: The TPP is a top priority for USFIA and for our member companies. But unlike some, we do not see the TPP as creating an either/or scenario for sourcing apparel and footwear. China remains the top supplier to the U.S. market, and we do not see that changing any time soon. The breadth of manufacturing operations in China, combined with the state-of-the-art infrastructure and logistics operations, mean that sourcing executives are comfortable with placing orders and knowing that they will get the quality product that they want delivered on time.
However, you are correct that Vietnam is seen as an alternative sourcing destination.—not just by U.S. sourcing executives, but also for Chinese companies. Both the TPP and the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement make Vietnam an especially attractive destination for making apparel and for investments in manufacturing yarns and fabrics. But Vietnam is not necessarily the destination for companies searching for lower prices.
Sheng Lu: In the 2015 USFIA Benchmarking Study, around one-third of respondents report sourcing from 6-10 different countries and another one-third report sourcing from 11-20 different countries. What are some of the reasons that U.S. fashion companies today would choose to have such a diversified sourcing base?
Julia Hughes: There are a couple reasons why companies have such diversified sourcing bases. First, it is a holdover from the quota era, because companies were pretty much forced to diversify their sourcing since they couldn’t import everything from China. Following the elimination of the quotas in 2005, companies had cultivated trusted suppliers all over the world in countries as diverse as Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Mexico, and Colombia, so there was no reason to leave these good suppliers after they had spent the time and resources developing their supply chain. Second, diversification is a method of risk management. There are lots of risks that could impact your supply chain—from natural disasters to labor strife to terrorist attacks. The last thing a company wants is to have all of their production in one place—because when disaster strikes, you won’t be able to get your product to your customers. By keeping a diverse supply chain, you can ensure that you’ll always have products moving to the shelves. Finally, different countries have different specialties—and truthfully, no one country can do it all. Companies don’t necessarily prefer to source fabric, yarn, zippers, and buttons from four different countries and ship to a fifth for cutting and sewing, but sometimes, that’s the way it must be done in order to produce the best product at the best price for your target customer.
Sheng Lu: We know that the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) has been extended for another 10 years. How has the U.S. fashion industry reacted to the AGOA extension? Are U.S. consumers going to see more “Made in Africa” apparel in the retail stores?
Julia Hughes: USFIA member companies are definitely looking at sourcing opportunities in Africa after the extension of AGOA. Today a little more than 1 percent of U.S. apparel imports come from Sub-Saharan Africa—and there are only a few countries that ship apparel to the U.S. market. Kenya, Lesotho, Mauritius, and Madagascar are the major producers of apparel today – representing 87% of the U.S. imports. The ten-year extension of AGOA is allowing companies to take a fresh look at what is available to source in Africa today, as well as to plan to long-term growth. Both PVH and VF, for example, have been very public about their commitment to develop a vertically integrated industry in Ethiopia.
What is exciting is that new sourcing supply chains are opening up in Africa. While the level of U.S. imports remains low there are some growing suppliers. For example, during March 2016–a month when the overall U.S. apparel imports plunged by -21 percent compared to March 2015—there were a few Sub-Saharan African suppliers that bucked the trend. U.S. imports from Madagascar jumped by 160 percent, from Ethiopia by 83 percent, and from Ghana by 371 percent!
Sheng Lu: Textile and apparel trade policy is always one of the most challenging topics for students in FASH455. Many students wonder why the rules governing the global textile and apparel trade are always far more complicated than most other sectors. For example, in the past, students had to learn about the quota system, from the Short-term Arrangement (STA) to the Multi-Fiber Arrangement (MFA). The quota system is gone, but it seems students now have to know even more “terms”: the yarn-forward rules of origin, short supply list, third country fabric provision, trade preference level (TPL) and earned import allowance… What makes the textile and apparel trade so unique in terms of trade regulations?
Julia Hughes: This is a great question–and one that does not have an easy answer. Absolutely, when I first started working with the industry, it was a revelation to understand about quotas and labeling requirements classification issues. Today, the industry is even more complicated. I think that a lot of the complexity today is due to protectionism. Negotiators looked for ways to limit the market opening impact of trade agreements, and to try to protect their domestic industry. This isn’t just an issue for the United States. Starting with NAFTA in the 1990’s, the rules are more complicated in every free trade agreement—and none of the free trade agreements exactly matches the others. But the complexity isn’t just for FTAs, of course. Today, we also face more regulations, different labeling requirements for different countries (and unfortunately sometimes even different labels are required in different states!), and more testing and certification requirements.
Sheng Lu: Looking ahead in 2016, what important sourcing trends and trade patterns shall we expect in the U.S. fashion industry? What are the policy priorities for the USFIA this year?
Julia Hughes: The implementation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) remains at the top of our list of policy priorities. But implementation is still a long way off, especially since the U.S. Congress is unlikely to vote on the agreement before the November elections. We don’t expect to see a huge shift to sourcing in Vietnam, Malaysia, and the other TPP partners in 2016-2017, since duty-free treatment is a long way off, but we do expect to see companies taking a closer look at opportunities there—and it helps that Vietnam is already the #2 supplier to the United States, so many companies are already sourcing there. We’re also prioritizing completion of the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (T-TIP) between the United States and European Union. The EU is a great source for luxury brands and companies manufacturing leather goods, but this agreement has an even greater potential in terms of regulatory harmonization, making it easier for many of our members to break into the retail markets in Europe. We’re also focused on enhancing the African Growth & Opportunity Act (AGOA), cumulation of free trade agreements, and customs and ethical sourcing issues, too. As far as future trends, we’re looking forward to seeing the results of our third-annual Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study, which will give us a lot of insight into what brands are thinking about sourcing and expansion!
