According to the World Trade Statistical Review 2019 newly released by the World Trade Organization (WTO), the current dollar value of world textiles (SITC 65) and apparel (SITC 84) exports totaled $315 billion and $505 billion in 2018 respectively, increased by 6.4% and 11.1% from a year earlier. This has been the fastest growth of world textile and apparel trade since 2012. Specifically:
I. Textile export
China, European Union (EU28), and India remained the world’s top three exporters of textiles in 2018. Altogether, these top three accounted for 66.9% of world textile exports in 2018, a new record high since 2011. Notably, China and EU (28) also enjoyed a faster-than-world-average export growth in 2018, up 7.9% and 6.9% respectively. The United States remained the world’s fourth top textile exporter in 2018, accounting for 4.4% of the shares, down slightly from 4.6% in 2017.
II. Apparel export
China, the European Union (EU28), Bangladesh, and Vietnam unshakably remained the world’s top four largest exporters in 2018. Altogether, these top four accounted for as much as 72.3% of world market shares in 2018, which, however, was lower than 75.8% in 2017 and 74.3% in 2016—primarily due to China’s declining market shares. Notably, even though apparel exports from Vietnam (up 13.4%) and Bangladesh (up 11.1%) enjoyed a fast growth in absolute terms in 2018, their gains in market shares were quite limited (up 0.3 percentage point from 5.9% to 6.2% for Vietnam and up 0.1 percentage point from 6.4% to 6.5% for Bangladesh). This result once again suggests that due to capacity limits, no single country has emerged to become the “Next China.” Instead, China’s lost market shares in apparel exports were fulfilled by a group of countries, a phenomenon which can be linked with fashion brands and retailers’ sourcing diversification strategy.
III. Textile import
The European Union (EU28), the United States, and China were the top three largest importers of textiles in 2018, accounting for 37.5% of the world’s total textile imports that year. Although the market shares of the top three in 2018 were close to 37.7% a year earlier, it nevertheless was much lower than over 50% back in the 2000s. The increasing diversification of textile import market is associated with the shifting pattern of world apparel manufacturing and export closely.
IV. Apparel import
Affected by consumers’ purchasing power (often measured by GDP per capita) and size of the population, the European Union, the United States, and Japan remained the world’s top three importers of apparel in 2018. Altogether, these top three absorbed 61.5% of world apparel in 2018, which, however, was lower than 62.3% in 2017 and a significant drop from 84% back in 2005. Behind the result, it is not the case that consumers in the EU, U.S., and Japan are importing less clothing. Instead, several emerging economies (such as China) are becoming fast-growing apparel consumption markets and starting to import more. As consumers’ purchasing power in these emerging economies continues to improve, we could expect a more diversified world apparel import market in the years ahead.
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.
This study intends to explore how the U.S.-China trade tension since 2017 has affected the competitiveness of China’s textile and apparel (T&A) exports to the U.S. market. Findings of the study will shed new lights on the mega-trend of T&A sourcing from China in the medium term, and support T&A companies’ sourcing decision making in the current uncertain business environment.
Specifically, based on the constant market share (CMS) model, a commonly adopted international trade analysis tool, this study decomposed the value of U.S. T&A imports from China into the following four factors:
Market growth effect: changes in China’s T&A exports to the U.S. due to
the growth of total U.S. import demand for
Commodity structural effect: changes in China’s T&A exports to the U.S. due to
the shifting product structure of China’s
General competitive effect: changes in China’s T&A exports to the U.S. due to
the shifting competitiveness of Chinese
T&A products in the U.S. market (measured by China’s market shares)
Product competitive effect: changes in China’s T&A exports to the U.S. due to the joint effect of the product structure
of China’s T&A exports and the shifting competitiveness of Chinese T&A
products in the U.S. market (measured by China’s market shares)
Four findings are of note:
First, the U.S.-China trade tension has affected China’s T&A exports to the U.S. negatively. Even though the majority of T&A products have not been subject to the U.S. Section 301 punitive tariff yet, China’s T&A exports to the U.S. suffered a significant drop, particularly since 2019. This result, however, was at odds with the overall trend of China’s T&A exports to the U.S. in recent years. Notably, except apparel, China’s yarns, fabrics and made-up textile exports to the U.S. all enjoyed a steady and positive growth between 2016 and 2018. Overall, it seems U.S. T&A importers are shifting sourcing orders away from China mainly because of concerns over trade tensions rather than their usual business considerations.
Second, the increased U.S. import demand has partially mitigated the negative impact of trade tension on China’s T&A exports to the U.S. market. Results of the CMS model indicate that expanded total U.S. import demand for T&A driven by the booming U.S. economy had avoided an even worse decline of U.S. T&A imports from China. In other words, without such a market growth, China’s T&A exports to the U.S. would have been $2,065 million less in 2018 (including $528 million for apparel) and $388 million less (including $368 million for apparel) in the first quarter of 2019 than their current level.
Third, China’s export competitiveness is shifting from apparel to textiles. Results of the CMS model show that even before the tariff war, the competitiveness of China’s apparel exports has been weakening, which was the most significant contributing factor to the decline of $530 million U.S. apparel imports from China between 2016 and 2018. In comparison, China is exporting more yarns and fabrics to the U.S. in recent years. Data from OTEXA shows that between 2016 and 2018, China’s yarn and fabric exports to the U.S. enjoyed a 13.1% and 2.6% compound annual growth respectively, compared with a 0.6% decline of apparel. The CMS model further suggests that China’s improved export competitiveness can explain the majority of these increased exports.
Fourth, the results show that the changing product structure of China’s T&A exports to the U.S. also has an impact on trade flows. For example, as estimated, China lost around $20.4 million apparel exports to the U.S. in the first quarter of 2019 because the sourcing orders shifted towards those product categories with relatively lower market growth. In comparison, the commodity structural effect has favored China’s made-up textile exports to the U.S. market, resulting in $21.9 million more exports in the first quarter of 2019 than otherwise.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.