Pattern of U.S. Textile and Apparel Imports (Updated: February 2018)

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The value of U.S. textile imports reached $25,706 million in 2017, up 7.2 percent from 2016 and 77.8 percent from 2000. The value of U.S. apparel imports reached $80,287 million in 2017, slightly down 0.5 percent from a year earlier and up 40.3 percent from 2000.  It is estimated that the value of U.S. textile and apparel imports could change between -2.2% and 7.6% and between -1.2% and 5.3% respectively in 2018.

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Because the United States is no longer a major apparel manufacturer but one of the largest apparel consumption markets in the world, apparel products accounted for 75.7 percent of total U.S. textile and apparel imports in 2017, followed by made-up textiles (17.4 percent), fabrics (5.7 percent) and yarns (1.2percent). This structure has remained stable over the past decade.

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The U.S. imported apparel from as many as 150 countries in 2017. Meanwhile, the Herfindahl index declined from 0.17 in 2010 to 0.15 in 2017, suggesting that overall the U.S. apparel import market is becoming less concentrated. This result is consistent with some recent studies, which show that U.S. fashion brands and retailers continue to diversify their sourcing bases gradually. Specifically, all top apparel suppliers to the United States in 2017 (by value) were developing countries and most of them are located in Asia, including China (33.7 percent), Vietnam (14.4 percent), Bangladesh (6.3 percent), Indonesia (5.7 percent), India (4.6 percent) and Mexico (4.5 percent).

On the other hand, despite the uncertain prospect of the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the U.S. apparel imports from Mexico and Canada enjoyed a robust growth of 5.3 percent and 7.7 percent respectively in 2017 from a year earlier. The result confirms the increasing importance of “speed to market” in U.S. fashion apparel companies’ sourcing decisions and the growing popularity of “near-sourcing.”

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U.S. textile and apparel imports are also becoming even cheaper. For example, U.S. apparel imports in 2017 on average was only 81.1 percent of the price in 1990 and the price of imported fabrics cut nearly by half over the same period.

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Additionally, U.S. apparel imports overall mirror the pattern of apparel retail sales in the U.S. market. This pattern reflects the fact that the performance of the U.S. economy is the leading factor shaping the size of demand for imported apparel. Notably, between 2010 and 2017, the value of U.S. apparel imports grew relatively faster than the value of U.S. apparel retail sales (3.2 percent vs 3.1 percent annually on average). The result suggests that a growing share of apparel products consumed in the United States now come from overseas.

Data source: Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA), U.S. Department of Commerce

By Sheng Lu

Apparel Sourcing in 2018: Results from the Just-Style State of Sourcing Survey

The latest Just-Style State of Sourcing Survey suggests a few trends of apparel sourcing in 2018:

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.

China’s Changing Role in the World Textile and Apparel Supply Chain

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Following the steps of many countries in history, China is gradually shifting its role in the world textile and apparel supply chain. While China unshakably remains the world’s largest apparel exporter, its market shares measured by value fell from 38.6 percent in 2015 to 35.8 percent in 2016.  China’s market shares in the world’s top three largest apparel import markets, namely the United States, EU and Japan, also indicate a clear downward trend in the past five years. This result is consistent with several recent survey studies, which find that fashion brands and retailers are actively seeking alternative apparel sourcing bases to China. Indeed, no country, including China, can forever keep its comparative advantage in making labor-intensive garments when its economy becomes more industrialized and advanced.

However, it is also important to recognize that China is playing an increasingly important role as a textile supplier for apparel-exporting countries in Asia. For example, measured in value, 47 percent of Bangladesh’s textile imports came from China in 2015, up from only 39 percent in 2005. We can observe similar trends in Cambodia (up from 30 percent to 63 percent), Vietnam (up from 23 percent to 50 percent), Pakistan (up from 32 percent to 68 percent), Malaysia (up from 25 percent to 49 percent), Indonesia (up from 26 percent to 40 percent), Philippines (up from 19 percent to 40 percent) and Sri Lanka (up from 15 percent to 38 percent) over the same time frame. 

So maybe the right question to ask in the future is: how much value of “Made in China” actually contains in Asian countries’ apparel exports to the world?

China’s Textile and Apparel Factories Today

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Related readings: 

What Do You Take Away from FASH455?

I encourage everyone to watch the above two short videos, which provide an excellent wrap-up for FASH455 and remind us the meaning and significance of our course.

First of all, I do hope students can take away essential knowledge about textile and apparel (T&A) trade & sourcing from FASH455. So far in the course we’ve examined the phenomenon of globalization and its implications; we also discussed various trade theories and the general pattern of the evolution of T&A industry in a country’s industrialization process; we further explored three primary T&A supply chains in the world (namely the “Western-Hemisphere” supply chain, “Factory Asia” supply chain based on the flying geese model and the phenomenon of intra-region T&A trade in Europe); last but not least, we looked at trade policies that are unique to the T&A sector (e.g.,: MFA and yarn-forward rules of origin) as well as the complicated economic, political and social factors behind the making of these trade policies. No matter your dream is to be a fashion designer, buyer, merchandiser, sourcing specialist or marketing analyst, understanding how trade and sourcing work will be highly relevant and beneficial to your future career given the global nature of today’s fashion industry.

