2016 U.S. Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study Released

The 2018 U.S. Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study is now available
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The report can be downloaded from HERE

Key Findings of the study:

I. Business environment and outlook in the U.S. Fashion Industry

  • Overall, respondents remain optimistic about the five-year outlook for the U.S. fashion industry. “Market competition in the United States” is ranked the top business challenge this year, which, for the first time since 2014, exceeds the concerns about “increasing production or sourcing cost.”

II. Sourcing practices in the U.S. fashion industry

  • U.S. fashion companies are more actively seeking alternatives to “Made in China” in 2016, but China’s position as the No.1 sourcing destination seems unlikely to change anytime soon. Meanwhile, sourcing from Vietnam and Bangladesh may continue to grow over the next two years, but at a slower pace.
  • U.S. fashion companies continue to expand their global reach and maintain truly global supply chains. Respondents’ sourcing bases continue to expand, and more countries are considered potential sourcing destinations. However, some companies plan to consolidate their sourcing bases in the next two years to strengthen key supplier relationships and improve efficiency.
  • 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.

III. Trade policy and the U.S. fashion industry

  • Overall, U.S. fashion companies are very excited about the conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations and they look forward to exploring the benefits after TPP’s implementation.
  • Thanks to the 10-year extension of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), U.S. fashion companies have shown more interest in sourcing from the region. In particular, most respondents see the “third-country fabric” provision a critical necessity for their company to source in the AGOA region.
  • Free trade agreements (FTAs) and trade preference programs remain underutilized in 2016 and several FTAs, including NAFTA and CAFTA-DR, are utilized even less than in previous years. U.S. fashion companies also call for further removal of trade barriers, including restrictive rules of origin and remaining high tariffs.

The benchmarking study was conducted between March 2016 and April 2016 based on a survey of 30 executives from leading U.S. fashion and apparel brands, retailers, importers, and wholesalers. In terms of business size, 92 percent of respondents report having more than 500 employees in their companies, while 84 percent of respondents report having more than 1,000 employees, suggesting that the findings well reflect the views of the most influential players in the U.S. fashion industry.

For the benchmarking studies in 2014 and 2015, please visit: https://www.usfashionindustry.com/resources/industry-benchmarking-study

Global Apparel and Footwear Industry (Updated in June 2016)

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The global apparel and footwear industry enjoys a 5 percent value growth in 2015. Asia Pacific remains the world’s largest apparel and footwear market, with market value increased by $30 billion USD in 2015.  In particular, the United States, China and India contributed more than half the absolute increased value.

Market growth in Western Europe remains stagnant in 2015. However, some countries performed better than others. For example, apparel and footwear sales continued to experience significant losses in Greece and Italy with 7 percent and 2 percent declines in 2015, respectively. France didn’t do very well either and size of the French market is expected to contract by $1.5 billion USD by 2020. In comparison, UK, Western Europe’s largest market, posted modest 1 percent growth in 2015. Performance in Germany remained overall stable.

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The US market continues to perform well with healthy value growth of 4 percent in 2015. However, the performance of key players such as J Crew and Gap, both of which plan to close a significant number of physical stores and lay off employees, highlight the increasingly competitive trading environment. US consumers overall remain cautious and adopt a value- driven approach to buying clothes resulting in a continuous discounting cycle, negatively impacting profit margins and slowing growth for the industry as a whole. From 2013 to 2014, volume growth of apparel sales in the United States exceeded value, primarily due to discounting, the proliferation of fast fashion brands and greater availability of low prices online. However, value growth returned to a more robust position in 2015, as a strengthening economy, improvements in the labor market and rising wages support future growth.

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Sportswear is maintaining its momentum, increased by 8 percent in market value from 2014 to 2015, faster than any other apparel product categories. Consumers no longer consider sport a task that needs to be checked off on a day-to-day basis but instead it has become a lifestyle. Athleisure remains a heavily prominent trend as more consumers adopt an active and healthy lifestyle, increasing the demand for athletic products that are technically advanced and fashionable. In response to the evolving athleisure trend, major sportswear brands have turned their attention to women’s sports apparel and footwear. With Skechers, Lululemon, Under Armour and Nike reporting growth of 33 percent, 20 percent, 19 percent and 12 percent, respectively, in 2015.

