2018 U.S. Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study Released

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The report can be downloaded from HERE

Key findings of this year’s study:

Business challenges facing U.S. fashion companies: Protectionism is the top challenge for the U.S. fashion industry in 2018. More companies worry about increases in production or sourcing cost, too. For the second year in a row, “protectionist trade policy agenda in the United States” ranks the top challenge for U.S. fashion companies in 2018.

Industry outlook: Despite concerns about trade policy and cost, executives are more confident about the five-year outlook for the U.S. fashion industry in 2018 than they were a year ago, although confidence has not fully recovered to the level seen in 2015 and 2016. In addition, 100 percent of respondents say they plan to hire more employees in the next five years, compared with 80-85 percent in previous studies; market analysts, data scientists, sustainability/compliance related specialists or managers, and supply chain specialists are expected to be the most in-demand.

U.S. fashion companies’ sourcing strategy: When it comes to sourcing, diversification is key for many companies.

  • Most respondents continue to maintain a diverse sourcing base, with 60.7 percent currently sourcing from 10+ different countries or regions, up from 57.6 percent in 2017.
  • Larger companies, in general, continue to be more diversified than smaller companies.
  • Reflecting the U.S. fashion industry’s growing global reach, respondents report sourcing from as many as 51 countries or regions in 2018, the same as in 2017. Asia as a whole continues to take the lead as the dominant sourcing region. Meanwhile, with the growing importance of speed-to-market and flexibility, the Western Hemisphere is becoming an indispensable sourcing base.
  • Keeping a relatively diverse sourcing base will remain a key element of U.S. fashion companies’ sourcing strategy. Nearly 80 percent of respondents plan to source from the same number of countries, or more countries, in the next two years. However, respondents are equally divided on whether to increase or decrease the number of suppliers they will work with.
  • China plus Vietnam plus Many” has become an ever more popular sourcing model among respondents. And this model is evolving as companies further diversify their China production. In particular, China now typically accounts for only 11-30 percent of companies’ total sourcing value or volume, compared with 30-50 percent in the past.
  • Although China’s position as the top sourcing destination is unshakable, companies are actively seeking alternatives to “Made in China.” This does not seem to be due to concerns about cost, but rather the worries about the escalating U.S.-China trade tensions.
  • Benefiting from the diversification away from China, Vietnam and Bangladesh are expected to play a bigger role as apparel suppliers for the U.S. market in the near future.

Rules of origin and the utilization of trade agreements for sourcing: Rules of origin, and exceptions to the rules of origin, significantly impact whether companies use free trade agreements (FTAs) and trade preference programs for sourcing.

  • While FTAs and trade preference programs remain largely underutilized by U.S. fashion companies, more companies are using NAFTA (65 percent), CAFTA-DR (58 percent) and AGOA (50 percent) than in the past two years.
  • Still, it’s concerning that companies often do not claim the duty-free benefits when sourcing from countries with FTAs or preference programs. Companies say this is primarily due to the strict rules of origin.
  • Exceptions to the “yarn-forward” rules of origin, including tariff preference levels (TPLs), commercial availability/short supply lists, and cumulation, are priorities for respondents; 48 percent say they currently use these mechanisms for sourcing. These exceptions provide critical flexibilities that make companies more likely to use FTAs and source from FTA regions.

NAFTA: U.S. fashion companies call for a further reduction of trade barriers and urge trade negotiators to “do no harm” to NAFTA, the most-utilized free trade agreement by respondents.

  • Respondents predominantly support initiatives to eliminate trade barriers of all kinds, from high tariffs to overcomplicated documentation requirements, to restrictive rules of origin in NAFTA and future free trade agreements.
  • More than half of respondents explicitly say NAFTA is important to their business—and they have grave concerns about the uncertain future of the agreement.

Sourcing in sustainable and socially compliant ways: Overall, U.S. fashion companies are making more commitments to sustainability and social responsibility.