Sheng Lu: Last but not least, our students wonder what makes you and your staff personally interested in the fashion industry. Particularly, through your daily work, how do you see the impact of the fashion industry in the 21st century global economy?
Julia Hughes: My path to the world of fashion is from the policy side. I was always interested in international policy and after graduating from Georgetown University and SAIS, I was fortunate to hear about an opportunity to be the Washington Representative for Associated Merchandising Corporation (AMC). It was a terrific opportunity to be engaged in policy discussions, but also to spend time with the buyers, with the sourcing teams, and also with the overseas offices and vendors to understand the impact on trade policy on the clothes we wear. Let’s face it, it is a shock to realize the way that Congressional actions, and negotiations, can determine whether a jacket is made with down, or synthetic fibers, or cotton–or maybe it is manufactured to qualify as a shirt instead of a jacket. It also is inspiring to work with industry executives who are committed to fashion as well as doing good for the global economy. Textiles and apparel has always been an industry that can be a gateway for economic development–and I have seen the positive impact by creating jobs where there were none before–as well as expanding U.S. jobs in design, product development and compliance.
Samantha Sault: I have always loved fashion—in fact, my very first job in high school was folding clothes and working the register at abercrombie kids at the mall in my hometown!—but I never thought about fashion as a career until I had been working for a few years after college. I started my career in political media in D.C., and eventually started covering the intersection of fashion and politics for various publications, including exciting events like New York Fashion Week and President Obama’s first inauguration (and the First Lady’s fabulous dresses). After five years in media and public affairs, I found my way to USFIA and the business and policy side of the fashion industry. The most inspiring part about working in fashion has been getting to know our contacts at our member companies, and seeing how committed they are not only to their brands, but also to ethical sourcing and compliance. These are not just buzzwords—I’ve learned firsthand that many of the individuals at our member companies are deeply committed to ensuring that they are doing the right thing in their supply chains from the factory floor (especially for women) to the retail store, and it has made me appreciate these brands even more than I already did.
- Zara Hayes, Director of Clothes to Die For
- Sarah Hamilton, Producer of Clothes to Die For
- Mara Burr, Senior vice president from the Albright Stonebridge Group
- Avedis Seferian, President and CEO of Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production(WRAP)
- Marsha A. Dickson, Professor of Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies, Irma Ayers Professor of Human Services, Co-Director of Sustainable Apparel Initiative, University of Delaware
Panel discussion questions:
- What does the Rana Plaza tragedy bring out those aspects of the garment industry that many people don’t know?
- What was it like going to Bangladesh and talking to survivors of the Rana Plaza? What are the behind the scene stories of filming the documentary Clothes To Die For?
- What changes are happening in the Bangladesh garment industry after the Rana Plaza? Particularly, what people in Bangladesh are doing to prevent tragedies like the Rana Plaza from happening again?
- The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (the Alliance) is a major effort from the U.S. business community in response to the Rana Plaza tragedy. What the Alliance has being doing, what major accomplishments have been achieved and what is the future work plan of the organization?
- Has corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices in the Bangladesh garment industry critically improved after the Rana Plaza? Compared with other leading apparel manufacturers in the world such as China, Vietnam, India, Cambodia and Indonesia, is Bangladesh still significantly lagging behind in terms of corporate social responsibility practices?
- How does the academia look at the Rana Plaza? Does the tragedy lead to some new research questions? What is the “academic” recipe for improving the CSR practices in the Bangladesh garment industry?
- Will enhanced factory inspection increase production cost and make apparel “Made in Bangladesh” lose price competitiveness?
- To prevent tragedies like the Rana Plaza from happening again, what each individual consumer can do or should do?
- Sub-contracting is regarded as an indispensable part of today’s global apparel supply chain. But factories undertaking sub-contracting work operate in a “black box”—many of them are off the chart for inspection and audit. Any progress or new thinking on how to solve the sub-contracting issue in the garment industry?
Erin Ennis has been Vice President of the US-China Business Council (USCBC) since May 2005. In that position, she directs the Council’s government affairs and advocacy work for member companies and oversees the Council’s Business Advisory Services. She also leads a coalition of other trade associations on issues of interest to companies doing business with China. Founded in 1973, the US-China Business Council provides extensive China-focused information, advisory, and advocacy services, along with comprehensive events, to nearly 250 US corporations operating within the United States and throughout Asia.
Prior to joining the Council, Ms. Ennis worked at Kissinger McLarty Associates, the international consulting firm headed by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former White House Chief of Staff Thomas “Mack” McLarty. At Kissinger McLarty, Ms. Ennis was responsible for implementing strategies for international business clients on proprietary trade matters, primarily in Vietnam and Japan.
Before entering the private sector, Ms. Ennis held several positions in the US Government. From 1992 to 1996, Ms. Ennis was a legislative aide to former U.S. Senator John Breaux, working on international trade and commerce. She also worked on health care issues during the Senate’s consideration of President Bill Clinton’s health care reform, an issue on which Senator Breaux actively worked to broker a compromise.
