U.S. Apparel Retailers’ Shifting Sourcing Strategy for “Made in China” under the Shadow of the Tariff War

The full article is available HERE

Key findings:

First, U.S. fashion brands and retailers are sourcing less from China, particularly in quantity. Notably, the number of “Made in China” apparel newly launched to the market had significantly dropped from 26,758 SKUs in the first quarter of 2018 to only 8,352 SKUs in the first quarter of 2019 . Nevertheless, consistent with the macro-level trade statistics, China remains the single largest apparel supplier to the U.S. retail market.

Second, apparel “Made in China” are becoming more expensive in the U.S. retail market, yet remain price-competitive overall. Notably, apparel “Made in Vietnam” is becoming more expensive in the U.S. retail market too—an indication that as more production is moving from China to Vietnam, apparel producers and exporters in Vietnam are facing growing cost pressures.

Third, U.S. fashion retailers are shifting what apparel products they source from China. U.S. apparel retailers have been sourcing less lower value-added basic fashion items (such as tops, and underwear), but more sophisticated and higher value-added apparel categories (such as dresses and outerwear) from China since 2018. The shifting product structure could also be a factor that contributed to the rising average retail price of “Made in China” in the U.S. market.

On the other hand, U.S. retailers adopt a very different product assortment strategy for apparel sourced from China versus other regions of the world. There seems to be much fewer alternative sourcing destinations for more sophisticated product categories, such as accessories and outerwear. Somehow ironically, moving to source more sophisticated and higher value-added products from China could make U.S. fashion brands and retailers even MORE vulnerable to the tariff war because of fewer alternative sourcing destinations.

In conclusion, the results imply that China will remain a critical sourcing destination for U.S. fashion brands and retailers in the near future, regardless of the scenario of the U.S.-China tariff war. Meanwhile, we should expect U.S. fashion companies continue to adjust their sourcing strategy for apparel “Made in China” in response to the escalation of the tariff war.

Related reading: Trade war to hit high-end US fashion brands dependent on specialized Chinese manufacturing

U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry is NOT Immune to the U.S.-China Tariff War

The full article is available HERE

This article tries to evaluate the potential impact of the U.S.-China tariff war on the U.S. textile and apparel (T&A) industry, including manufacturing and related trade activities.

The quantitative evaluation conducted is based on the Global Trade Analysis Project (GTAP) model. Data came from the latest GTAP9 database, which covers trade, employment and production in 57 sectors in 140 countries. In correspondence to the recent development of the U.S.-China tariff war, the analysis focuses on the following three scenarios:

  • Scenario 1: 10% punitive tariff + base year tariff rate in 2017 applied to products traded between the U.S. and China, except textiles and apparel
  • Scenario 2: 10% punitive tariff + base year tariff rate in 2017 applied to products traded between the U.S. and China, including textiles and apparel
  • Scenario 3: 25% punitive tariff + base year tariff rate in 2017 applied to products traded between the U.S. and China, including textiles and apparel

Three findings are of note:

First, the tariff war with China will increase the market price for T&A in the United States and consequentially incentivize more production of T&A “Made in the USA.” As shown in Figure 1, the annual U.S. T&A production will increase when the punitive tariff is imposed on textile and apparel imports from China. The most significant increase will happen in scenario 3 (textile output expands by US$8,829 million and apparel output expands by US$6,044 million) when a 25 percent punitive tariff is imposed and the market price of T&A in the U.S. also correspondingly goes up by nearly 1.5% compared with the base year level in 2017.

Second, the tariff war with China will hurt U.S. textile exports. The results show that the tariff war will increase the production cost of “Made in the USA,” and result in a decline of U.S. textile exports due to reduced price competitiveness. This is the case even in scenario 1 when the tariff war does not target T&A directly, but nevertheless, raises the price of intermediaries for producing textiles in the United States. The results further show that the annual U.S. textile exports will suffer the most significant decline in scenario 3 (down US$1,136 million), especially to China and other Asian countries where U.S. textile products are facing intense competition from local suppliers. In comparison, U.S. textile exports to the Western Hemisphere will suffer a loss as well in the tariff war, but to a much less extent due to the strong supply-chain relationship with the region.