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Currency weakness, political unrest and tough economic environments continue to result in slowing growth among the emerging markets. However, internet retailing & e-commerce is a spotlight. Apparel and footwear sales through internet retailing grew by 23 percent in 2015 globally and are expected to continue providing impressive growth for apparel brands to 2020. Global mobile internet retailing has grown at a rapid of 92 percent over 2011-2015, highlighting the increasingly vital role mobile is playing within the buying process. Notably, emerging markets are accounting for a significant proportion of growth and are expected to boast a higher market size than developed markets by 2018.

Data source: Euromonitor Passport

2015 Top Markets Report for Technical Textiles and Apparel Released

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The U.S. Department of Commerce recently released its first-ever market report for technical textile and apparel, covering product categories including: non-wovens, specialty and industrial fabrics, medical textiles and protective apparel. According to the report:

  • The U.S. exports of technical textiles totaled $8.5 billion or 46% of U.S. textile mill product exports in 2014.
  • By size, the top 10 export markets for U.S. technical textiles from 2015 to 2016 include: Mexico, Canada, China, Germany, Japan, Hong Kong, United Kingdom, Belgium, Brazil and Honduras.
  • North America is the largest regional consumer of technical textiles due to the presence of the majority of end-use industries. Europe and Asia Pacific follow North America in terms of current consumption; however, development in emerging markets including India, China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan is expected to increase overall technical textile demand. Among the best prospect in the emerging markets for U.S. companies are Vietnam, India, Taiwan and Brazil.
  • Major challenges facing U.S. technical textile exports include: 1) trade protection such as high tariffs and non-tariff barriers, such as import license requirements; 2) foreign competition and continual investment in research and development in many developing countries; and 3) lack of transparency by foreign customs agencies which could slow the flow of trade and lead to processing delays.

Eight country studies are provided by the report, including: Brazil, Canada, China, India, Korea, Mexico, Taiwan and Vietnam.

The full report can be downloaded from HERE.

The Changing Business Model of Fashion Companies

From watching the video (the first 18 minutes):

  • What are the key challenges faced by fashion companies nowadays?
  • How has the business model of fashion companies evolved?
  • What’s your outlook for the U.S. fashion industry?

Sourcing Opportunity in Africa

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Although Africa only accounted for 0.55% of world textile and apparel (T&A) exports in 2013(WTO, 2014), numerous studies have suggested that this is a region of strategic importance as a sourcing base in the long term. For example, according to one recent study released by McKinsey & Company, among 40 surveyed apparel chief purchasing officers from January to February 2015, around 40 percent expect to be sourcing a greater share of their portfolio from sub-Saharan Africa in the next 5 years.

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Africa is gaining attention as a sourcing base largely because of its growing working-age population, which is expected to surpass China today by 2035 (Note: In comparison, affected by its one-child policy, China’s labor pool could shrink by one-fifth over the next 50 years). The current wage level in Africa is around USD 120 to 150 monthly for garment workers, higher than Bangladesh (USD 91/month), but lower than Vietnam (USD 254/month) and China (USD 324/month).

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However, sourcing from Africa is not without challenges. One big disadvantage of African countries when competing with “factory Asia” is its nascent local textile industry, meaning most fabrics and raw material needed for apparel assembling in Africa has to be imported. As reported by the McKinsey & Company study, among those surveyed companies which involved in sourcing from Sub-Saharan Africa, only around 50% directly source from the region, 15% source via Asian suppliers’ headquarters and 32% source via agents.

Poor infrastructure in Africa further amplifies the problem of heavy reliance on imported fabrics, trims and other supplies. For example, It can add up to 40 days in transit, for fabrics manufactured overseas to come from abroad and make their way through customs and to the factory in Africa.

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Look into the future, the collaboration between local governments, suppliers and buyers is suggested as the key to fully tap the potential of Africa as a sourcing base. Particularly, the McKinsey & Company report suggests US and EU-based apparel companies to evaluate Africa as a strategic option and think about the region beyond the next 2-3 years. Improving workers’ productivity, upgrading the industry to go beyond cut-make-and-trim (CMT) and establishing long-term partnership with buyers are suggested to be prioritized.

What Does “Factory Asia” Mean for the U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry?