At the Office of the US Trade Representative from 1996 to 2000, Ms. Ennis first worked in Congressional Affairs on Asia issues, including annual approvals of China’s most favored nation status and the ill-fated 1997 push to renew presidential “fast track” negotiating authority. Beginning in 1998, she was assistant to Deputy US Trade Representative Richard Fisher, who led US trade negotiations and enforcement with Asia, the Americas, and on intellectual property rights.
Sheng Lu: Our students wonder whether increased trade with China is good or bad for the U.S. economy. Many of them consider the U.S. trade deficit with China to be a serious problem and they are worried about the loss of U.S. jobs to China. What’s your view and insights?
Erin Ennis: We should be realistic about what trade balance data shows and what it doesn’t. There is almost no correlation between a high US trade deficit and a strong US economy. In fact, we tend to have the lowest trade deficits when our economy is doing the worst – take a look at the data from the recent global recession between 2009 and 2010 for example versus what the trade deficit looked like in the 1990s when our economy was booming. We also don’t save much of our earnings, which also factors into the data.
Focusing on a single country as the source of our concerns leads to an inaccurate view that what other countries do has more of an effect on our economy than our own domestic policies. We should indeed be concerned about job creation in the US, but to do that, we should be implementing policies that ensure that we have as competitive an economy as possible. That will require a combination of education, energy, tax and other domestic policies. It also requires our economy to be as open as possible and pursuing market openings globally so that US goods and services have opportunities for sales overseas.
Sheng Lu: The USCBC 2014 China Business Environment Survey describes China as “an extremely difficult business environment along with a vital, growing market for foreign businesses”. We all know that China is an emerging market, but what are the top challenges faced by U.S. companies doing business in China?
Erin Ennis: Our survey goes into detail about the various challenges that companies experience in China. Competition with Chinese companies was the top issue in 2014, an issue that was not only cited independently, but also factors into several other issues that were cited such as foreign investment restrictions, uneven enforcement of laws, licensing disparities, and discrimination in the market. IPR enforcement is also a top concern for companies. Beyond those, there are also issues that both Chinese and foreign companies are grappling with in the market: a very tight labor market and significant increases in the cost of doing business.
Sheng Lu: Related to the previous question, two numbers in the USCBC survey seem to be very interesting: Although 90 percent of respondents consider rising costs in China a concern, only 14 percent of respondents say they actually reduced or stopped planned investment in China in the past year. How to explain this phenomenon?
Erin Ennis: The simple answer is that companies don’t make decisions on where to do business solely on cost. Most companies report that they are doing business in China to access Chinese customers. While costs may have increased, their opportunities for increased sales have increased too. China’s market grew at about 7% in 2014 – still a rapid rate of growth, even though it is slower than in previous years. Companies are likely to stay in the market, even as costs increase, to continue to access those opportunities.
Sheng Lu: While it is under heated discussion whether China should join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) or not, USCBC suggests that a successful conclusion of the Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) negotiations should be the top priority in the US-China economic relationship. What is BIT and why does it matter for U.S. companies?
Erin Ennis: The short answer is that a BIT matters because it will require China to provide the same treatment to foreign companies that it provides to domestic ones and it will require China to open many sectors of its economy to foreign investment that remain closed. More detailed explanations of what the BIT is and why it matters can be found on USCBC’s website here: https://www.uschina.org/advocacy/bilateral-investment-treaty.
Sheng Lu: December 2015 will mark the 15th anniversary of China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). In your view, what are the most important changes in US-China economic relations since China joins the WTO?
Erin Ennis: China’s WTO access required it to open significant parts of its economy to foreign companies. In general China has done a good job of implementing those commitments. As a consequence, China has grown to be the United States’ third largest trading partners after Canada and Mexico, with whom we have a free trade agreement. More needs to be done, however, to open China’s market. The US-China BIT negotiations will be a useful tool in achieving that goal.
Sheng Lu: China’s recent sweeping anti-graft campaign has attracted the world attention. How does the US business community look at this campaign? Will this campaign have any long-term impact on China’s business environment?
Erin Ennis: In general, the anticorruption campaign is viewed very positively by foreign companies because it is an additional way to ensure that all companies are treated equally in China – bribes and other illegal activities should never be tolerated. To date, the only impact that foreign companies have reported is that it takes longer to get some projects or licenses approved because Chinese officials are being overly cautious in ensuring that there is no appearance of impropriety. Those kinds of delays are ones that companies are willing to deal with.
Sheng Lu: Our students wonder if China presents as a career opportunity for them as well. What’s your observation and do you have any suggestions for our students interested in working/interning in China?
Erin Ennis: If you are serious about working in China, then learning Chinese should be at the top of your to do list – but the same could be said about going to work in any foreign country: learn their language. Beyond that, go to China and experience it. There are plenty of ways to do both of those, but language and on the ground experience will establish your credibility as someone who is serious about the specific opportunities in China, rather than someone who just wants a chance to live in a different country. Final suggestions: read as much as you can and question what you read. China is not a monolith and, as anywhere, there are always multiple sides to every story – that’s especially true in business and politics. Having an informed view of those dynamics will serve you well.
William L. “Bill” Jasper has been Unifi’s Chairman of the Board since February 2011 and has served as Unifi’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and member of Unifi’s Board of Directors and the Company’s Executive Committee since September 2007. Prior to his role as Chairman of the Board, he served as President and CEO, Vice President of Sales and General Manager of Unifi’s polyester division. He joined the company with the purchase of Kinston polyester POY assets from INVISTA in September 2004. Prior to joining Unifi, Mr. Jasper was the Director of INVISTA’s DACRON® polyester filament business. Before working at INVISTA, he held various management positions in operations, technology, sales and business for DuPont since 1980.