Third, the trade diversion effect of the tariff war will bring in more apparel imports to the U.S. market from Asian suppliers other than China. As shown in the figure above, when the punitive tariff imposed on textile and apparel products, the value of U.S. apparel imports from China will decline ranging from US$4,573 million (10 percent punitive tariff imposed) to US$8,858 million (25 percent punitive tariff imposed) annually compared with the base year level in 2017. This result reflects U.S. apparel importers and retailers’ mounting concerns about sourcing cost in the setting of the tariff war. However, apparently, the tariff war will do little to help U.S. domestic apparel manufacturers reduce the competitive pressure with imports. Particularly, in scenario 3, U.S. apparel imports from suppliers other than China will increase as much as US$10,400 million, worsening the U.S. trade deficit in the apparel sector further.

by Sheng Lu

State of the EU Textile and Apparel Industry (Updated April 2019)

EU region as a whole remains a leading producer of both textile and apparel. The value of EU’s T&A production totaled EUR142.9bn in 2017 (Statistical Classification of Economic Activities or NACE, sectors C13, and C14), which was divided almost equally between textile manufacturing (EUR77.4bn) and apparel manufacturing (EUR65.4bn).

Regarding textile production, Southern and Western EU where most developed EU members are located such as Germany, France, and Italy, accounted for nearly 80% of EU’s textile manufacturing in 2017. 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 20.2% in 2011 to 23.2% in 2016, which reflects the on-going structural change of the sector.

Apparel manufacturing in 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.

It is also interesting to note that in Western EU countries, labor only accounted for 21.1% of the total apparel production cost in 2016, 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–could be the result of increased investment in automation technology.

Because of their relatively high GDP per capita and size of the population, Germany, Italy, UK, France, and Spain accounted for 60.8% of total apparel retail sales in EU in 2017. The market structure remains stable overall.

Intra-region trade is an important feature of 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 EU region’s total US$65.3bn textile imports in 2017, as much as 58.2% (or US$38bn) were in the category of intra-region trade. Similarly, of EU countries’ total US$166.4bn apparel imports in 2017, as much as 47.2% (or US$78.6bn) also came from other EU members. In comparison, close to 97% of apparel consumed in the United States are imported in 2017, of which more than 75% come from Asia (Eurostat, 2019; WTO, 2018).

by Sheng Lu

State of the U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry: Output, Employment, and Trade Patterns (Updated March 2019)

The size of the U.S. textile and apparel industry has significantly shrunk over the past decades. However, U.S. textile manufacturing is gradually coming back. Notably, the value added of U.S. textile manufacturing reached $18.88 billion in 2017, the highest level since 2009.

Nevertheless, the share of U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing in the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) dropped to only 0.15% in 2017 from 0.57% in 1998, as the case in most advanced economies with a mature industrial system.

It is also important to note that U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing is changing in nature. For example, textiles had accounted for over 80% of the total output of the U.S. textile and apparel industry as of 2017, up from around 50% in the late 1990s. Meanwhile, clothing had only accounted for 12% of the total U.S. fiber consumption in 2012 (the latest data available), whereas the manufacturing of non-apparel textile products in the United States, such as industrial and technical textiles, has been growing particularly fast over the past decade.

Manufacturing jobs are NOT coming back to the U.S. textile and apparel industry. In 2018, U.S. textile manufacturing (NAICS 313 and 314) and apparel manufacturing (NAICS 315) lost 2,100 and 4,800 jobs respectively. However, improved productivity is one critical factor behind the job losses.

Regarding international trade, the United States remains a leading textile exporter and apparel importer overall. Interesting enough, both the value of U.S. textile and apparel imports enjoyed much faster growth in 2018 than in the previous years. Notably, for the first time since 2001, the U.S. textile sector (NAICS 313) experienced a trade deficit ($172 million) rather than a trade surplus. Meanwhile, the U.S. trade deficit in apparel (NAICS 315) reached $86,097 million in 2018, up nearly 6% from a year ago. These unusual trade patterns could be partially affected by the U.S.-China tariff war, which didn’t seem to be helpful with solving the trade deficit concerns.

by Sheng Lu

Related reading:

No-Deal Brexit: UK’s Import Tariff Rates for Apparel Products

The UK government on March 13, 2019 released the temporary rates of customs duty on imports if the country leaves the European Union with no deal. In the case of no-deal Brexit, these tariff rates will take effect on March 29, 2019 for up to 12 months.

According to the announced plan, around 87% of UK’s imports by value would be eligible for zero-tariff in the no-deal Brexit scenario.

Specifically for apparel products, 113 out of the total 148 tariff lines (8-digit HS code) in Chapter 61 (Knitted apparel) and 145 out of the total 194 tariff lines (8-digit HS code) in Chapter 62 (Woven apparel) will be duty-free. However, other apparel products will be subject to a Most-Favored-Nation (MFN) tariff rate ranging from 6.5% to 12%.