Second, I hope FASH455 helps students shape a big picture vision of the T&A industry in the 21st-century world economy and provides students a fresh new perspective of looking at the world. Throughout the semester, we’ve examined many critical, timely and pressing global agendas that are highly relevant to the T&A industry, from apparel companies’ social responsibility practices, the debate on the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and Trump Administration’s trade policy agenda to the controversy of second-hand clothing trade. It is critical to keep in mind that we wear more than just clothes: We also wear the global economy, international business, public policy and trade politics that make affordable, fashionable, and safe clothes possible and available for hardworking families. This is also the message from many of our distinguished guest speakers this semester and I do hope you find these sessions enlightening and inspiring. 

Likewise, I hope FASH455 puts students into thinking the meaning of being a FASH major (as well as a college graduate) and how to contribute to the world we are living today positively. A popular misconception is that T&A is just about “sewing,” “fashion magazine,” “shopping” and “Project Runway.” In fact, as one of the largest and most economically influential sectors in the world today, T&A industry plays a critical and unique role in creating jobs, promoting economic development, enhancing human development and reducing poverty. As we mentioned in the class, globally over 120 million people remain directly employed in the T&A industry, a good proportion of whom are females living in poor rural areas. For most developing countries, T&A usually accounts for 70%–90% of their total merchandise exports and provide one of the very few opportunities for these countries to participate in globalization. Indeed, T&A is such an impactful sector and we are as important as any other majors on the campus!

Last but not least, I hope from taking FASH455, students can take away meaningful questions that can inspire their future study and even life’s pursuit. For example:

  • How to make the growth of global textile and apparel trade more inclusive?
  • What trade policy can promote and support textile and apparel manufacturing in the United States?
  • How to make sure that tragedies like the Rana Plaza building collapse will never happen again?
  • How to distribute the benefits & cost of globalization among different countries and groups of people more equally?
  • How to use trade policy as a tool to solve some tough global issues such as labor practices and environmental standard?
  • Is inequality a problem caused by global trade? If global trade is the problem, what is the alternative?

These questions have no real answer yet. But they are waiting for you, the young professional and the new generation of leaders, to write the history, based on your knowledge, wisdom, responsibility, courage, and creativity!

So what do you take away from FASH455? Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments.

Apparel Sourcing in U.S. Trade Preference Program Countries

Speakers:

  • Tarek Kabil – Egyptian Ministry of Trade & Industry
  • Ashraf Rabiey – QIZ Minister of Egypt
  • Gabi Bar – QIZ Minister of Israel
  • Mark D’Sa – Special Project Director for Haiti
  • Moderator: Gail Strickler – former Assistant US Trade Representative for Textiles

Discussion questions:

  1. How are trade preference programs different from free trade agreements? 
  2. What are the financial incentives for US brands and retailers to source apparel in preference program countries? Why do U.S. apparel imports from members of AGOA, QIZs and HELP overall remain at a fairly low level despite the trade preference programs? How to improve the situation?
  3. Overall, why or why not should the US keep the trade preference programs or any critical reforms are needed?
  4. Any other interesting points you learned from the video or questions you may have?

Interview with Dr. Marsha Dickson, Co-founder of Better Buying

 Dr. Marsha Dickson, Irma Ayers Professor, Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies at the University of Delaware discusses her co-founded Better Buying project(http://www.betterbuying.org), a meaningful effort to improve the social responsibility practices in the global apparel industry. The video is produced by Mallory Metzner, reporter of channel 49 of the University of Delaware.

Debate on Sourcing and Manufacturing in the U.S. Apparel Industry–Discussion Questions from FASH455

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(Figure source: USITC 2016 Shifts in US Merchandise Trade)

The value and future of apparel “Made in the USA”

#1 What are the primary obstacles in bringing apparel manufacturing back to the United States? Why or why not the labor cost is a detrimental factor?

#2 Shall policymakers encourage “jobless recovery” in the U.S. apparel manufacturing sector—meaning using more machines to make apparel but with empty factory floors?

#3 If apparel manufacturing generates the lowest added value to the final product, why not just let it go? Isn’t most U.S. apparel brands and retailers which moved production overseas and invested in design, product development, branding and retailing are doing very well financially?

2017 US Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study and Apparel Sourcing

#4 Why do you think respondents say that social compliance and sustainability issues are more important today than five years ago? Is this because of the many issues that have occurred in the recent years? What has changed?

#5 If the majority of respondents answered that they have increased their concerns and decisions on ethical sourcing and sustainability, why are there still manufacturing incidents overseas related to American-based brands?  All the respondents even audit their suppliers.  Should there be a standardized code for the process and requirements for auditors especially with overseas suppliers to ensure the ethical supply chain brands promise?

#6 According to the study some US fashion companies source from places with duty-free programs but don’t claim the benefits. They claim it is because of strict, complicated rules of origin and heavy documentation requirements by NAFTA and CAFTA-DR. How can these rules and regulations be changed? What are the obstacles?

#7 Through this article we understand that larger companies generally have a more diversified sourcing base than smaller companies. How could these extended operations correlate to our previous discussions of supply chain management and how it affects humanistic aspects of production such as workers’ rights and various labor laws?

#8 The benchmarking study finds that hiring plans of businesses within the fashion industry are beginning to shift.  Companies plan to increase their talent to include more diverse educational backgrounds such as engineering and business analytics. What are the implications for conventional fashion educational programs like FASH? How should FASH keep up with the changing nature of the apparel industry and improve the competitiveness and employability of our students?

(Please feel free to join our online discussion. In your comment, please mention the question #.)