Bill Jasper is also a University of Rhode Island alumni! He graduated in 1977 with a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering.
Founded in 1971 and Headquartered in Greensboro, NC, Unifi, Inc. is a leading producer and processor of multi-filament polyester and nylon textured yarns. Unifi provides innovative, global textile solutions and unique branded yarns for customers at every level of the supply chain. Unifi’s core business consists of the manufacturing of POY (partially-oriented yarn), the texturing, air-jet texturing, twisting, and beaming of polyester and the texturing and covering of nylon filament yarns. Branded products of Unifi include aio® — all-in-one performance yarns, SORBTEK® A.M.Y.®, MYNX® UV, REPREVE®, REFLEXX®, INHIBIT® and SATURA®, which can be found in many products manufactured by the world’s leading brands and retailers.
Sheng Lu: How would you describe the current status of the U.S. textile industry? What’s your outlook for the industry in the next 5 years? What are the top challenges the U.S. textile industry is facing?
Bill Jasper: The industry has undergone a revival after years of decline, so the current status is strong and I believe we’ll see that environment continue for several more years in this region. The industry is expanding in practically every key economic indicator, including output, employment, exports and investment.
- U.S. textile shipments topped $56 billion in 2013, up more than 5% from 2012
- U.S. textile exports were $17.9 billion in 2013, up nearly 5%
- The U.S. has also enjoyed an investment surge in new plants and equipment. Over the past year, 8 foreign companies have made public announcements regarding their intention to invest more than $700 million in new U.S. textile facilities and equipment. These investments are projected to provide approximately 1,900 new jobs in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Louisiana.
- This $700 million does not include the ongoing re-investment activities that domestic textile companies have made.
The U.S. industry is also benefitting from several domestic advantages, including reliable and relatively inexpensive energy supplies, infrastructure, access to raw materials, and proximity to markets. We are gaining competitive advantages due to conditions outside the U.S., including rising costs in Asia, high shipping costs, and port capacity restraints. In addition, you’ve probably seen Wal-Mart’s advertising and P.R. blitz that it is committing to buy hundreds of billions of additional dollars in American-made products over the next decade to help support and spur U.S. manufacturing and innovation. With Wal-Mart leading the way, there is definitely a movement afoot to “reshore” some U.S. manufacturing, including textiles and apparel.
Finally, I believe a major driver of recent investments and one of the biggest contributors to the renaissance described above is also one of the biggest challenges the industry is facing. Virtually all of our free trade agreements to date have been based on a yarn forward rule of origin. This means that all processes, including the yarn extrusion, spinning, texturing, fabric formation, and the dyeing, finishing and assembly of the finished garment must take place in a free trade agreement member country to receive duty-free benefits. This rule has benefited the U.S. industry especially in NAFTA and DR-CAFTA, as U.S. yarn and fabric producers have dramatically increased our exports to the region under this regime.
As the U.S. negotiates the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), if this same rule of origin is undermined by single transformation rules or other loopholes, it could erode the entire supply chain in this hemisphere. In addition, careful attention must be paid to market access for potential TPP members like Vietnam, who is already the second largest exporter of textiles and apparel to the U.S. The domestic industry has requested reasonable duty phase-out periods in market access for our most sensitive products under the TPP so that our partnerships in this region have an adequate adjustment period. The TPP is considered to be the model for all future trade agreements with the U.S., thus it is critically important that our negotiators consider the profound consequences it can have on U.S. jobs and the U.S. textile industry.
Sheng Lu: “Made in USA” is a very hot topic these days, yet we also live in a globalized world today. From the textile business perspective, what is the relationship between “Made in USA” and “going global” in the 21st century? Do US textile companies today still have to make a choice between the two?
Bill Jasper: Most apparel brands and retailers utilize a balanced sourcing strategy that incorporates production in this hemisphere, as well as Asia, Africa, or other global manufacturing and/or assembly. I do not feel that U.S. textile producers today must necessarily make a choice between the two, but must have a business plan that addresses the realities of the global market. In fact, nearly 98 percent of the clothing purchased in the U.S. is imported from abroad. Only two percent of clothing bought in this country is manufactured here in the U.S., and I doubt there is a business plan in any U.S. textile company that doesn’t reflect that reality.
Unifi, for example, works with downstream customers who want research and development, innovation, speed to market, sustainability, etc., from yarn and fabric production in this hemisphere. It is important that we provide flexibility and these same innovative products anywhere in the world our customers choose to do business. Thus, we export yarn to more than 30 countries from our domestic plants (not counting the exports of fabric from domestic weavers and knitters that use our inputs). Unifi also operates a wholly-owned subsidiary in Suzhou, China, where we focus on the development, sales and service of Unifi’s premium value-added yarns for the Asian market. Our expanding network of manufacturing facilities, sales and sourcing initiatives enables us to drive and capture growth in every major textile and apparel region in the world.
Sheng Lu: We know many products of Unifi are textile intermediaries like fibers and yarns. So how is Unifi’s brand promoted? How much can consumers recognize your product as “made in USA”?