Meanwhile, the UK will offer preferential tariff duty rates for apparel exports from a few countries/programs, including Chile (zero tariff), EAS countries (zero tariff), Faroe Islands (zero tariff), GSP scheme (reduced tariff rate), Israel (zero tariff), Least Developed Countries (LDC) (zero tariff), Palestinian Authority (zero tariff), and Switzerland (zero tariff).

On the other hand, the EU Commission said it would apply the Most-Favored-Nation (MFN) tariff rates on UK’s products in the no-deal Brexit scenario rather than reciprocate.  

Appendix: UK’s MFN tariff rate for apparel products (HS Chapters 61-62) in the case of no-deal Brexit.

Demystify the “Made in the USA” Apparel Sourcing Strategy

While the majority of apparel consumed in the United States come from overseas, “Made in the USA” is growing in popularity. According to the 2018 U.S. Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study released by the U.S. Fashion Industry Association (USFIA) in July 2018, around 46 percent of surveyed U.S. fashion brands and apparel retailers report currently sourcing “Made in the USA” products, even though local sourcing typically only account for less than 10 percent of these companies’ total sourcing value or volume.  Likewise, the State of Fashion 2019 report published by Business of Fashion (BOF) and McKinsey & Company in November also forecasts that over 20 percent of U.S. fashion companies’ sourcing volume could be from nearshore by 2025, thanks to automation technology and consumers’ increasing demand for speed to market.

However, the detailed practice of the “Made in the USA” apparel sourcing strategy–including who is sourcing, what products are sourced, and what the typical price range of these products remain largely unknown.

To answer these questions, we recently analyzed the pricing, product assortment and inventory information of over 90,000 fashion retailers and 300,000,000 fashion apparel products at the Stock-Keeping Unit (SKU) level based on EDITED, a big data and business analytics tool developed for the fashion industry. For the research purpose, we selected apparel products newly launched to the U.S. market in the past twelve months (i.e., between 1 December 2017 and 30 November 2018) with “Made in the USA” explicitly mentioned in the product description. Below are the key findings:

First, “Made in the USA” apparel overall are treated as a niche product in U.S. fashion brands and retailers’ sourcing portfolio.

During the 12 months we examined (1 December 2017-30 November 2018), 94 out of the total 348 retailers (or 27 percent) sold “Made in the USA” apparel in the U.S. market. The top 10 sellers list includes BOTH retailers that focus on the value market such as Walmart and relatively high-end department stores such as Bloomingdale and Saks Fifth Avenue. However, even for these top sellers, “Made in the USA” apparel accounted for less than 8 percent of their total product offers on average.

Second, U.S. fashion brands and retailers are most likely to source“Made in the USA” apparel for relatively fashion-oriented items, particularly bottoms (such as skirts, jeans, and trousers), dresses, all-in-ones (such as playsuits and dungarees), swimwear and suits-sets.

The competitive edge for these product categories in the retail market, in general, increasingly depends on unique designs, high product quality, and speed to market, which makes sourcing from the United States commercially beneficial. In comparison, imported products are more concentrated on basic fashion items often competing on price in the U.S. retail market, including tops (such as T-shirt and polo shirt), underwear, and nightwear.

It is also interesting to note that “Made in the USA” apparel were predominately women’s wear (92 percent), whereas imported clothing adopted a more balanced gender combination (63 percent women’s wear and 37 percent men’s wear). Because the fashion trends for women’s wear usually are shorter-lived and harder to predict, this result once again indicates that seeking quick response and shorter lead time for stylish and trendy items could be an important incentive for local sourcing by U.S. fashion brands and retailers.

Third, consistent with the common perception, “Made in the USA” apparel overall are pricier than imported ones in the U.S. retail market.

Taking the U.S. apparel retail market as a whole, close to 40 percent of “Made in the USA” offering in the past 12 months targeted the premium or luxury market, compared with only 20 percent of imported products.  In contrast, as few as 18 percent of “Made in the USA” offering were in the value market, which, however, accounted for approximately 60 percent of all imported apparel sold in the U.S. market. In totality, it seems U.S. fashion brands and retailers are purposefully targeting “Made in the USA” apparel for less price-sensitive segments of the market to balance the high domestic production cost.

