COVID-19 and the Fashion Apparel Industry (updated April 2020)

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It comes with no surprise that the fashion apparel industry has changed drastically in light of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

  • According to the latest statistics released by the U.S. Census Bureau, hit by COVID-19, the value of U.S. clothing and clothing accessories sales went down by 50.5% in March 2020, compared with a year earlier.
  • According to a recent NPR news report, in Bangladesh, the world’s second-largest garment exporter, about one million garment workers have lost their jobs as a direct result of sourcing changes. An online survey of Bangladesh employers, administered between March 21 and March 25, 2020, indicates that 72.4% of furloughed workers have been sent home without pay, and 80.4% of dismissed workers have not received severance pay.
  • A survey of 700 companies conducted by the International Textile Manufacturers Federation (ITMF) between 28 March and 6 April 2020 shows that companies in all regions of the world suffered significant numbers of cancellations and/or postponements of orders. Globally, current orders dropped by 31% on average. The severity of the decrease ranges from 20.0% in East Asia to 41% in South America.

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  • According to a newly created COVID-19 Tracker developed by the Worker Rights Consortium, it is concerning that many large-scale fashion brands and retailers are not paying their overseas manufacturers back for the materials the manufacturers have already paid for to start making garments.

Additionally, here is a list of well-known fashion brands that have announced to cut or cancel sourcing orders as of April 13, 2020:

  • Primark has closed all its stores across Europe and the U.S. and asked all of its suppliers to stop production. However, the company has set up a fund to pay the wages of factory employees who worked on clothing orders that were canceled.
  • Ross Stores has announced to cancel all merchandise orders through mid-June, 2020.
  • Gap Inc. has decided to halt the shipments of their summer orders and the production of the fall products
  • H&M has also canceled orders but told its suppliers it would honor the orders it already placed before the COVID-19.

Additional reading:

Compiled by Meera Kripalu (Honors student, Marketing and Fashion Merchandising double majors) and Dr. Sheng Lu

EU Textile and Apparel Industry and Trade Patterns (Updated April 2020)

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The EU region as a whole remains one of the world’s leading producers of textile and apparel (T&A). The value of EU’s T&A production totaled EUR146.2bn in 2018, marginally up 2% from a year ago (Note: Statistical Classification of Economic Activities or NACE, sectors C13, and C14). The value of EU’s T&A output was divided almost equally between textile manufacturing (EUR77.4bn) and apparel manufacturing (EUR70.0bn).

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Regarding textile production, Southern and Western EU, where most developed EU members are located such as Germany, France, and Italy, accounted for nearly 73.7% of EU’s textile manufacturing in 2018. Further, of EU countries’ total textile output, the share of non-woven and other technical textile products (NACE sectors C1395 and C1396) has increased from 19.2% in 2011 to 23.0% in 2017, which reflects the on-going structural change of the sector.

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Apparel manufacturing in the EU includes two primary categories: one is the medium-priced products for consumption in the mass market, which are produced primarily by developing countries in Eastern and Southern Europe, such as Poland, Hungary, and Romania, where cheap labor is relatively abundant. The other category is the high-end luxury apparel produced by developed Western EU countries, such as Italy, UK, France, and Germany.

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It is also interesting to note that in Western EU countries, labor only accounted for 21.7% of the total apparel production cost in 2017, which was substantially lower than 30.1% back in 2006. This change suggests that apparel manufacturing is becoming capital and technology-intensive in some developed Western EU countries—as companies are actively adopting automation technology in garment production.

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Because of their relatively high GDP per capita and size of the population, Germany, Italy, UK, France, and Spain accounted for 61.1% of total apparel retail sales in the EU in 2018. Such a market structure has stayed stable over the past decade.

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Data source: UNcomtrade (2020)

Intra-region trade is an important feature of the EU’s textile and apparel industry. Despite the increasing pressure from cost-competitive Asian suppliers, statistics from the World Trade Organization (WTO) show that of the EU region’s total US$73.7bn textile imports in 2018, as much as 57.1% were in the category of intra-region trade. Similarly, of EU countries’ total US$205.0bn apparel imports in 2018, as much as 48.0% also came from other EU members. In comparison, close to 97% of apparel consumed in the United States are imported in 2018, of which more than 80% came from Asia (Eurostat, 2020; WTO, 2020).