Bill Jasper: As an upstream producer, making that connection with the ultimate consumer can be a challenge. Unifi has succeeded on several fronts. We have differentiated our product offering with premium value-added products, like REPREVE®, which we supply to our global customers wherever they are producing. Our downstream sales and marketing teams work extensively with brands and retailers to help them promote the unique properties of Unifi fibers and yarns. Some ways we do this includes, on product-labeling, hangtags, point of sale, cobranding, advertising and various consumer promotions. The “Made in the USA” message is and can be part of this effort, and I think we’ll see more demand for that as the brands and retailers move more of their sourcing from Asia back to this hemisphere over the next few years.
We recently began marketing directly to the consumer through the launch of our REPREVE #TurnItGreen campaign, which focuses on raising awareness around the importance of recycling and the products that can be created from plastic bottles when they are recycled. The initial launch took place at ESPN’s X Games Aspen in January 2014, where we literally and figuratively helped turn the event green using REPREVE-based product and color. At X Games Aspen, we recycled more than 100,000 plastic bottles to make X Games signage, lanyards and other merchandise. As we grow the REPREVE brand at retail and in the consumer space, we will continue these efforts with various partners, including current partners who have joined the REPREVE #TurnItGreen initiative, including NFL team, the Detriot Lions, where we will recycle more than 200,000 plastic bottles to help turn their stadium green on December 7th, 2014. We’re also driving recycling education by helping turn the live action event, Marvel Universe Live!, green through apparel for the cast and crew, merchandise items and banners, all made with REPREVE recycled fiber.
Sheng Lu: Unifi has opened factories in Brazil and Colombia. Why did Unifi decide to invest in South America? What is the connection between Unifi’s US-based operation and your operations in South America?
Bill Jasper: Both of these manufacturing plants were established in the mid to late 90s as wholly owned subsidiaries of Unifi, Inc. We purchased the small Colombia plant to give us more spandex covering capacity for our yarns that come back to the U.S. for use in pantyhose and socks. The Brazil operation was set up when we saw an opportunity to capture a share of the growing synthetic apparel market in that country. The majority of the textured polyester we make in Brazil stays in Brazil. Over the past several years we have introduced our premium value-added yarns in that market and hope to see strong growth in those product lines as the economy picks up down there.
Unifi also opened a 120,000 square foot polyester yarn texturing facility in El Salvador in 2010 to take advantage of the duty benefits in the DR-CAFTA trade pact and to better serve our growing customer base in the region.
Sheng Lu: What is the market potential of Asia and particularly China for Unifi and the US textile industry in general?
Bill Jasper: The expected growth in China and other Asian markets is enormous, and Unifi’s strategic plan reflects that. By 2020, China’s consumer market is expected to reach 22 percent of total global consumption, second only to the U.S. at 35 percent. Our wholly owned subsidiary (UTSC) is located at the center of one of China’s most important textile regions, Suzhou. UTSC customers will have quick access to new product introductions with the quality and technical service they have come to expect with Unifi. UTSC was established to provide the domestic Chinese market with a full complement of our specialty branded products, not only for their growing appetite for branded apparel, but for growth in their automotive and home furnishing markets.
The U.S. textile industry in general has invested heavily to take advantage of the growth in Asia by adding to their manufacturing facilities here or putting plants in Asia or China. Countries like Vietnam also offer strong manufacturing platforms due to lower wages than China and the prospect of duty-free exports to the European Union, the U.S. and Japan when announced trade agreements like TPP are completed. The growth of the Asian textile market certainly ups the ante in regard to whether there will be a yarn forward rule under TPP. Failure to include a strong yarn forward rule in this key agreement will likely cede key Asian markets to textile suppliers that are not a party to the TPP. To the contrary, inclusion of a yarn forward provision in that agreement will drive investment to partner countries and provides opportunities for U.S. fabrics and yarns to supply production meeting those guidelines.
Sheng Lu: How do you see “sustainability” as a game changer for the textile industry? What has Unifi done in response to the growing awareness of sustainability among consumers?
Bill Jasper: Reducing our environmental footprint through the entire supply chain has been an important focus of the industry for several years, driven by industry leaders like Unifi and our suppliers and customers.
Unifi has an on-site environmental team constantly reviewing everything we do to see how we can reduce, reuse, recycle and conserve. All of our U.S.-based plants are currently landfill-free; we recycle our shipping pallets, we have installed energy-efficient lighting and increased efficiency around our compressed air usage, for example.
In 2010, Unifi opened our state-of-the-art REPREVE Recycling Center, where we use our own industrial yarn waste, recycled water bottles and even fabric waste to make REPREVE® recycled polyester fibers and yarns which go back into high end consumer apparel, like fleeces made by Patagonia, shoes and apparel by Nike, The North Face jackets, and eco-friendly Haggar pants. You can also find REPREVE® in Ford vehicles, including the 2015 Ford F150. In 2013, REPREVE® turned more than 740 million recycled bottles into fiber, and since 2009, we have recycled more than two billion plastic bottles to make REPREVE. Unifi’s recycled process offsets the need to use newly refined crude oil, uses less energy and water, and produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to making virgin synthetic fibers.
Moreover, for Unifi at least, this is much more than a marketing concept. Our focus on environmental sustainability is now an engrained part of our culture. We believe that sustainability must be an unwavering core value of responsible manufacturing in the 21st century.