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Slide38As we discussed in class, following the “flying geese pattern”, countries in Asia form a dynamic division of labor in textile and apparel (T&A) manufacturing. Although China may gradually lose its comparative advantage in labor-intensive apparel manufacturing, it will continue playing a critical role in “Factory Asia” (i.e. Asia-based T&A supply chain). As results, Asia will remain a giant player in T&A production and export in the years to come.

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Another important feature of “Factory Asia” is regional integration–Asian countries tend to use more and more T&A inputs from within Asia rather than from outside the region. This may improve the internal efficiency of “Factory Asia”, but also may make it harder for T&A companies outside Asia to get access to the Asian market.

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So, what is your view on “Factory Asia”? What are the implications of “Factory Asia” for the U.S. T&A industry? Can the Trans-Pacific Partnership potentially shape new T&A supply chain in the Asia-Pacific region? What market opportunities does the Asia-Pacific region present to the US T&A industry? Please feel free to share your view and any other questions in your mind about the Asia-Pacific region. 

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Exclusive Interview with Erin Ennis, Vice President, US-China Business Council

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Erin Ennis has been Vice President of the US-China Business Council (USCBC) since May 2005. In that position, she directs the Council’s government affairs and advocacy work for member companies and oversees the Council’s Business Advisory Services. She also leads a coalition of other trade associations on issues of interest to companies doing business with China. Founded in 1973, the US-China Business Council provides extensive China-focused information, advisory, and advocacy services, along with comprehensive events, to nearly 250 US corporations operating within the United States and throughout Asia.

Prior to joining the Council, Ms. Ennis worked at Kissinger McLarty Associates, the international consulting firm headed by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former White House Chief of Staff Thomas “Mack” McLarty. At Kissinger McLarty, Ms. Ennis was responsible for implementing strategies for international business clients on proprietary trade matters, primarily in Vietnam and Japan.

Before entering the private sector, Ms. Ennis held several positions in the US Government. From 1992 to 1996, Ms. Ennis was a legislative aide to former U.S. Senator John Breaux, working on international trade and commerce. She also worked on health care issues during the Senate’s consideration of President Bill Clinton’s health care reform, an issue on which Senator Breaux actively worked to broker a compromise.

At the Office of the US Trade Representative from 1996 to 2000, Ms. Ennis first worked in Congressional Affairs on Asia issues, including annual approvals of China’s most favored nation status and the ill-fated 1997 push to renew presidential “fast track” negotiating authority. Beginning in 1998, she was assistant to Deputy US Trade Representative Richard Fisher, who led US trade negotiations and enforcement with Asia, the Americas, and on intellectual property rights.

Interview Part

Sheng Lu: Our students wonder whether increased trade with China is good or bad for the U.S. economy. Many of them consider the U.S. trade deficit with China to be a serious problem and they are worried about the loss of U.S. jobs to China. What’s your view and insights?

Erin Ennis: We should be realistic about what trade balance data shows and what it doesn’t. There is almost no correlation between a high US trade deficit and a strong US economy. In fact, we tend to have the lowest trade deficits when our economy is doing the worst – take a look at the data from the recent global recession between 2009 and 2010 for example versus what the trade deficit looked like in the 1990s when our economy was booming. We also don’t save much of our earnings, which also factors into the data.

Focusing on a single country as the source of our concerns leads to an inaccurate view that what other countries do has more of an effect on our economy than our own domestic policies. We should indeed be concerned about job creation in the US, but to do that, we should be implementing policies that ensure that we have as competitive an economy as possible. That will require a combination of education, energy, tax and other domestic policies. It also requires our economy to be as open as possible and pursuing market openings globally so that US goods and services have opportunities for sales overseas.

Sheng Lu: The USCBC 2014 China Business Environment Survey describes China as “an extremely difficult business environment along with a vital, growing market for foreign businesses”. We all know that China is an emerging market, but what are the top challenges faced by U.S. companies doing business in China?

Erin Ennis: Our survey goes into detail about the various challenges that companies experience in China. Competition with Chinese companies was the top issue in 2014, an issue that was not only cited independently, but also factors into several other issues that were cited such as foreign investment restrictions, uneven enforcement of laws, licensing disparities, and discrimination in the market. IPR enforcement is also a top concern for companies. Beyond those, there are also issues that both Chinese and foreign companies are grappling with in the market: a very tight labor market and significant increases in the cost of doing business.