  • 85 percent of respondents plan to allocate more resources for sustainability and social compliance in the next two years, in areas including providing training to suppliers and internal employees, adding more employees, and working more closely with third-party certification programs on sustainability and social compliance. However, the availability of operational budget remains the primary hurdle for companies that want to do more.
  • 100 percent of respondents map their supply chains (i.e., keep records of name, location, and function of suppliers), up from 90 percent in 2017. Over 80 percent of respondents track not only Tier 1 suppliers (i.e., factory where the final product is assembled), but also Tier 2 suppliers (i.e., subcontractors or major component suppliers, such as fabrics). However, it’s less common for companies to map Tier 3 (i.e., yarn spinners, finding and trimming suppliers) and Tier 4 suppliers (i.e., raw materials suppliers, such as cattle/pig hides, rubber, cotton, wool, goose down, minerals/metals and chemicals).
  • 100 percent of respondents audit their suppliers for issues including building safety, fire safety, and treatment of workers. The vast majority of respondents (96 percent) currently use third-party certification programs to audit, with both announced and unannounced audits.

The US Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study from 2014 to 2017 can be downloaded from HERE

How Have the Apparel Trade Flows Reacted to the Section 301 Tariff Action against China?

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  • Apparel products are not subject to the Section 301 tariff yet. Neither the $34 billion product list (subject to the 25% additional tariff rate since July 6, 2018) nor the newly proposed $200 billion product list covers wearing apparel (HS Chapters 61 and 62). The current tariff rates will remain unchanged for now.
  • Nevertheless, the Section 301 tariff action has created huge market uncertainties for U.S. fashion brands and apparel retailers. Uncertainty hurts business.
  • Seasonally adjusted data shows that between January-May 2018, the total U.S. apparel imports increased by 1.5 percent in volume and 2.5 percent in value year on year—largely due to the improved U.S. economy which creates more import demand. However, over the same period, the value of U.S. apparel imports from China decreased by 1.2 percent in volume and 2.5 percent in value year on year.

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  • After all, cost concern does NOT seem to be the most influential factor that drives companies to source less from China. The average unit price of U.S. apparel imports from China dropped from $2.5/SME in 2016, $2.38/SME in 2017 to $2.32/SME in the first five months of 2018.

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  • In response to the market uncertainty, US importers have already started to accelerate diversifying their sourcing base. Interesting enough, while China’s share in the U.S. apparel import market is declining, there is no single alternative to “Made in China.” Notably, the market shares of Vietnam, Bangladesh, NAFTA and CAFTA only marginally increased in 2018 compared with a year ago. Again, companies’ immediate strategy is to diversify sourcing.
  • In the short run, the volume of US textile and apparel imports from China is likely to go up since US importers are eager to complete their sourcing orders before the tariff hit. If the market uncertainty lasts, the real negative impact will be reflected in the trade data later this year or next year. Usually, companies place sourcing orders several months ahead of the season.
  • Last but not least, the Section 301 action is driven by politics. It is insufficient to just calculate the economic costs and benefits; the political costs should be considered as well.

Data source: Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA), US Department of Commerce

by Sheng Lu

Call for Papers: Textile and Apparel Trade and Trade Policy in the 21st Century Global Economy

Book title: Textile and Apparel Trade and Trade Policy in the 21st Century Global Economy

Editor: Dr. Sheng Lu, Associate Professor, Fashion and Apparel Studies, University of Delaware (shenglu@udel.edu)

Publisher: Springer (https://www.springer.com/)

Subjects: Economics, Business & Management

About the book: This edited book intends to address the following three topics:

1. Global Textile and Apparel Trade: The value of textile and apparel (T&A) trade exceeded US$726 billion in 2016, making T&A one of the world’s most globalized and economically important sectors in the 21st century. Globally, over 120 million people remain directly employed in the T&A industry, a good proportion of whom are females living in poor rural areas. The stakes are high that these LDCs find a way to improve the competitiveness of their T&A industry in the increasingly intense global competition and steadily achieve social and economic upgrading. Quality scholarships can have a significant role to play in the process. Particularly, this book intends to explore how the T&A industry, through international trade, can play a uniquely critical role in creating jobs, promoting economic development, enhancing human development and reducing poverty.