On the other hand, when examining U.S. fashion brands and retailers’ pricing strategy at the product level, “Made in the USA” clothing was still priced much higher than imported ones for almost all major apparel categories, except hosiery. Notably, in the past 12 months, the average unit retail price of “Made in the USA” clothing was 99.2 percent higher than imported ones in the value and mass market and 36.0 percent higher in the premium and luxury market. This interesting phenomenon supports the arguments that U.S. consumers somehow are willing to pay a premium price for products with the “Made in the USA” label.  

Additionally, during the past 12 months, around 46.3 percent of “Made in the USA” apparel were sold at a discount compared with more than 54.6 percent of imported ones. The advantage of proximity to the market, which makes speedy replenishment for in-season items possible, is an important factor behind the more successful control of markdowns for “Made in the USA” products. For example, data shows that U.S. fashion brands and retailers replenished approximately 12.7 percent of their “Made in the USA” offering in the past 12 months but only 2.8 percent of imported clothing.

In conclusion, the findings of this study concur with the view that “Made in the USA” apparel are still relevant today. Meanwhile, it does not seem to be the case that “Made in the USA” apparel and imported ones are necessarily competing with each other in the U.S. retail market. With apparel sourcing increasingly requiring striking a balance among various factors ranging from cost, flexibility, compliance to speed to market, it is hopeful that “Made in the USA” apparel will continue to have its unique role to play in U.S. fashion brands and retailers’ merchandising and sourcing strategies.

By Sheng Lu

Outlook 2019: Apparel Industry Issues in the Year Ahead

In January 2019, Just-Style consulted a panel of industry leaders and scholars in its Outlook 2019–Apparel Industry Issues in the Year Ahead management briefing. Below is my contribution to the report. Any comments and suggestions are more than welcome!

1: What do you see as the biggest challenges – and opportunities – facing the apparel industry in 2019, and why?

In my view, uncertainty will remain the single biggest challenge facing the apparel industry in 2019, ranging from a more volatile global economy, the unpredictable outlook of the U.S.-China trade talks to the various possible scenarios of Brexit. While uncertainty creates exciting new research opportunities for scholars like me, it could be a big headache for companies seeking a foreseeable market environment to guide their future business plan and investments. 

Meanwhile, the increasing digitalization of the apparel supply chain based on big-data tools and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies means a huge opportunity for fashion companies. Indeed, the apparel industry is quickly changing in nature—becoming ever more globalized, supply-chain based, technology-intensive and data-driven. Take talent recruitment as an example. In the 2018 US Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study, which I conducted in collaboration with the US Fashion Industry Association (USFIA), as much as 68 percent of surveyed leading U.S. fashion brands and apparel retailers say they plan to increase hiring of data scientists in the next five years. Googling “apparel industry” together with terms such as “big data” and “data science” also returns much more results than in the past. It is hopeful that the advancement of digital technologies and the smarter use of data will enable apparel companies to overcome market uncertainties better and improve many aspects of their businesses such as speed to market, operational efficiency and even sustainability.

2: What’s happening with sourcing? How is the sourcing landscape likely to shift in 2019, and what can apparel firms and their suppliers do to stay ahead?

Based on my research, I have three observations regarding apparel companies’ sourcing trends and the overall sourcing landscape in 2019:

First, apparel companies overall will continue to maintain a diverse sourcing base. For example, in a recent study, we examined the detailed sourcing portfolios of the 50 largest U.S.-based apparel companies ranked by the Apparel Magazine. Notably, on average these companies sourced from over 20 different countries or regions using more than 200 vendors in 2017. Similarly, in the 2018 US Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study, which I conducted in collaboration with the US Fashion Industry Association (USFIA), we also found companies with more than 1,000 employees typically source from more than ten different countries and regions. Since no sourcing destination is perfect, maintaining a relatively diverse sourcing base allows apparel companies to strike a balance among various sourcing factors ranging from cost, speed, flexibility, to risk management.

Second, while apparel companies are actively seeking new sourcing bases, many of them are reducing either the number of countries they source from or the number of vendors they work with. According to our study, some apparel companies have been strategically reducing the number of sourcing facilities with the purpose of ensuring closer collaborations with their suppliers on social and environmental compliance issues. Some other companies are consolidating their sourcing base within certain regions to improve efficiency and maximize productivity in the supply chain. Related to this trend, it is interesting to note that approximately half of the 50 largest U.S. apparel companies report allocating more sourcing orders to their largest vendor in 2017 than three years ago.