Sheng Lu: Related to the previous question, two numbers in the USCBC survey seem to be very interesting: Although 90 percent of respondents consider rising costs in China a concern, only 14 percent of respondents say they actually reduced or stopped planned investment in China in the past year. How to explain this phenomenon?

Erin Ennis: The simple answer is that companies don’t make decisions on where to do business solely on cost. Most companies report that they are doing business in China to access Chinese customers. While costs may have increased, their opportunities for increased sales have increased too. China’s market grew at about 7% in 2014 – still a rapid rate of growth, even though it is slower than in previous years. Companies are likely to stay in the market, even as costs increase, to continue to access those opportunities.

Sheng Lu: While it is under heated discussion whether China should join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) or not, USCBC suggests that a successful conclusion of the Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) negotiations should be the top priority in the US-China economic relationship. What is BIT and why does it matter for U.S. companies?

Erin Ennis: The short answer is that a BIT matters because it will require China to provide the same treatment to foreign companies that it provides to domestic ones and it will require China to open many sectors of its economy to foreign investment that remain closed. More detailed explanations of what the BIT is and why it matters can be found on USCBC’s website here: https://www.uschina.org/advocacy/bilateral-investment-treaty.

Sheng Lu: December 2015 will mark the 15th anniversary of China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). In your view, what are the most important changes in US-China economic relations since China joins the WTO?

Erin Ennis: China’s WTO access required it to open significant parts of its economy to foreign companies. In general China has done a good job of implementing those commitments. As a consequence, China has grown to be the United States’ third largest trading partners after Canada and Mexico, with whom we have a free trade agreement. More needs to be done, however, to open China’s market. The US-China BIT negotiations will be a useful tool in achieving that goal.

Sheng Lu: China’s recent sweeping anti-graft campaign has attracted the world attention. How does the US business community look at this campaign? Will this campaign have any long-term impact on China’s business environment?

Erin Ennis: In general, the anticorruption campaign is viewed very positively by foreign companies because it is an additional way to ensure that all companies are treated equally in China – bribes and other illegal activities should never be tolerated. To date, the only impact that foreign companies have reported is that it takes longer to get some projects or licenses approved because Chinese officials are being overly cautious in ensuring that there is no appearance of impropriety. Those kinds of delays are ones that companies are willing to deal with.

Sheng Lu: Our students wonder if China presents as a career opportunity for them as well. What’s your observation and do you have any suggestions for our students interested in working/interning in China?

Erin Ennis: If you are serious about working in China, then learning Chinese should be at the top of your to do list – but the same could be said about going to work in any foreign country: learn their language. Beyond that, go to China and experience it. There are plenty of ways to do both of those, but language and on the ground experience will establish your credibility as someone who is serious about the specific opportunities in China, rather than someone who just wants a chance to live in a different country. Final suggestions: read as much as you can and question what you read. China is not a monolith and, as anywhere, there are always multiple sides to every story – that’s especially true in business and politics. Having an informed view of those dynamics will serve you well.

–The End–

Levi Strauss to Provide Financial Incentives to Encourage Better Practices in Social Compliance

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Levi Strauss, a global manufacturer of brand-name clothing, announced today that it plans to provide financial incentives for garment suppliers in developing countries to upgrade environmental, health, safety and labor standards. Specifically, if a vendor scores higher on  Levi Strauss’s Terms of Engagement (TOE) assessment, which measures labor, health and safety, and environmental performances, it will receive lower cost rates on working-capital financing from the International Finance Corporation (member of the World Bank) Global Trade Supplier Finance program (GTSF). Established in 2010, GTSF is a $500 million multicurrency investment and advisory program that provides short-term finance to emerging-market suppliers and small and midsized exporters. Lower financing cost will help a garment manufacturer reduce its operation cost and potentially result in increased profits.

As we learned in TMD433, corporate social responsibility is a critical and long-time issue facing the global textile and apparel industry. Despite many great efforts, the phenomenon of “race to the bottom” still widely exists because of the intensive competition among suppliers. Levi Strauss is the first major international buyer that partners with a financial institution to offer its suppliers a direct financial incentive to improve social compliance. Levi’s program also reminds us that to improve the corporate social responsibility practices in the fashion apparel industry requires joint efforts and creativity among all stakeholders.

