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.
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 study was conducted based on a survey of 116 sourcing executives from fashion retailers and brands predominantly in North America and Western Europe between April 14 and April 22, 2020.
First, the fashion industry’s sourcing operations have been hit hard by COVID-19
Sales revenues are expected to contract by 27 to 30 percent in 2020 year over year.
Jointed affected by store closures and supply disruptions, two-thirds of fashion sourcing executives expect a cut in sourcing volumes by at least 20 percent in 2020, while only 18 percent expect a smaller decline of between 5 and 20 percent.
Second, regarding fashion companies’ immediate response to COVID-19:
Most sourcing executives are adopting a mixed approach to managing existing orders through a combination of reducing the number of orders, reducing the quantities per order, and canceling finished-goods orders. Almost half of the respondents (49 percent) have canceled less than a quarter of their existing orders of finished goods, while 22 percent have not canceled any orders at all. In general, European fashion players are using cancellations less often than those from North America.
Most fashion retailers and brands (90 percent of respondents) are accepting shipping delays for at least some of their orders. Around two-fifths of respondents are accepting delays for more than half of their orders.
Third, fashion brands and retailers are taking measures to support critical supplier base:
Measures commonly taken by fashion companies include collaboration with factories in cost reduction, providing payment of raw material and fabrics, forward looking collaboration in research and development, or product design.
However, still, only 19 percent of respondents say they are providing pre-payment for sourcing orders.
Meanwhile, 45 percent of sourcing executives expecting more than half of their suppliers to be in the next six months.
Fourth, fashion companies are thinking about the “next normal” for apparel sourcing:
76 percent of respondents believe that COVID-19 will accelerate flexibility and speed for apparel sourcing. This includes a high acceleration of more flexible product development with shorter lead times and smaller batch sizes in sourcing orders.
Achieving social and environmental sustainability in sourcing is becoming mainstream in the next normal. The pandemic has shone a spotlight on companies’ commitments to the safety of their customers, staff, and those working in the global value chain.
74 percent of respondents anticipate that digitization of product development and sourcing processes will accelerate and 60 percent agree that on-demand production through (semi)-automation will be a key driver in enabling new business models.
Fifth, regarding fashion companies’ adjustment of sourcing destinations:
The report suggests “the trend to move volume out of China has been slowed slightly by COVID-19”, particularly because “the strong value chain integration in China that makes raw material access less disruption prone than the globally interconnected value chains that fashion production countries depend upon.”
South-East Asian sourcing markets have been less disrupted and are expected to gain share compared to the pre-COVID-19 five-year trend.
COVID-19 has led to a reversal of the medium-term trends in Bangladesh with about a third of sourcing executives expecting volume decreases.
46 percent of sourcing executives indicated they expect the trend of “near-sourcing” to increase next year
The fashion industry is just at the beginning of its struggle with COVID-19: 1) duration and ultimate severity of the pandemic remains unknown; 2) Stores and factory closures have significantly disrupted the supply chain; 3) consumers’ demand plummets.
The developing world, where most clothing is currently sourced from, will face the most hardship caused by COVID-19, namely Bangladesh, India, Cambodia, Honduras, and Ethiopia. While developed nations could recover from COVID-19 relatively fast, these developing counties, especially the least developed ones (LDCs), may suffer from a more extended period of high unemployment, which means widespread hunger and disease.
COVID-19 will result in significant shifts in consumers’ preferences: 1) The pandemic will bring values around sustainability into sharp focus, intensifying discussions around materialism, over-consumption, and irresponsible business practices. 2) A significant drop in consumer spending on apparel will result in massive inventory build-ups. 3) Social distancing has highlighted the importance of digital channels more than ever and the lockdown has elevated digital as an urgent priority across the entire value chain.
The fashion industry will look very different in the post-Covid19 world. 1) The ensuing financial distress will spur industry consolidation to an extent significantly greater than that caused by the 2008 global financial crisis. 2) COVID-19 will turn fashion into an even more “winner-takes-all” industry. 3) Innovation will scaled-up along the entire fashion value chain. Regarding sourcing, it means “near sourcing” and “vendor integration.”
Summarized by Meera Kripalu (Honors student, Marketing and Fashion Merchandising double majors).
