How Might Covid-19 Affect Apparel Sourcing and Trade

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

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

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There are four preliminary findings:

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Sheng Lu

Additional reading:

The Changing Face of Textile and Apparel “Made in Asia”

Video 1: How one Chinese shirt-maker uses automation to safeguard its future

Video 2: Chinese investors move clothing factory to Bangladesh

Video 3: Can Vietnam become the next China?

Discussion questions (for FASH455: Please finish watching ALL the three short videos above before sharing your viewpoints)

  1. How are textile and apparel “Made in Asia” changing its face? What are the driving forces of these changes?
  2. What are the examples of the “flying geese model” from the videos? Overall, why or why not do you think this model is still valid today?
  3. Why or why not do you think the U.S.-China tariff war has fundamentally changed the patterns of textile and apparel production and trade in Asia?

Related readings

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!

2017 U.S. Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study Released

The 2018 U.S. Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study is now availablecover

The report can be downloaded from HERE

Key findings of the study:

While the majority of respondents remain confident about the five-year outlook for the U.S. fashion industry, the percentage of those who are “optimistic” or “somewhat optimistic” dropped to a record low since we began conducting this study in 2014. This change could be due to concerns about the “protectionist trade policy agenda in the United States” and “market competition in the United States from e-commerce,” the top two concerns this year.

  • The percentage of those who are “optimistic” or “somewhat optimistic” fell from 92.3 percent in 2016 to 71.0 percent in 2017, a record low since we began conducting this study in 2014. As many as 12.9 percent of respondents are “somewhat pessimistic” about the next five years, mostly large-scale retailers with more than 3,000 employees.
  • Despite the challenges, demand for human talent in the industry overall remains robust. This year, around 80 percent of respondents plan to hire more employees in the next five years, especially supply chain specialists, data scientists, sourcing specialists, and marketing analysts.
  • Cost is no longer one of the top concerns; respondents are less stressed about “increasing production or sourcing cost,” which slipped from #2 challenge in 2016 to #7 challenge in 2017. Only 34 percent rate the issue among their top five challenges this year, significantly lower than 50 percent in 2016 and 76 percent in 2015. Labor cost remains the top factor driving up sourcing cost in 2017.

Although U.S. fashion companies continue to seek alternatives to “Made in China,” China’s position as the top sourcing destination remains unshakable. Meanwhile, sourcing from Vietnam and Bangladesh may continue to grow over the next two years, but at a relatively slow pace.

  • 91 percent of respondents source from China; while 100 percent sourced from China in our past three studies, China is still the top-ranked sourcing destination this year, and the percentage of those expecting to decrease sourcing from the country fell from 60 percent in 2016 to 46 percent this year—and many more expect to maintain their current sourcing value or volume from the country in the next two years.
  • Likely reflecting the United States’ withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the expectation of increasing labor costs, only 36 percent of respondents expect to increase sourcing from Vietnam in the next two years, much lower than 53 percent who said the same in 2016.
  • Respondents are cautious about expanding sourcing from Bangladesh in the next two years, with only 32 percent expecting to somewhat increase sourcing While “Made in Bangladesh” enjoys a prominent price advantage over many other Asian suppliers, respondents view Bangladesh as the having the highest risk for compliance.

U.S. fashion companies continue to maintain truly global supply chains.

  • Respondents source from 51 countries or regions in 2017, close to the 56 in last year’s study.
  • 57.6 percent source from 10+ different countries or regions in 2017, up from 51.8 percent in last year’s survey. In general, larger companies have a more diversified sourcing base than smaller companies. Additionally, retailers maintain a more diversified sourcing base than brands, importers/wholesalers, and manufacturers.
  • Around 54 percent expect their sourcing base will become more diversified in the next two years, up from 44 percent in 2016; among these respondents, over 60 percent currently source from more than 10 different countries or regions.
  • The most common sourcing model is shifting from “China Plus Many” to “China Plus Vietnam Plus Many.” The typical sourcing portfolio today is 30-50 percent from China, 11-30 percent from Vietnam, and the rest from other countries.
  • While Asia as a whole remains the dominant sourcing region for U.S. fashion companies, the Western Hemisphere is growing in popularity. This year, we see a noticeable increase in sourcing from the United States (70 percent, up from 52 percent in 2016) and countries in North, South, and Central Americas, which offer a shorter lead time and relatively lower risk of compliance.

Today, ethical sourcing and sustainability are given more weight in U.S. fashion companies’ sourcing decisions. Respondents also see unmet compliance (factory, social and/or environmental) standards as the top supply chain risk.

  • 5 percent of respondents say ethical sourcing and sustainability have become more important in their company’s sourcing decisions in 2017 compared to five years ago.
  • 100 percent of respondents currently audit their suppliers, including how suppliers treat their workers, suppliers’ fire safety, and suppliers’ building safety. The majority (93 percent) use third-party certification programs to audit, with a mix of announced and unannounced audits.
  • As many as 90 percent of respondents map their supply chains, i.e., keep records of name, location, and function of suppliers. More than half track not only Tier 1 suppliers, suppliers they contract with directly, but also Tier 2 suppliers, i.e. supplier’s suppliers. It is less common for U.S. fashion companies to map Tier 3 and Tier 4 suppliers though, which could be because of the difficulty of getting access to related information with such a globalized and highly fragmented supply chain.

Free trade agreements (FTAs) and trade preference programs remain underutilized, and several FTAs, including CAFTA-DR, are utilized even less this year than in previous years.

  •  Of the 19 FTAs/preference programs we examined this year, only NAFTA is used by more than 50 percent of respondents for import purposes.
  • Even more concerning, some U.S. fashion companies source from countries/regions with FTAs/preference programs but, for whatever reason, do not claim the benefits. For example, as many as 38 percent and 6 percent of respondents, respectively, do not use CAFTA-DR and NAFTA when they source from these two regions.