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The EU textile and apparel industry is not immune to COVID-19. According to the European Apparel and Textile Federation (Euratex), the outbreak of COVID-19 may cause a 50% drop in sales and production for the EU textile and apparel sector in 2020. A recent survey of EU-based T&A companies shows that almost 9 out of 10 respondents reported facing serious constraints on their financial situation and 80% of companies had temporarily laid-off workers. Around 25% of surveyed companies were considering closing down their businesses. Further, EU T&A companies were concerned about EU’s tightened border controls, which have “increased sharply, leading to delays in supplies but also cancelling of orders, thus aggravating the economic impact.”

COVID-19 and U.S. Apparel Imports (Updated: April 2020)

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The spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) has already resulted in a plummet of U.S. apparel imports that we have never seen in history. According to latest statistics from the Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA) under the U.S. Department of Commerce, as of February 2020:

  • The value of U.S. apparel imports sharply decreased by 11.2% in February 2020 from a year earlier. Between January and February 2020, the amount of U.S. apparel imports decreased by 10.9% year over year, which is nearly the same loss as in the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.

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  • As the first country took a hit by COVID-19, China’s apparel exports to the United States nearly collapsed in February 2020–down as much as 46.1% compared with a year ago (and -40.6% drop YTD). This result is also worse than the official Chinese statistics, which reported an overall 20% drop in China’s apparel exports in the first two months of 2020).

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  • China’s market shares in the U.S. apparel import market dropped to 21.3% in February 2020, a new record low in history (was 30% in 2019 and 23.9% in January 2020). However, it is important to note that such a downward trend started in October 2019, as U.S. fashion brands and retailers were eager to reduce their exposure to sourcing from China.
  • China’s lost market shares have been picked up mostly by other Asian suppliers, particularly Vietnam (18.8% YTD in 2020 vs. 16.2% in 2019) and Bangladesh (9.1% YTD in 2020 vs.7.1% in 2019). However, there is no clear evidence suggesting that U.S. fashion brands and retailers are giving more apparel sourcing orders to suppliers from the Western Hemisphere. In the first two months of 2020, only 9.5% of U.S. apparel imports came from CAFTA-DR members (down from 10.3% in 2019) and 4.2% from NAFTA members (down from 4.5% in 2019).

State of the U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry and Fashion Companies’ Sourcing Strategies–Discussion Questions from FASH455

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#1 The articles “6-2 State of the US Textile Industry” and “7-1 Demystify ‘Made in the USA’ apparel in the U.S. retail market” explored the benefits of reshoring manufacturing from economic, merchandising, and sourcing perspectives. After reading them, have your views on globalization changed (such as its benefits, costs, risks, the necessity to promote it or slow it down)? Why or why not?

#2 Do you think Covid19 overall is an opportunity or a threat for textile and apparel “Made in the USA” and why?

#3 Will you be interested in working for a textile mill or garment factory after graduation? If not, who do you think could be the primary source of future labor force supporting textile and apparel “Made in the USA”?

#4 Why or why not do you think higher trade barriers (such as tariffs) on imported goods will promote textile and apparel “Made in the USA” today?

#5 In your view, how might the “China plus Vietnam plus many” apparel sourcing model continue to evolve in the next five years and why?

#6 Because many companies are concerned about rising production and sourcing costs, larger companies are avoiding “putting all eggs in one basket” and looking to diversify their sourcing bases. Do you believe most smaller companies will begin to do this as well?

#7 Due to Covid-19, many U.S. fashion companies are forced to shut down and layoff/furlough most of their employees. As retailers are canceling sourcing orders, garment factories in the developing countries are feeling the financial pains too. Some nonprofit organizations recently call for U.S. fashion retailers to “pay suppliers for work that has been completed or is in progress” and “accept and pay all existing purchase orders for goods that have been shipped, are ready or in progress, or are cut.” What is your recommendation for fashion brands and retailers regarding their sourcing practices in the current challenging time and why?