The studywas based on a survey of 64 sourcing executives from vertical apparel retailers, hybrid wholesalers, and sportswear companies, with a total sourcing volume of $100 billion. Below are the key findings of the report:
More sourcing executives now focus on process improvements in their companies, such as sustainability and transparency (56% of respondents), digitalization of sourcing process and related areas (45% of respondents), consolidation of supplier base (42% of respondents), end-to-end process efficiency (41% of respondents) than shifting sourcing countries (20% of respondents). Related, as cost gaps between sourcing destinations are narrowing, apparel companies are shifting from minimizing the price of supply to a focus on customer-centric, agile product development to meet customer demand. Digitalization, such as intelligent sourcing, is one of the most promising areas.
Affected by the on-going U.S.-China tariff war, two-thirds of surveyed companies expect their overall sourcing cost to increase in the years ahead, including 37.5% expecting a 2-4% increase and 25% expecting 1-2% increase. However, only 3.1% of respondents expect a significant cost increase (>4%).
Echoing the findings of other recent studies, respondents plan to source relatively less from China through 2025. Bangladesh, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Ethiopia are among the top alternative sourcing destinations. Meanwhile, more companies are considering near-sourcing. The biggest challenge, however, is limited fabric production capacity, NOT higher wages.
Sustainable apparel sourcing is regarded as a must—70% of EU companies and 35% of North American companies surveyed say “responsible and sustainable sourcing was on the CEO agenda.” Top challenges to achieve sustainable apparel sourcing include “no common, objective industry standard on sustainable sourcing”, “consumers lack a clear picture of what sustainable fashion is all about”, “mixed influence of the sourcing function in company-wide sustainability strategy.” Further, more companies prioritize environmental-sustainability initiatives (issues such as sustainable material, recycled material, traceability, and packing) than social sustainability initiatives (issues such as) fair on living wage and decent work). Additionally, respondents hold competing views on whether sustainability will increase sourcing costs overall. Around 58% of respondents see additional costs for sustainable sourcing between 1% and 5%.
Sustainability will play an increasingly important role in how apparel companies select their suppliers. Some surveyed apparel brands and retailers say they have upgraded their supplier ratings over the last couple of years, moving away from viewing sustainability simply as a compliance-based hygiene factor and instead embracing criteria that are more sophisticated.
There is also a need to shift from the transactional-based, season-by-season and the low-commitment relationship between apparel companies and their vendors to strategic partnerships between the two. Around 73% of respondents plan to consolidate their supplier base by at least 5% over the next few years. Related, apparel companies increasingly empower suppliers for self-auditing with tools like the Higg Index.
Last week in FASH455, we discussed the unique critical role played by textile and apparel trade in generating economic growth in many developing countries. The developed countries also use trade policy tools, such as trade preference programs, to encourage the least developed countries (LDCs) making and exporting more apparel. However, a debate on these trade programs is that they have done little to improve the genuine competitiveness of LDCs’ apparel exports in the world marketplace, but instead have made LDCs rely heavily on these trade programs to continue their apparel exports. Here is one more example:
With growing concerns about “the deterioration of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law in Cambodia”, in a statement made on February 12, 2019, the European Union says it has started the process that could lead to a temporary suspension of Cambodia’s eligibility for EU’s Everything But Arms (EBA) program. Specifically, the EU process will include the following three stages:
Stage 1: six
months of intensive monitoring and engagement with the Cambodian government;
Stage 2: another three months for the EU to produce a
report based on the findings in stage 1
Stage 3: after
a total of twelve months in stages 1
& 2, the EU Commission will conclude the procedure with a final decision on
whether or not to withdraw tariff preferences; it is also at this stage that
the Commission will decide the scope and duration of the withdrawal. Any
withdrawal would come into effect after a further six-month period.
However, the EU
Commission also stressed that launching the temporary withdrawal procedure does
not entail an immediate removal of Cambodia’s preferential access to the EU
market, which “would be the option of last resort.”
Developed in 2001, the EBA program establishes duty-free and quota-free
treatment for all Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in the EU market. EBA includes
almost all industries other than arms and armaments. As of February 2019, there
EBA beneficiary countries.