Sheng Lu: Given the changing nature of the US textile industry, what kind of talents will be most in needs by the US textile industry in the years ahead? Do you have any advice for textile and apparel majors in terms of improving their employability in the job market?
Bill Jasper: The U.S. textile industry is a diverse, technology driven, capital intensive, innovator of high quality products that is able and ready to compete effectively in the 21st century global marketplace, and a prepared workforce is critical in meeting the needs of this competitive industry. Not only do we look for skills in textile technology, we look for workers with high math and science aptitudes, technical and chemical engineering skills, process improvement, and industrial engineering capabilities. The ability to think strategically and globally is a big advantage in driving sales and creating marketing programs that meet the needs of our customers world-wide.
(source of photo: WWD)
Kim Glas is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Textiles, Consumer Goods, and Materials at the U.S. Department of Commerce. She oversees programs and strategies to improve the domestic and international competitiveness of the broad product range of U.S. textiles, apparel, consumer goods, metals and mining forest products, and chemicals and plastics manufacturing sectors and industries. Ms. Glas also serves as Chairman of the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements (CITA), which supervises the negotiation and implementation of textile and apparel agreements.
Prior to joining the Department of Commerce, Kim Glas served more than 10 years as a professional staff member in the U.S. House of Representatives. As Deputy Chief of Staff and Legislative Director for Representative Michael Michaud of Maine for over seven years, Ms. Glas managed the Congressman’s legislative agenda and was the key advisor on international trade and labor issues. In addition, Ms. Glas worked for Representative John LaFalce of New York during her tenure on Capitol Hill, advising on trade and labor issues.
Sheng Lu: Because almost all clothing consumed in the United States nowadays is imported, some people wonder if there is still a textile and apparel industry in this country. What is the reality? What does the general public should know about the US textile and apparel industry today?
Kim Glas: While imports still dominate U.S. consumption of textiles and apparel, we can expect to see a new trend going forward. Currently, the textiles and apparel industry in the country is experiencing a different manufacturing paradigm than 10 years ago. In 2012, textiles and apparel exports were $22.7 billion, up 37% from just 3 years earlier. This is indicative of a reassessment by American companies about manufacturing in the United States. Cost, time benefits, and international economic challenges have closed the international manufacturing gap making it more attractive to source at home. More and more U.S. companies are considering and many have moved production or part of their production back to the U.S. This return of manufacturing to the U.S. is expected to continue into the future. This means consumers can expect to find more quality and more affordable Made in USA textiles and apparel in the market in the years to come.
The United States has a strong and diverse textile industry, manufacturing a range of high quality products including fibers, yarn, fabric, and apparel. It is the fourth largest single country exporter of yarns and fabrics, with $13.6 billion in exports in 2012. The United States is also home to one of the largest providers of spun yarn in the world, Parkdale, Inc., with 29 manufacturing plants in the United States, Central America, Mexico, and South America.
Sheng Lu: From your view, what role does the OTEXA play in enhancing the competitiveness of the US textile and apparel industry in the 21st century global competition?
Kim Glas: OTEXA administers and enforces agreements and preference programs concerning the textile, apparel, footwear and travel goods industries and works to ensure fair trade and a level playing field for these industries to enhance their competitiveness in international markets. The office has an active Export Promotion Program that assists small- and medium-sized U.S. textile and apparel firms to develop and expand their export markets helping job retention and creation in this and related sectors.
Sheng Lu: There have been many discussions recently about manufacturing coming back to the United States given the rising labor cost in China. Yet, statistics from the US Bureau of Labor statistics show a continuous decline of employment in the manufacturing aspect of the US textile and apparel sector (i.e. NAICS 313, NAICS 314 and NAICS 315). What is your view on the future of textile and apparel “made in USA” as well as related job opportunities?
Kim Glas: The U.S. textiles and apparel industry employs over 380,000 people nationwide. Declining employment in this sector has been an ongoing trend for the past four decades, a development related mainly to productivity improvements and international competition. The adoption of new technologies has boosted productivity in this sector.
Advances in technology and manufacturing capabilities by capital-intensive U.S. textile and apparel firms have contributed towards competitiveness and productivity, increasing output and lowering labor costs.
The apparel industry has retained more skilled and higher-paying jobs in such areas as computer-aided design and manufacturing, marketing, and product development. Lower-skilled apparel production jobs have moved offshore, in support of our production-sharing operations in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean Basin, as well as to other countries with lower labor costs.
The continued upswing of re-shoring sentiments and companies moving textiles and apparel production back to the U.S., combined with increasing consumer demands for Made in USA products will help foster more U.S. production hence increasing high-skilled job opportunities in these sectors for the foreseeable future.
Sheng Lu: This year marks the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which has been both lauded and attacked in the United States. In your view, does the US textile and apparel industry a beneficiary of the agreement? What critical changes has the NAFTA brought to the US textile and apparel industry over the past 20 years, if any?
Kim Glas:The United States exported a total of $22.7 billion in textiles and apparel in 2012, including $5.3 billion to Mexico and $5.2 billion to Canada. Together, our NAFTA partners account for 46% of total U.S. exports of textiles and apparel.
The United States imported more than $113 billion in textile and apparel products in 2012, including $2.2 billion from Canada and $5.7 billion from Mexico. U.S. imports from our NAFTA partners have a high U.S. content and therefore help to preserve U.S. jobs and increase sales opportunities for U.S. producers.