Respondents unanimously oppose the U.S. border adjustment tax (BAT) proposal and call for the further removal of trade barriers, including restrictive rules of origin and high tariffs.

  • 100 percent of respondents oppose a border adjustment tax; 84 percent “strongly oppose” it.
  • Respondents support initiatives to eliminate trade barriers of all kinds, from high tariffs to overcomplicated documentation requirements, to the restrictive yarn-forward rules of origin in NAFTA and future free trade agreements.
  • Respondents say the “complex standards on labeling and testing”, “complex rules for the valuation of goods at customs” and “administrative and bureaucratic delays at the border” are the top non-tariff barriers they face when sourcing today.

The benchmarking studies from 2014 to 2016 can be downloaded from https://www.usfashionindustry.com/resources/industry-benchmarking-study 

Are Textile and Apparel “Made in China” Losing Competitiveness in the U.S. Market?

The updated version is available HERE

The following analysis is from the latest Just-Style Op-ed Is China Losing Its Edge as a US Apparel Supplier.

A fact-checking review of trade statistics in 2016 of a total 167 categories of T&A products categorized by the Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA) suggests that textile and apparel (T&A) “Made in China” have no near competitors in the U.S. import market. Specifically, in 2016:

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  • Of the total 11 categories of yarn, China was the top supplier for 2 categories (or 18%);
  • Of the total 34 categories of fabric, China was the top supplier for 25 categories (or 74%);
  • Of the total 106 categories of apparel, China was the top supplier for 88 categories (or 83%);
  • Of the total 16 categories of made-up textiles, China was the top supplier for 12 categories (or 68%);

In comparison, for those Asian T&A suppliers regarded as China’s top competitors:

  • Vietnam was the top supplier for only 5 categories of apparel (less than 5% of the total);
  • Bangladesh was the top supplier for only 2 categories of apparel (less than 2% of the total)
  • India was the top supplier for 2 categories of fabric (9% of the total), one category of apparel (1% of the total) and 5 categories of made-up textiles (41.7% of the total)

part II

Notably, China not only was the top supplier for many T&A products but also held a lion’s market shares. For example, in 2016:

  • For the 34 categories of fabric that China was the top supplier, China’s average market shares reached 41%, 23 percentage points higher than the 2nd top suppliers for these categories
  • For the 88 categories of apparel that China was the top supplier, China’s average market shares reached 53%, 38 percentage points higher than the 2nd top suppliers for these categories.
  • For the 16 categories of made-up textiles that China was the top supplier, China’s average market shares reached 57%, 40 percentage points higher than the 2nd top suppliers for these categories.

It is also interesting to see that despite the reported rising labor cost, T&A “Made in China” are NOT becoming more expensive. On the contrary, the unit price of U.S. T&A imports from China in 2016 was 6.8% lower than a year earlier, whereas over the same period the unit price for U.S. T&A imports from rest of the world only declined by 2.9%.

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Furthermore, T&A “Made in China” are demonstrating even bigger price competitiveness compared with other suppliers to the U.S. market. For example, in 2016, the unit price of “Made China” was only 78% of the price of “Made in Vietnam” (in 2012 was 89%), 88% of “Made in Bangladesh” (in 2012 was 100%), 86% of “Made in Mexico” (in 2012 was 103%) and 72% of “Made in India” (in 2012 was 81%).

Are the results surprising? How to explain China’s demonstrated price competitiveness despite its reported rising labor cost? What’s your outlook for the future of China as a sourcing destination for U.S. fashion brands and retailers? Please feel free to share your views.

FIBERcast8: Two Years After the Rana Plaza, What Has Changed?


Panelists:

  • Zara Hayes, Director of Clothes to Die For
  • Sarah Hamilton, Producer of Clothes to Die For
  • Mara Burr, Senior vice president from the Albright Stonebridge Group
  • Avedis Seferian, President and CEO of Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production(WRAP)
  • Marsha A. Dickson, Professor of Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies, Irma Ayers Professor of Human Services, Co-Director of Sustainable Apparel Initiative, University of Delaware

Panel discussion questions:

  • What does the Rana Plaza tragedy bring out those aspects of the garment industry that many people don’t know?
  • What was it like going to Bangladesh and talking to survivors of the Rana Plaza? What are the behind the scene stories of filming the documentary Clothes To Die For?
  • What changes are happening in the Bangladesh garment industry after the Rana Plaza? Particularly, what people in Bangladesh are doing to prevent tragedies like the Rana Plaza from happening again?
  • The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (the Alliance) is a major effort from the U.S. business community in response to the Rana Plaza tragedy. What the Alliance has being doing, what major accomplishments have been achieved and what is the future work plan of the organization?
  • Has corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices in the Bangladesh garment industry critically improved after the Rana Plaza? Compared with other leading apparel manufacturers in the world such as China, Vietnam, India, Cambodia and Indonesia, is Bangladesh still significantly lagging behind in terms of corporate social responsibility practices?
  • How does the academia look at the Rana Plaza? Does the tragedy lead to some new research questions? What is the “academic” recipe for improving the CSR practices in the Bangladesh garment industry?
  • Will enhanced factory inspection increase production cost and make apparel “Made in Bangladesh” lose price competitiveness?
  • To prevent tragedies like the Rana Plaza from happening again, what each individual consumer can do or should do?
  • Sub-contracting is regarded as an indispensable part of today’s global apparel supply chain. But factories undertaking sub-contracting work operate in a “black box”—many of them are off the chart for inspection and audit. Any progress or new thinking on how to solve the sub-contracting issue in the garment industry?