The EBA program has benefited the apparel sector in particular given clothing accounts for the lion’s share in many LDCs’ total merchandise exports. Because of the preferential duty benefits provided by EBA, many LDCs can compete with other competitive apparel powerhouses such as China. Notably, the EBA program also adopts the “cut and sew” rules of origin for apparel, which is more general than the “double transformation” rules of origin typically required by EU free trade agreement and trade preference programs. Under the “cut and sew” rule, Cambodia’s apparel exports to the EU can enjoy the import duty-free treatment while using yarns and fabrics sourced from anywhere in the world.
Cambodia is a major apparel supplier for the EU market, accounting for approximately 4% of EU’s
total apparel imports in 2017. Exporting
apparel to EU through the EBA program is also of particular importance to
Cambodia economically. In 2016, the apparel sector created over 500,000
jobs in Cambodia, of whom 86% were female, working in 556 registered factories.
According to Eurostat, of EU’s €4.9bn imports from Cambodia in 2017, around 74.9% were apparel (HS chapters 61 and
62). Meanwhile, of EU’s €3.7bn apparel imports from Cambodia in 2017, as high
as 96.6% claimed the EBA benefits. Understandably,
losing the EBA eligibility could hurt Cambodia’s apparel exports to the EU significantly.
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.
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?
The deepening of the regional production and trade network(RPTN) is a critical factor behind the increasing concentration of world textile and apparel exports. RPTN refers to the phenomenon that geographically proximate countries form a regional supply chain.
In general, three primary textile and apparel regional
supply chains are operating in the world today:
Asia: within this regional supply chain, more economically advanced Asian countries (such asJapan, South Korea, and China) supply textile raw material to the less economically developed countries in the region (such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Vietnam). Based on relatively lower wages, the less developed countries typically undertake the most labor-intensive processes of apparel manufacturing and then export finished apparel to major consumption markets around the world.
Europe: within this regional supply chain, developed countries in Southern and Western Europe such as Italy, France, and Germany, serve as the primary textile suppliers. Regarding apparel manufacturing in EU, products for the mass markets are typically produced by developing countries in Southern and Eastern Europe such as Poland and Romania, whereas high-end luxury products are mostly produced by Southern and Western European countries such as Italy and France. Furthermore, a high portion of finished apparel is shipped to developed EU members such as UK, Germany, France, and Italy for consumption.
Western-Hemisphere(WH): within this regional supply chain, the United States serves as the leading textile supplier, whereas developing countries in North, Central andSouth America (such as Mexico and countries in the Caribbean region) assemble imported textiles from the United States or elsewhere into apparel. The majority of clothing produced in the area is eventually exported to the UnitedStates or Canada for consumption.
Associated with these
regional production and trade networks, three particular trade flows are
important to watch:
First, Asian countries are increasingly sourcing textile inputs from within the region. In2017, close to 80 percent of Asian countries’ textile imports came from other Asian countries, up from around 70 percent in the 2000s.
Second, the pattern of EU intra-region trade for textile and apparel stays strong and stable. Intra-region trade refers to trade flows between EU members. In 2017, 55 percent of EU countries’ textile imports and 47 percent of EU countries’ apparel imports came from within the EU region. Over the same period, 68 percent of EU countries’ textile exports and 75 percent of their apparel exports also went to other EU countries.
Third, trade flows under the Western-Hemisphere textile and apparel supply chain are becoming more unbalanced. On the one hand, textile and apparel exporters in the Western-Hemisphere still rely heavily on the region. In 2017, respectively as much as 80 percent of textiles and 89 percent of apparel exports from countries in the Western Hemisphere went to the same region. However, on the other hand, the operation of the Western-Hemisphere supply chain is facing growing competition from Asian suppliers. For example, in 2017, only 24.8 percent of North, South and Central American countries’ textile imports and 15.7 percent of their apparel imports came from within the region, a record low in the past ten years.
Look ahead, it will be interesting to see how will the reaching and implementation of several new free trade agreements, such as CPTPP, RCEP, EU-Vietnam FTA, and the potential US-EU and US-Japan FTAs, affect the regional pattern of world textile and apparel trade.
#1 How do rules of origin (RoO) and free trade agreement (FTA) regulations affect speed to market in apparel sourcing? Do countries who are part of an FTA find it to be easier to get to market in a shorter amount of time if they are working with other FTA members? Or could RoO slow down the production process because producers have to be more careful about compliance with the complicated RoO?