U.S. textile and apparel firms have benefited from NAFTA provisions including the “yarn forward” rule of origin and Mexican production-sharing arrangements. This has allowed them to optimize production and manufacturing. U.S. investment in Canada and Mexico has increased by 57% since NAFTA was implemented, reaching $592 million in 2012. The United States remains the largest single-country supplier of textiles and apparel to Mexico.
Sheng Lu: Both the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Partnership (TTIP) negotiations include a chapter specifically dealing with textile and apparel. What makes textile and apparel always a unique and sensitive sector in the free trade agreement negotiation? And what does the US textile and apparel industry can expect from the TPP and TTIP?
Kim Glas: The U.S. approach to free trade agreements (FTAs) has been to provide for specific rules that apply only to the textile and apparel sectors in several areas, including rules of origin and related matters, safeguards and anti-circumvention Customs cooperation commitments. Treating textiles and apparel in a separate chapter of an FTA provides more clarity and transparency, and therefore makes it easier for industries and traders in our FTA partner countries to make maximum use of the opportunities of the agreement while improving compliance.
As the largest market for imported textiles and apparel, and as one of the world’s largest markets for imported textiles and apparel, trade negotiations for this sector require experts with specialized knowledge. Textile issues have been addressed in a textile negotiating group in all of our major FTAs, past and pending, with full coordination with other relevant negotiating groups.
Sheng Lu: looking ahead in 2014, what are the key industry development trends and trade policy issues we shall watch?
Kim Glas: The turnaround in U.S. manufacturing of textiles and apparel is expected to continue to reshape the manufacturing landscape of this industry with improved industry strategies and planning. U.S. companies will be increasingly active in their efforts to innovate and improve to keep and stay viable in today’s highly competitive global market place. In addition to keeping up with innovations, we can expect to see improvements in companies’ sourcing, supply chain management, and development of niche product and improved quality. Moving forward, we can expect to see U.S. companies to be to be more lean, efficient and flexible with consumer and market demands.
(Photo above: Julia Hughes presented at the 25th Annual Textile and Apparel Importer Conference. Courtesy of the United States Fashion Industry Association)
Julia K. Hughes is the President of the United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA). USFIA represents all segments of the fashion industry, from apparel brands to retailers to service companies. Ms. Hughes represents the interests of textile and apparel importers on trade policy issues to government officials, both in the United States and overseas. She has testified before Congress and the Executive Branch on textile trade issues. Ms. Hughes is also recognized as an expert in textile and apparel issues and is a frequent speaker at international conferences including the Apparel Sourcing Show, MAGIC, Foreign Service Institute, National Association of Manufacturers, Cotton Sourcing Summit, USIA’s Worldnet, the International Textiles and Clothing Bureau, Young Presidents’ Organization, World Trade Organization Beijing International Forum and others.
Julia Hughes is also well known to students enrolled in TMD433. She is featured in the book Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy, which highlights the global nature of the textile and apparel industry in the 21st century and those complicated economic, social and political factors associated with this important sector.
Sheng Lu: Would you please briefly introduce the current status of the U.S. fashion industry which your organization represents? For example, how large is the industry, how important is it to the US and the global economy, and what types of companies are involved as well as their business functions?
Julia Hughes: The phrase “the fashion industry” may call to mind images of Fashion Week and photo shoots. In this era of global trade, however, the high-fashion runways are just one part of the broader textile and apparel industry that ranges from high-end luxury brands to fast-fashion retailers—and the thousands of companies in between that produce and sell clothing, shoes, and other textile products.
United States Fashion Industry Association members and affiliates include companies across the value chain, which support our mission to remove barriers to textile and apparel trade. These companies include:
- Brands, retailers, importers, and wholesalers of textiles and apparel.
- Service providers, including consultants, customs brokers, freight forwarders, law firms, logistics providers, steamship lines, and testing and certification companies that help those brands, retailers, importers, and wholesalers.
- Manufacturers and suppliers of finished products and inputs for finished products, as well as supplier associations, business councils, and promotional groups.
- Agencies that promote the industry from a specific region, country, city, or other geographic entity.
- Academic institutions.
This industry includes companies and professionals across the value chain, working in roles ranging from design and development, to sourcing and logistics, to trade policy and compliance, to retail and marketing. USFIA members include all of these types of companies and individuals…
Sheng Lu: The United States Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel (USA-ITA) has been a big name in the industry for 25 years. What leads your organization to change the name and rebrand yourself? Particularly, how will the USFIA distinguish itself with the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA), whose members also include many US-based apparel companies and retailers?
Julia Hughes: The United States Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel (USA-ITA), founded in January 1989 by nine U.S. importers, was instrumental in eliminating the global apparel quota system. At that time, it seemed like an almost insurmountable task to change the political dynamic enough so that the special protection for textiles and apparel would finally end.
On January 1, 2005, the quotas were officially eliminated, and since then, the industry has increasingly globalized. As a result, new challenges arise every day for apparel brands, retailers, and importers, ranging from challenges with compliance at the factories to challenges with transportation at the ports of entry. Over the years, the association has evolved with our members to address these new challenges—but our brand, including our name, logo, and official mission statement, had not changed in over two decades.
Accordingly, our major project in 2013 was rebranding the association to more clearly communicate our purpose and our direction for the future. It’s important to note that this project was not about changing our purpose or direction, but about ensuring that our brand accurately reflects the reality of the industry and the work we had already been doing for our members. The new brand—the United States Fashion Industry Association—was developed over 10 months with input from members and our trusted network across the value chain who participated in comprehensive overviews.