Discussion: What do you think of Levi’s program? Will it work well? Can it become a “model” and gradually involve more retailers or fashion brands? Any challenges will the program face in its implementation? Feel free to share your thoughts. Related reading: Levi’s Sourcing VP Talks Supply Chain Strategies (from Sourcing journal Online, May 2014)

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Unleashing Fashion Growth City by City

According to a recent study conducted by McKinsey, the global women’s apparel market growth rate is forecasted to increase by 50 percent over the next 12 years, largely driven by the increasing weight of emerging markets such as China and Russia. Historically, the global women’s apparel market has grown at just over 3 percent per year; However, by 2025 the growth rate is expected to approach 5 percent per year. By 2025, women’s apparel is expected to account for 55% of global apparel sales and 60% of sales growth.

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For fashion players, cities are mattering more than any other product category. Top 600 growth cities will account for 62% of women’s apparel market’s growth by 2025; and 16 out of top 20 growth cities are from the emerging markets, adding an additional $100 billion to the global women’s apparel market.

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However, when looking at total size, mature-market cities will still have half the women’s apparel market worldwide, according to McKinsey. Particularly, growth in the luxury markets is still heavily dependent on the mature market, where 70 percent of top growth cities are located.

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With the help of city level analysis, rather than discussing Europe or Asia as alternative destinations, or even the U.K. versus France, companies can now ask themselves, “in what 10 key cities should we next establish a strong presence?”

World Textile and Apparel Trade (Update: August 2014)

The following analysis is conducted based on the statistics released by the World Trade Organization on August 5, 2014.

1. Asia continues to dominate the world textile and apparel exports from 2012 to 2013.

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2. Despite concerns about its rising labor cost, China continues to gain more market shares in world textile and apparel exports from 2012 to 2013.

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3. World market for textiles remains relatively stable from 2000 to 2013; world market for apparel is gradually shifting and diversifying. Although Europe and North America still account for lion’s shares in world apparel imports (due to their higher GDP per capita), Asia is the fast growing market.

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4. Intra-region trade remains a distinct pattern in world T&A trade, particularly in Asia, Europe and America. However, the pattern has become substantially weakened in Europe and America from 2000 to 2013, which could be the results of increasing number of FTAs in these regions.

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5. US textile and apparel exports increased 3.3% and 4.4% respectively from 2012 to 2013. North America remains the single largest T&A export market for the United States.

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by Sheng Lu

National Export Initiative Priority Markets

95% of the consumers live outside the US, implying huge market opportunities for the US textile and apparel industry. Among the leading emerging markets for U.S. companies are China, Vietnam, India, Indonesia, Taiwan and Thailand. From watching the short videos below (prepared by the US Commerce Department), how do you see the importance of these markets? And what are the unique local business environment and culture in your view?

China

Vietnam

Thailand

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Taiwan

Global Apparel and Footwear Market Update—2014

According to the latest estimates from the Euromonitor International, the global apparel and footwear market grew by 5% in value terms in 2013 and will further increase by an incremental US$58 billion to 2018.  Several highlighted findings:

  • China will account for 50% of absolute growth over 2013-2018. It will overtake the US to become the world’s largest apparel and footwear market in 2017.
  • The Middle East and Africa region has also become a new frontier for growth. The region’s apparel and footwear sales are set to rise by US$17.9 billion over 2013-2018.
  • Outlook for the developed markets are mixed. The United States is forecast to be the second largest contributor to global value growth of apparel & footwear sales after China over 2013-2018, ahead of the other BRIC markets. The German market is forecast to contract by US$2.2 billion over 2013-2018. Market growth in Japan will remain static.  
  • Menswear mania continues to grip the global fashion arena. The category grew by 4.8% in 2013, marginally outperforming womenswear’s 4.5%. The trend was evident in major markets including the US, the UK and Germany.
  • The womenswear category was valued at US$684 billion in 2013, accounting for 48% of total global apparel sales. The category is set to expand by a further US$91.8 billion to 2018, with 58% of this increase coming from China alone. International labels Uniqlo, Gap and H&M were the most dynamic womenswear brands in China in 2013.
  • While still a quarter the size of the apparel market, value growth of footwear outpaced that of apparel in 2013, registering a 6.1% yearly gain compared to apparel’s 4.8%.

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Bangladesh Apparel Industry: An Update

Note: The following update can be used as additional reference material for our case study 1 on the Bangladesh fire accident.