#2 Why or why not the “yarn forward” rules of origin remains an effective way to promote textile and apparel production in the Western-Hemisphere? What other options are available to improve the competitiveness of the Western-Hemisphere textile and apparel supply chain?
#3 What would happen to the Western-Hemisphere textile and apparel supply chain should NAFTA no longer exist?
#4 Should NAFTA be responsible for the loss of US apparel manufacturing jobs? Any hard evidence?
#5 If you were U.S. trade negotiators, what would you do with TPL in NAFTA given the competing views from the U.S. textile industry and U.S. fashion brands and retailers?
The Outlook of “Factory-Asia”
#6 From the perspective of the U.S. textile and apparel industry, is it a good idea for the United States to reach free trade agreement (FTA) with Asian countries? If so, what countries should be included in the new FTA? If not, why?
#7 How can U.S. companies get involved in the Asia-based textile and apparel supply chain?
#8 Why or why not is the “Flying geese model” unique to Asia? Can the model be replicated in America too?
(Welcome to join our online discussion. Please mention the question number in your reply)
1. What do you see as the biggest challenges – and opportunities – facing the apparel industry in 2018, and why?
One of the biggest opportunities facing the apparel industry in 2018 could be the faster growth of the world economy. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the global growth forecast for 2018 is expected to reach 3.7 percent, about 0.1 percent points higher than 2017 and 0.6 percent points higher than 2016. Notably, the upward economic growth will be broad-based, including the United States, the Euro area, Japan, China, emerging Europe and Russia. Hopefully, the improved growth of the world economy will translate into increased consumer demand for clothing in 2018.
Nevertheless, from the macroeconomic perspective, oversupply will remain a significant challenge facing the apparel industry in 2018. Data from the World Bank and the World Trade Organization (WTO) shows that, while the world population increased by 21.6 percent between 2000 and 2016, the value of clothing exports (inflation-adjusted) surged by 123.5 percent over the same period. Similarly, between 2000 and 2016, the total U.S. population increased by 14.5 percent and the GDP per capita increased by 22.2 percent, but the supply of apparel to the U.S. retail market surged by over 67.8 percent during the same time frame. The problem of oversupply is the root of many challenges faced by apparel companies today, from the intense market competition, pressure of controlling production and sourcing cost, struggling with excessive inventory and deep discounts to balancing sustainability and business growth.
2: What’s happening with sourcing? How is the sourcing landscape likely to shift in 2018, and what can apparel firms and their suppliers do to stay ahead?
The 2017 US Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study, which I conducted in collaboration with the US Fashion Industry Association (USFIA) earlier this year, provides some interesting insights into companies’ latest sourcing strategies and trends. Based on a survey of 34 executives at the leading U.S. fashion companies, we find that:
First, most surveyed companies continue to maintain a relatively diversified sourcing base, with 57.6 percent currently sourcing from 10+ different countries or regions, up from 51.8 percent last year. Larger companies, in general, continue to have a more diversified sourcing base than smaller companies. Further, around 54 percent of respondents expect their sourcing base will become more diversified in the next two years, up from 44 percent in 2016; over 60 percent of those expecting to diversify currently source from more than 10 different countries or regions already. Given the uncertainties in the market and the regulatory environment (such as the Trump Administration’s trade policy agenda), companies may use diversification to mitigate potential market risks and supply chain disruptions due to protectionism.
Second, although U.S. fashion companies continue to seek alternatives to “Made in China” actively, China’s position as top sourcing destination remains unshakable. Many respondents attribute China’s competitiveness to its enormous manufacturing capacity and overall supply chain efficiency. Meanwhile, it is interesting to note that the most common sourcing model is shifting from “China Plus Many” to “China Plus Vietnam Plus Many” (i.e. China typically accounts for 30-50 percent of total sourcing value or volume, 11-30 percent for Vietnam and less than 10 percent for other sourcing destinations). I think this sourcing model will likely to continue in 2018.
Third, social responsibility and sustainability continue to grow in importance in sourcing decisions. In the study, we find that nearly 90 percent of respondents give more weight to sustainability when choosing where to source now than in the past. Around 90 percent of respondents also say they map their supply chains, i.e., keeping records of name, location, and function of suppliers. Notably, more than half of respondents track not only Tier 1 suppliers, suppliers they contract with directly, but also Tier 2 suppliers, i.e., supplier’s suppliers. However, the result also suggests that a more diversified sourcing base makes it more difficult to monitor supply chains closely. Making the apparel supply chain more socially responsible, sustainable and transparent will continue to be a hot topic in 2018.