Third, nearshoring or onshoring will become more visible. Take “Made in the USA” apparel for example. According to the 2018 U.S. Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study, around 46 percent of surveyed U.S. fashion brands and apparel retailers report currently sourcing “Made in the USA” products, even though local sourcing typically only account for less than 10 percent of these companies’ total sourcing value or volume. In a recent study, we find that 94 out of the total 348 retailers (or 27 percent) sold “Made in the USA” apparel in the U.S. market between December 2017 and November 2018. These “Made in the USA” apparel items, in general, focus on fashion-oriented women’s wear, particularly in the categories of bottoms (such as skirts, jeans, and trousers), dresses, all-in-ones (such as playsuits and dungarees), swimwear and suits-sets. The advantage of proximity to the market, which makes speedy replenishment for in-season items possible, also allows retailers to price “Made in the USA” apparel substantially higher than imported ones and avoid offering deep discounts. Looking ahead, thanks to automation technology and consumers’ increasing demand for speed to market, I think nearshoring or onshoring, including ”Made in the USA” apparel, will continue to have its unique role to play in fashion brands and retailers’ merchandising and sourcing strategies.

3: What should apparel firms and their suppliers be doing now if they want to remain competitive further into the future? What will separate the winners from the losers?

2019 will be a year to test apparel companies’ resources, particularly in the sourcing area. For example, winners will be those companies that have built a sophisticated but nimble global sourcing network that can handle market uncertainties effectively. Likewise, companies that understand and leverage the evolving “rules of the game”, such as the apparel-specific rules of origin and tariff phase-out schedules of existing or newly-reached free trade agreements, will be able to control sourcing cost better and achieve higher profit margins. Given the heavy involvement of trade policy in apparel sourcing this year, companies with solid government relations should also enjoy unique competitive advantages. 

On the other hand, as apparel business is changing in nature, to stay competitive, apparel companies need to start investing the future. This includes but not limited to exploring new sourcing destinations, studying the changing consumer demographics, recruiting new talents with expertise in emerging areas, and adopting new technologies fitting for the digital age. 

4: What keeps you awake at night? Is there anything else you think the apparel industry should be keeping a close eye on in the year ahead? Do you expect 2019 to be better than 2018, and why?

Two things are at the top of my watchlist:

First, what is the future of China as an apparel sourcing base? While external factors such as the U.S.-China tariff war have attracted most of the public attention, the genuine evolution of China’s textile and apparel industry is something even more critical to watch in the long run. From my observation, China is playing an increasingly important role as a textile supplier for apparel-exporting countries in Asia. For example, measured by value, 47 percent of Bangladesh’s textile imports came from China in 2017, up from 39 percent in 2005. Similar trends are seen in Cambodia (up from 30 percent to 65 percent), Vietnam (up from 23 percent to 50 percent), Pakistan (up from 32 percent to 71 percent), Malaysia (up from 25 percent to 54 percent), Indonesia (up from 28 percent to 46 percent), Philippines (up from 19 percent to 41 percent) and Sri Lanka (up from 15 percent to 39 percent) over the same time frame. A key question in my mind is how quickly China’s textile and apparel industry will continue to evolve and upgrade by following the paths of most other advanced economies in history.

Second, how will the implementation of several newly-reached free trade agreements (FTAs) affect the big landscape of apparel sourcing and the existing regional apparel supply chains? For example:

  • The newly-reached U.S.-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement (USMCA or commonly called NAFTA2.0) includes several interesting changes to the textile and apparel specific rules of origin provisions, such as the adjustment of the tariff-preference level (TPL) mechanism. Whether these changes will boost textile and apparel production in the Western-Hemisphere and attract more sourcing from the region will be something interesting to watch.
  • The implementation of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) will allow Vietnam to get access to nearly 40% of the world apparel import market (i.e., EU + Japan) duty-free. However, restrained by the country’s relatively small population, the apparel industry is increasingly facing the challenge of competing for labor with other export-oriented sectors in Vietnam. Realistically, what is the growth potential of apparel “Made in Vietnam” after the implementation of CPTPP and EVFTA?
  • In 2017, close to 80% of Asian countries’ textile imports came from other Asian countries, up from around 70% in the 2000s. Similarly, in 2017, 85.6% of Asian countries’ apparel imports also came from within the region. The negotiation of the Regional Comprehensive and Economic Partnership (RCEP) is likely to conclude in 2019, whose membership includes member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and other six economies in the Asia-Pacific region (Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand). Will RCEP result in an ever more integrated Asia-based textile and apparel supply chain and make the Asia region even more competitive as an apparel sourcing destination?  

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