The export-oriented apparel sector has been the main source of growth in exports and formal employment for the past three decades in Bangladesh. The industry directly employs 3.1 million people, comprising 40 percent of manufacturing employment; indirectly more than 10 million people are dependent on the apparel sector.

According to the World Trade Organization (WTO, 2013), in 2012, Bangladesh’s apparel exports to the world reached $19.9 billion (4.7%), among which $10.6 billion (or 53.3%) went to the European Union (27) and $4.6 billion (or 22.4%) went to the United States. Cotton trousers, cotton shirts, cotton sweaters and cotton T-shirt [HS 620342, HS620462, HS620520, HS611010 and HS610910]account for around 75% of Bangladesh’s total apparel exports in 2009 (World Bank, 2012).

The unit prices of Bangladesh’s main apparel exports are much lower than the world average and even lower than the unit values of apparel exports from China, India and Sri Lanka. From 2004 to 2007, the average price of Bangladesh’s apparel exports to the world fell from $2.60 to $2.31 per unit, representing a decline of 11 percent over three years. More specifically, average unit prices for woven  apparel fell from $3.26 to $2.92 (10% drop in price) and for knit apparel from $1.95 to $1.90 (3% drop in price) over the same period.

Bangladesh’s Local sources are able to meet about 80 percent of the domestic apparel industry’s demand for apparel accessories such as thread, buttons, labels, bags, tapes, shirt board, and cartons. But Bangladesh’s apparel sector relies on imported fabric and yarn inputs because the local textile industry is unable to supply its requirement in terms of quality, quantity, and variety.

Bangladesh’s main competitive advantage is low labor costs, one of the lowest among main apparel exporter countries in the world. Average apparel labor costs per hour in 2008 were $0.22; in comparison, rates in India were more than twice as high and four times higher in China. However, low wages are accompanied by relatively low levels of labor productivity. Average annual value addition per worker in Bangladesh was estimated at $2,500 compared to nearly $7,000 for a group of similar Chinese factories in 2005, according to a World Bank study.

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Reference: Sewing Success? Employment, Wages and Poverty following the End of the Multi-Fiber Arrangement (World Bank, 2012). International Trade Statistics (World Trade Organization, 2013).

Apparel Issues to Watch in 2014

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In the year ahead, the following issues are suggested to watch for the apparel industry according to the latest just style management briefing:

Responsible sourcing: a variety of different themes inclusive of sustainability, compliance, chemical safety and product safety. In the past, the apparel industry has been very reactive in these areas, and efforts have accelerated to move to a more proactive model in 2014.

Demand for greater supply chain visibility: a higher level focus and a lot more time will be required to look at the supply chains from end to end, especially for tier 2 and 3 component suppliers. Apparel industry needs to be focused on preparing to be more transparent on what goes into making its products and the carbon and water footprint it leaves behind. There will also be a stronger emphasis on quality, and more intelligence and agility in the supply chain, including how to achieve global flexibility in supply to maximize advantages and benefits offered by different regions.

Adjust to the industry “new normal”: speed, efficiency and cost management. ‘Quick response’ or ‘fast fashion’ is no longer a catch phrase, it’s a business reality. Speed is king. Retailers have learned to manage with smaller inventories and to quickly react to consumer needs. Additionally, there are no more low cost countries (with capability and capacity) to tap into, which requires more efficient cost control through supply chain design and management.

Internet and omni-channel retailing. The internet continues to upend the apparel industry. Brick and mortar companies are still struggling to figure out how to harness the power of the internet – and struggling to figure out how big of a threat pure-play internet companies are. Meanwhile, the proliferation of internet-only companies continues, increasing the competitive pressure on everyone (including the older internet-only companies!). All of this will end up resulting in a much stronger industry overall – but in the meantime there will be a lot of hand-wringing and heartache.

Economic outlook. Overall, 2014 will be a year better off than 2013. The US economy continues to improve, the Eurozone recession has stabilised and there is the huge opportunity Asia offers.

Country risk. Whatever happens in the real economy, political tensions throughout developing countries (except possibly China and Vietnam) are growing. They are about more than working conditions in garment factories – and we cannot expect the garment industry to remain immune from them.

International market expansion. Global vertical retailers and brands need to balance the efficiency of global assortments with being able to cater to a broad range of consumer purchasing preferences across cultural groups. Winners manage to preserve their brand identity while offering attractive choices to this diverse customer group.