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?
I assume many experts will suggest what apparel firms should change to stay competitive into the future. However, the question in my mind is what should companies keep doing regardless of the external business environment? First, I think companies should always strive to understand and impress consumers and control their supply chains. Despite the growing popularity of e-commerce and the adoption of transformative new technologies, the fundamental nature of apparel as a buyer-driven business will remain the same. Second, companies should always leverage their resources and stay “unique,” no matter it means offering differentiated products or value-added services, maintaining exclusive distribution channels or keeping the leadership position in a particular niche market. Third, apparel firms should always follow the principle of “comparative advantage” and smartly define the scope of their core business functions instead of trying to do everything. Additionally, winners will always be those companies that can take advantage of the mega-development trends of the industry and be willing to make long-term and visionary investments, both physical and intangible (such as human talents).
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 2018 to be better than 2017, and why?
I think the apparel industry should keep a close eye on the following issues in 2018:
The possible reaching of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP): Even though RCEP is less well-known than the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), we should not ignore the potential impact of the agreement on the future landscape of textile and apparel supply chain in the Asia-Pacific region. One recent study of mine shows that the RCEP will lead to a more integrated textile and apparel supply chain among its members but make it even harder for non-RCEP members to get involved in the regional T&A supply chain in the Asia-Pacific. This conclusion is backed by the latest data from the World Trade Organization (WTO): In 2016, around 91 percent of Asian countries’ textile imports came from other Asian countries, up from 86 percent in 2006. The more efficient regional supply chain as a result of RCEP will further help improve the price competitiveness of apparel made by “factory Asia” in the world marketplace. Particularly in the past few years, textile and apparel exports from Asia have already posted substantial pressures on the operation of the textile and apparel regional supply chain in the Western Hemisphere.
Automation of apparel manufacturing and its impact on the job market: Recall my observations at the MAGIC this August, several vendors showcased their latest technologies which have the potential to automate the cut and sew process entirely or substantially reduce the labor inputs in garment making. The impact of automation on the future of jobs is not a new topic, but the apparel industry presents a unique situation. Globally, over 120 million people remain directly employed in the textile and apparel industries today, a good proportion of whom are females living in poor rural areas. According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), for quite a few low-income and lower-middle income countries such as Bangladesh, Gambia, Pakistan, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia, as much as over 70 percent of their total merchandise exports were textile and apparel products in 2016. Should these labor-intensive garment sewing jobs in the developing countries were replaced by machines, the social and economic impacts will be consequential. I think it is the time to start thinking about the possible scenarios and the appropriate policy responses.
First, apparel companies are attaching greater importance to speed-to-market in their sourcing decisions. According to the result, the need for a faster, more responsive supply chain is being driven by consumers’ increasing demands for immediacy and constant newness, as well as the speed with which social media can spread new trends.
Second, respondents say the rising sourcing and production cost remains one of their top business challenges in the New Year. Key drivers of cost increase include wage of production workers, raw material price and the social and environmental compliance cost. Notably, almost half expect their sourcing budget to go up, with 15.3% seeing an increase of more than 5%, and 32.8% anticipating a rise of between 1% and 5%. A further 32.1% see their budgets staying the same in the year ahead.
Third, the survey result confirms that China’s dominance of global apparel manufacturing is unlikely to change anytime soon. Asked about their China sourcing plans in 2018, 21.1% of respondents said they would buy more here over the next 12 months, some 30.5% expect their China sourcing to remain roughly the same year-on-year, and 28.9% expect to source less. Respondents say that “no other country can match China regarding the size of its supply base, its range of skills, its quality levels, its product variety and the completeness of its supply chain. The country also continues to lead the way when it comes to efficiency and infrastructure.” Meanwhile, Bangladesh and Vietnam continue to be seen as the two sourcing markets most likely to grow in importance in the next five years.
Fourth, respondents also expressed concerns about uncertainty over trade agreements (64.5%), particularly how the Trump Administration may do with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). However, the impact of uncertainty created by Brexit seems to be limited.