2. Textile and Apparel Trade Policy: T&A might be the only industry other than agriculture that is regulated most heavily by trade policies, because of its global presence and the complex social, economic and political factors associated with the sector. From the debate on the U.S. trade deficits to the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), nearly all critical and high-profile trade policy agendas today involve the T&A sector. Trade policy also affects business activities in the T&A industry substantially as well as the destiny of millions of workers directly employed by the sector. Specifically, this book intends to explore the T&A-specific sectoral impact of major mega-free trade agreements and other critical trade policy debates that are closely associated with the T&A sector.

3. Textile and Apparel Sourcing and Supply Chain Strategies: Sourcing and supply chain management are at the core of T&A companies’ business activities today. Research on sourcing and supply chain strategies contributes to the development of firm theory in the T&A industry and explains the pattern of T&A trade at the microeconomic level. Specifically, this book intends to explore fashion brands and apparel retailers’ shifting global sourcing and supply chain strategies in response to the changing business environment in the T&A sector.

Interested researchers may contact the editor with initial ideas or abstracts. The work must be completed by the time of full paper submission and should not be published elsewhere. The followings are potential book chapters to be considered (but not limited to):

Part I Patterns of Textile and Apparel Trade in the 21st Century Global Economy

  • Patterns of world textile and apparel trade in the post-quota era
  • Textile and apparel trade as an economic development tool
  • Social and economic impacts of textile and apparel trade
  • Measuring the economic competitiveness of textile and apparel exports

Part II Textile and Apparel Trade Policy

  • Textile and apparel specific sectoral impacts of free trade agreement and trade preference programs
  • Textile and apparel specific rules of origin and its economic impacts
  • Utilization of free trade agreement in the textile and apparel sector
  • Debate on the second-hand clothing trade ban

Part III Global Sourcing and Supply Chain Strategies of Textile and Apparel Firms

  • Shifting global sourcing strategies of fashion brands and apparel retailers
  • Promote textile and apparel sourcing and trade in socially compliant and sustainable ways
  • Impact of automation and digital technologies on the future landscape of apparel sourcing and trade

Due dates:

  • December 15, 2018: Abstract submission for editor’s review (up to 2 pages outlining background, approach, and outcomes of the proposed research)
  • May 15, 2019: Full paper submission for peer-review
  • August 15, 2019: Revision submission
  • September 15, 2019: Final paper submission to the editor for publication

Manuscript requirements:

  • 6,000–8,000 words including references
  • Up to 3 tables and 2 figures
  • Black and white
  • APA style

You can download the full Call for Papers (CFP) announcement from HERE 

CPTPP Tariff Phaseout Schedule for Textiles and Apparel

The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP),  signed on March 8, 2018, is a new free trade agreement between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. Once the CPTPP enters into force, it will be one of the largest free trade agreements in the world and will provide enhanced market access to key Asian markets. Below is the detailed tariff phaseout schedule for textile and apparel products by CPTPP members:

CPTPP

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by Sheng Lu

Wage Level for Garment Workers in the World (updated in 2017)

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Statistics from the Public Radio International (PRI) show that garment workers in many parts of the world earn much less than the national average. Of the twenty-one countries investigated by PRI, the monthly wage for garment workers range widely from $1,864 (USA) to $194 (Sri Lanka).

However, a higher wage level in absolute term does not necessarily mean a more decent pay. For example, while garment workers in the US apparently earn much more than their peers in other parts of the world, the wage level nevertheless was only 51 percent of the U.S. national average wage. Likewise, while garment workers in Honduras earn only $650 each month, this amount was approximately 107 percent of the national average wage in the country.

For more information about the wage level for garment workers around the world, please explore the Fair-fashion Quiz created by PRI.

Automation Comes to Fashion

Video Discussion Questions:

#1 Why do you agree or disagree with the video that automation will post a significant challenge to garment workers in developing countries such as Bangladesh? How should policymakers react to the challenges?

#2 Can automation be a permanent solution to the social responsibility problem in the garment industry?

#3 In your view, how will automation affect the big landscape of apparel sourcing and the patterns of world textile and apparel trade?

#4 Why or why not do you anticipate a sizable return of apparel manufacturing to the United States if apparel production can be largely automated?

Additional reading: The robots are coming for garment workers. (WSJ, 2018)

Please feel free to share your views and join our online discussion!