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

How Might Covid-19 Affect Apparel Sourcing and Trade

The top challenge facing apparel sourcing and trade in the shadow of Covid-19 has quickly shifted from a lack of textile raw material to order cancellation. In major apparel consumption markets such as the EU and US, clothing stores are locked down, making retailers have no choice but to postpone or even cancel sourcing orders.

Based on the Global Trade Analysis Project Recursive Dynamic (GTAP-RD) Model and its latest database, we estimated the trade impact of Covid-19 in three possible scenarios, as summarized in the table below. All these three scenarios are pretty bad but likely situations we may have to face this year. (Note: Because China, US, and EU are the epic-centers of Covid-19, in the study, we assume these three countries/regions’ economies will be hit harder than the rest of the world.)

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There are four preliminary findings:

First, the volume of the world apparel trade will be hit hard by Covid-19. As clothing stores are forced to shut down and consumers are losing jobs and struggling financially, the demand for apparel consumption in the EU and US, the world’s top two apparel consumption markets, is expected to drop sharply. As shown in the figures below, every 1% decline in the US and EU Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2020 could lead to at least a 2-3% drop in the value of their apparel imports.  Notably, during the 2008 financial crisis, the value of world apparel imports also decreased by as much as 11.5% when the EU and US GDP suffered a 2.5-3% negative growth.

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Second, with a sharp decline in U.S. and EU apparel imports this year, China could be hit the hardest. In all the three scenarios we estimated, China will suffer the most significant drop in its apparel exports to the US and EU markets. The reasons are threefold: The first factor is the size effect—as the largest source of US and EU apparel imports and with its unparalleled production capacity, China is often used to fulfill large-volume sourcing orders. In the current situation, however, retailers are most likely to cancel these large-quantity orders, resulting in a disproportional loss of China’s apparel exports. Secondly, the US and EU apparel imports from China currently cover almost all major categories, which also makes China the most exposed to order cancellation. Furthermore, jointly affected by last year’s US-China trade war and the outbreak of Covid-19 in China earlier this year, many US and EU fashion brands and retailers have been shifting sourcing orders from China to other Asian countries, such as Bangladesh and Vietnam. To prioritize their limited resources, US and EU retailers are most likely to accelerate this process in the current difficult time.

Other than China, apparel factories in Bangladesh also could suffer severe export decline. Similar to the case of China, Bangladesh serves as a leading apparel supplier for BOTH the EU and US markets, making it more exposed to order cancellation than other countries. Notably, as a beneficiary of the EU Everything But Arms (EBA) program, around 60% of Bangladesh’s apparel currently go to the EU. In comparison, with a more diversified export market, apparel factories in Vietnam are in a better position and have more flexibility to mitigate the impact of a declined import demand from the EU and the US. In 2018, around 40% of Vietnam’s apparel exports went to other markets in the world.

Third, the decreased US and EU apparel imports will have a notable impact on employment in many apparel exporting countries. In history, a 10% change in the value of apparel exports typically results in a 4%-9% change in garment employment. This means, should the US and EU apparel imports drop by 10% in 2020, leading apparel exporting countries such as Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia and India may have to cut 4%-9% of their jobs in the garment sector accordingly.  Notably, in developing countries such as Bangladesh and Cambodia, the apparel sector remains the single largest job creator for the local economy, especially for women. The social and economic impact of job losses in the apparel sector due to Covid-19 is very concerning.

Fourth, the economic performance in the US, EU, and China will largely shape the pattern of apparel trade this year. The results in scenarios 1 and 2 overall are pretty close, suggesting the economic cloud of these three countries and regions altogether far exceed the rest of the world.