Trade policy and trade politics. 2014 is an election year for US Congress. It will only be tougher to find bipartisan consensus. Things to watch include whether the Obama Administration is going to finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) during 2014, whether the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) can get passed as well as the renewal of the Generalized system of Preferences (GSP) and African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

China’s role in the global apparel supply chain. China’s productivity miracle has been the single major influence on global sourcing over the past five years. While this cannot go on forever it is hard to see a significant change in its share in 2014. China’s dominance of upstream textile production (spinning, weaving and knitting) is under greater threat. Its main operators are making substantial overseas investment, and while the timing of major upstream projects means this will have little impact on fabric and yarn manufacture in 2014, the subject will preoccupy observers. Onshore garment development in Japan, Germany, the UK and US will continue to create much publicity, but limited amounts of garments. Nearshoring continued to lose market share in the EU and US during 2013, though many buyers express growing interest, and there are signs of growth in some categories. It will be surprising if it shows any significant increase in 2014.

OTEXA Released the 2013 Going Global Report

 

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The Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA) under the U.S. Department of Commerce recently released the 2013 version of the Going Global Report, which identifies both the largest and the fastest growing export markets for U.S.-made textiles and apparel (T&A) products from 2006 to 2012. Among the 15 largest export markets, six are based in America, five are located in Asia and the rest are from Europe.  

What should be particularly noted is that Vietnam is identified as the top fastest growing export market for U.S. made textiles by the report. In 2012, the U.S. textile exports to Vietnam increased 54.3% from 2011, totaling $66.2 million. However, according to the statistics from the U.N. Comtrade, by 2011,  only 0.6% of Vietnam’s textile imports came from the United States, whereas the leading textile suppliers to Vietnam, including China, Japan and South Korea, are all based in Asia. This raises the question as to whether the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), if concluded, is able to “break” the current regional production & trade pattern in Asia and positively promote the vertical collaboration between Vietnam and the United States for T&A production and trade.

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The on-going restructuring of the U.S. textile and apparel industry in response to the changing nature of today’s global economy has resulted in a significant shift in the U.S. T&A trade policy in the past few years, moving away from restricting imports to promoting exports in the global marketplace. As the report puts it:

“The growth of the global economy provides U.S. firms with greater opportunities to seek out new markets and customers and to expand their businesses. Moreover, with increased competition from overseas, companies are looking to diversify their client base and find new ways to grow. The supply chain for textiles and apparel has become increasingly global, to include North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa and the Asia Pacific region. Customers, suppliers, manufacturers, and assemblers are located throughout the world, and represent new potential partners for U.S. firms looking to expand abroad. “

China and the US Economy: Advancing a Winning Trade Agenda

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Last week in class, we discussed what globalization means and why international trade happens. This latest research report released by the U.S.-China Business Council (USCBC) on the U.S.-China commercial relationships provides latest evidence showing how the world two largest economies are interdependent with each other and mutually benefit from such a close trade partnership.  The report also highlights several key facts about the U.S.-China trade relationship, which often time is misunderstood by the general public.

Full text of the report is available at:

https://www.uschina.org/info/trade-agenda/2013/uscbc-trade-agenda-report.pdf

Comparative Advantage: The boomerang effect

Comment:

This article from the Economist echoes some recent arguments that with China’s rising wages, manufacturing jobs could move back to the developed countries. The article says that: “for some manufacturers low wage costs are becoming less important because labor represents only a small part of the overall cost of making and selling their products.”

However, such view is questionable. If labor cost only accounted for a minimum proportion of the total production cost, why would firms care about the rising labor cost?  Also, more and more products made in China are sold locally today rather than shipped back to the US or  other developed markets. Therefore, for many sectors (such as softgoods) despite the rising labor cost, leaving China is not always a workable option.

Fashion Forward: Zara is trying to go global

Can fast fashion go global? Does the business model which heavily rely on local supply fit for global operation? As mentioned in the article, 70% of Zara’s sale in 2001 came from the EU, although it has opened 179 new stores in Asia in 2011, 156 of them in China.

To do business in emerging markets may incur many unique barriers and challenges. For example, the article reported that China’s consumer watchdog attacked Zara for poor quality in 2011. Often time we see much heavier invovlement of government in economic activities. And many emerging markets are very segmented (due to regional economic development gap) than in the US/west. Europe.

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