Why did we choose this name? First, our members are no longer just “importers.” While importing will be a critical aspect of our members’ sourcing plans for the foreseeable future, many of our members are truly global brands—for instance, designing product in the United States, producing that product in Asia, and then selling that product in Europe or Australia. Additionally, many of our members are also making product in the United States from U.S. and/or imported inputs. As we told WWD, “We are very supportive of Made in USA, and we sponsored some of the very first programs about Made in USA at MAGIC. It is a very important element, but it is one part of sourcing decision making.” Considering these realities, the phrase “Importers of Textiles and Apparel” no longer accurately described the industry or our members, so we needed to update it. (It was also a mouthful!) We settled on this exact name because “the fashion industry” is the phrase that companies, government, and the media uses most commonly to describe the wide variety of companies and professionals across the value chain—it best describes our association in 2013 and moving forward.
We spoke to our members and some trusted partners in our network about who we are and what sets us apart. From those conversations, we developed five values that we keep in mind with every decision we make. They are:
1. Integrity: Our members tell us that we listen to them, support them, and defend them—while our government partners tell us that we work with them to find creative solutions.
2. Substance: We maintain and articulate a deep understanding of the industry and challenges most important to our members—the sourcing and compliance executives who make tough decisions every day on how to address these challenges.
3. Focus: We keep a laser focus on our mission, which allows us to be agile and quickly seize upon opportunities to move the needle.
4. Collaboration: Our members collaborate to share best practices and amplify the industry’s voice on the critical issues, putting aside marketplace competition to work together toward common goals.
5. Foresight: We keep our members informed not only about the regulatory challenges today, but also the regulatory challenges of tomorrow—and as our industry globalizes, we likewise expand our reach.
Sheng Lu: As mentioned in your mission statement, the USFIA is dedicated to the removal of barriers that impede the free movement of textile and apparel products to the United States and international markets. What are the top trade policy and market access concerns for the USFIA right now?
Julia Hughes: For 25 years, the United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA)–formerly the United States Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel (USA-ITA)–worked to eliminate barriers that impede the free movement of textile and apparel products to the United States and international markets. We participate in advocacy activities on a number of issues related to our mission in order to eliminate the tariff and non-tariff barriers that impede the industry’s ability to trade freely and create economic opportunities in the United States and abroad. Our top issues include:
- Negotiation of a successful Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement
- Negotiation of a successful Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement
- Expansion of the “trusted trader” programs with U .S. Customs & Border Protection
- Extension and expansion of the African Growth & Opportunity Act (AGOA)
- Ethical sourcing and the industry’s commitment to address the challenges in Bangladesh
- Working with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and NGOs to help eliminate forced and child labor in the cotton industry in Uzbekistan
Sheng Lu: You are featured in the well-known book Travels of T-shirt in the Global Economy. Interestingly enough, your counterpart in the book—Mr. Auggie Tantillo, now taps to lead the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) which represents the US textile industry. In the T-shirt book, you two held very different views on whether the U.S. should restrict apparel imports from China. Now almost 8 years later, do you (and the USFIA) still debate often with Auggie (and the NCTO) on textile and apparel trade policy issues? If so, what are you mainly debating about?
Julia Hughes: Today, Auggie and I still disagree on some of the basic trade policy issues–especially the negotiations for new free trade agreements. NCTO is trying to hold onto the same textile rules of origin that were negotiated in the 1990s, the yarn-forward rule of origin. USFIA and our members continue to encourage the U.S. textile industry to take a fresh look at the global industry. But, so far, we remain far apart.
Nonetheless, we also have some areas where we can work together. Both our organizations support efforts to promote Made in the USA activities, as well as manufacturing in the Western Hemisphere. And, just this week I asked Auggie to help us with information about U.S.-based fabric mills. We also have collaborated on some proposals with Customs and Border Protection that build on the “trusted trader” concept and would focus enforcement measures on the companies who are not already proven to be compliant. And if I had to make a prediction, I would predict that in the next few years, we will find other areas where we can worth together productively.
Sheng Lu: Most of our students in the Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design (TMD) department will become professionals working for the US fashion industry after graduation. Does the USFIA have any resources available to our college students or have any future plans to expand the collaboration with the textile and apparel educational programs/academic institutions?
Julia Hughes: Yes! We welcome participation from universities, educators, and students in the fashion industry.
First, our website is a wonderful resource for information about the industry and our key issues. In addition to our issue pages, you’ll also find resources including recaps of past seminars, recordings of past webinars, our member publications, and more. (Some of this information is locked to USFIA members, but in the spirit of helping to grow our industry and future members, we’re always happy to help you access specific information you need! Just ask us!) We continue to build on the website, and in 2014, we will be launching a Value Chain Directory, which will provide comprehensive information on service providers and sourcing opportunities around the world.
Additionally, we host a number of events throughout the year, including our annual conference. We’re happy to work with educators and students to make attendance affordable, and we even have opportunities for universities to exhibit and students to volunteer.
We also encourage current and former students to visit our Career Center, which contains job opportunities at USFIA member companies. Even if you’re not looking for a job at the moment, it may be helpful to see what types of candidates these companies are seeking.
We’re always happy to work with universities, educators, and students to ensure that we educate the next generation of fashion industry leaders and professionals—future USFIA members!