Last but not least, the global apparel supply chain could continue to face a turbulent time in the next 1-2 years, even if Covid-19 gradually gets under control in the second half of 2020. In history, affected by the 2008 global financial crisis, the value of world apparel exports dropped by 12.8% in 2009. However, the growth rate quickly rebounded to 11.5% the following year. Likewise, should the EU and US apparel imports were able to recover to its normal level in 2021, both importers and garment factories may have to deal with a new round of labor shortage, the price increase of raw material and a lack of production capacity.

by Sheng Lu

Additional reading:

COVID-19 and U.S. Apparel Imports (Updated: March 2020)

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Jointly affected by the U.S.-China tariff war and the spread of the coronavirus, the value of U.S. apparel imports from China see a significant drop in January 2020.

Specifically, the value of U.S. apparel imports from China went down by as much as 36.1% month over month in January 2020. As a result, China’s market shares also dropped from nearly 30% in 2019 to a new record low of 23.9% in January 2020. However, it is important to note that such a downward trend started in October 2019, as U.S. fashion brands and retailers were eager to reduce their exposure to sourcing from China.

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China’s lost market shares have been picked up mostly by other Asian suppliers, particularly Vietnam and Bangladesh. However, there is no evidence showing that U.S. fashion brands and retailers are giving more apparel sourcing orders to suppliers from the Western Hemisphere. In January 2020, only 8.1% of U.S. apparel imports came from CAFTA-DR members (down from 10.3% in 2019) and 3.7% from NAFTA members (down from 4.5% in 2019). Recent studies show that there’s more divergence in the products imported into the US  from Asian countries and the western hemisphere.

Meanwhile, according to the latest statistics from China’s Customs, the value of China’s apparel exports in the first two months of 2020 dropped by nearly 20% from a year earlier.

Evolving Patterns and Social Economic Impacts of World Textiles and Apparel Trade: Discussions Questions from FASH455

 

Patterns of world textile and apparel trade

#1 Based on the readings, why or why not do you think Africa is on the right track to become the next hub for apparel sourcing for western fashion brands?

#2 Based on the readings, do you think that any of the countries/regions discussed can become the “next China?” If so, what are the challenges faced by these exporters that have been gaining market shares (such as Vietnam and Bangladesh)?

#3 Why is Asian companies investing the most into the apparel industry in Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) rather than U.S. or EU investors? Notably, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is a trade preference program between the U.S. and SSA countries.

#4 If the punitive tariffs on Chinese goods are removed next year, why or why do you think U.S. retailers will increase apparel sourcing from China again?

#5 To which extent do you think the comparative advantage theory can explain the evolving world textile and apparel trade patterns?

#6 What policies or strategies could the US government use to convince companies to invest in the Sub-Saharan African region instead of countries like China and Vietnam?

Debate on used clothing trade

#7 Did you feel that the United States really explored every and any possible solution before deciding to suspend Rwanda’s eligibility under the AGOA? If not, what more could they have done or done differently?

#8 The US-EAC trade dispute on used clothing import ban is a very multilayered matter, which can be broken down with the help of trade preference programs. How can we improve the effectiveness of these trade preference programs and revolutionize them to become more significant in today’s economy?

#9 EAC countries are having a difficult time developing their local textile and apparel industry due to the large amounts of used clothing being imported and even proposed a high tariff to lower the amount of clothing being imported. Do you believe the ban on used clothing is the only option they have left for economic growth? If not, what are some ideas of ways they can grow their economy?

#10 The EAC countries have shown their unwillingness to used clothing trade. However, the US has presented that they are indifferent to regulate the used clothing trade as they are one of the biggest used clothing exporters. Are there any solutions to achieve the win-win situation on used clothing trade?

#11 The used clothing ban is put in place in order to develop the apparel and textile industry, but there needs to be more education for countries on sustainability. There is a big stigma about used clothing that needs to be abolished as well. An alternative to this ban is allowing used clothing, but also creating new clothing more sustainably so apparel and textile companies can profit. What are some other sustainable alternatives that benefit both sides?

#12 Given the debate on used clothing trade and its impact on East African nations, will you continue to donate used clothing? Why or why not?

[For FASH455: 1) Please mention the question number in your comments; 2) Please address at least TWO questions in your comments]