U.S. Apparel Retailers’ Shifting Sourcing Strategy for “Made in China” under the Shadow of the Tariff War

The full article is available HERE

Key findings:

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.

Related reading: Trade war to hit high-end US fashion brands dependent on specialized Chinese manufacturing

What Do You Take Away from FASH455?

I encourage everyone to watch the video above, which provides an excellent wrap-up for FASH455 and reminds us of the meaning and significance of our course. The names of several experts featured in the video should sound familiar to you, including David Spooner (former U.S. Chief Textile Negotiator and Assistant Secretary of Commerce), Julia Hughes (president of the US Fashion Industry Association, USFIA) and Auggie Tantillo (president of the National Council of TextileOrganizations, NCTO).

First of all, I hope students can take away essential knowledge about textile and apparel (T&A)trade & sourcing from FASH455. As you may recall from the video, in FASH455, we’ve examined the phenomenon of globalization and its profound social, economic and political implications. We also discussed various trade theories and the general evolution pattern of a country’s T&A industry and its close relationship with that country’s overall industrialization process. We further explored three primary T&A supply chains in the world (namely the Western-Hemisphere supply chain, the flying geese model in Asia or “factory Asia” and the phenomenon of intra-region T&A trade in Europe). Last but not least, we looked at trade policies that are unique or critical to the T&A sector (e.g.,: tariff, and the yarn-forward rules of origin) as well as the complicated factors behind the making of these trade policies. No matter your dream job 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 way 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 textile and apparel provisions in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement (USMCA or NAFTA2.0) 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 special learning events enlightening and inspiring.

Likewise, I hopeFASH455 can put students into thinking the meaning of being a FASH major/minor(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&Ausually 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 and equal?
  • How to make sure tragedies like the Rana Plaza building collapse will never happen again?
  • How will automation in apparel manufacturing change the future landscape of apparel sourcing?
  • 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 good answers 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.

USITC Economic Assessment Report on USMCA—Textile and Apparel Sector Summary

On April 19, 2019, the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) released its independent assessment report on the likely economic impact of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement (USMCA or NAFTA2.0). Below are the key findings of the report:

Impact of USMCA on the U.S. economy

USITC found that because of the size of the U.S. economy relative to the size of the Mexican and Canadian economies and the reduction in tariff and nontariff barriers that has already taken place among the three countries under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the overall impact of USMCA on the U.S. economy is likely to be moderate. For example, USITC’s computable general equilibrium (CGE) model suggests that compared to the base year level in 2017, USMCA could increase the U.S. GDP by 0.35% (or $68.2 billion) and create 0.17 million new jobs when other factors held constant.

Impact of USMCA on the textile and apparel sector

First, USITC found that the USMCA overall is a balanced deal for the textile and apparel sector, particularly regarding the rules of origin (RoO) debate. As USITC noted, USMCA eases the requirements for duty-free treatment for certain textile and apparel products, but tighten the requirements for other products. For example, USMCA eliminates the NAFTA requirements that visible linings must be sourced from members of the agreement; however, USMCA adds more restrictive new requirements for narrow elastic fabrics, sewing thread, and pocket bag fabric.

Second, USITC found that the USMCA changes to the Tariff Preference Level (TPLs) would not have much effect on related trade flows. As USITC noted in its report, where USMCA would cut the TPL level on particular U.S. imports from Canada or Mexico, the quantitative limit for these product categories was not fully utilized in the past.  Meanwhile, the TPL level for product categories typically fully used would remain unchanged under USMCA. The only trade flow that might enjoy a notable increase is the U.S. cotton and man-made fiber (MMF) apparel exports to Canada—the TPL is increased to 20million SME annually under USMCA from 9 million under NAFTA.

Third, USITC suggested that in aggregate, the changes under USMCA for the textile and apparel sector will more or less balance each other out and USMCA would NOT affect the overall utilization of USMCA’s duty-free provisions significantly. Notably, the under-utilization of free trade agreements (FTAs) by U.S. companies in apparel sourcing has been a long-time issue. Data from the Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA) shows that of the total $4,292.8 million U.S. apparel imports from the NAFTA region in 2018, only $3,756.1 million (or 87.5%) claimed the preferential duty benefits under the agreement. As noted in the U.S. Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study, some U.S. fashion companies do not claim the duty savings largely because of the restrictive RoO and the onerous documentation requirements.

However, interesting enough, the USITC report says little about the potential impact of USMCA on U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing.

Timeline

On 30 September 2018, the United States reached USMCA with Canada and Mexico. On 30 November 2018, USMCA was officially signed by Presidents of the three countries. According to the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 (the picture above), after the release of the USITC economic assessment report on USMCA, the Trump Administration will need to work with U.S. Congress to develop legislation to approve and implement the agreement. However, there remains huge uncertainties over USMCA’s prospect.

Related reading:

The Evolving Sourcing Strategies of U.S. Fashion Apparel Companies: Discussion Questions from FASH455

#1 Do you think it is a good move for companies to embrace the “China plus Vietnam plus Many” sourcing strategy, especially after learning about the working conditions in developing countries such as Bangladesh? Do you think this could backfire on companies?

#2 Why or why not do you think sourcing from Asia will become less attractive relative to sourcing from the Western Hemisphere due to the increasing importance of “speed to market” in U.S. fashion apparel companies’ sourcing decisions?

#3 As sustainability becomes more prevalent throughout the fashion industry, will there be a way to lower costs, while still creating garments that are better for the environment, and have transparency with consumers about factory conditions? Why?

#4 According to the article, “more and more well paid and high quality jobs in the US fashion industry will depend on international trade and the global value chain.” How do you feel about the quality of the US fashion industry depending so heavily on factors outside of the US? Do you see this changing in the future, and if so explain how.

#5 Most U.S. apparel companies have already shifted their businesses to non-manufacturing activities such as design, branding, sourcing and retailing. Is it still meaningful to give so much attention to apparel manufacturing in the U.S.?

#6 When purchasing your garments from either online stores or brick-and-mortar stores, do you look to see what country your goods are produced in and on a scale from 1 to 10 with 1 being the least important 10 being the most important, how significant is it to you to know where your goods are coming from and how much of a factor does that play into your buying decision?

#7 If it is predicted that more US fashion companies’ sourcing could be from nearshore due to automation technology, what would happen if they technology was implemented in a place where there were lower labor costs (for the people operating the machines)? Would the US continue to use nearby manufacturers or would they resort to wherever is cheaper?

#8 Do you think “made in the USA” apparel is truly telling the whole story of the supply chain? Do you think that it is truly more ethical? Or do you think it is just a way for retailers to charge more for apparel? If producing products in the U.S. is much more expensive than importing products from other countries, how are companies such as Walmart able to sell products with labels that say “Made in U.S.A”?

[For FASH455: 1) Please mention the question number in your comments; 2) Please address at least TWO questions in your comments]

Cambodia May Lose Its Eligibility for European Union’s Everything But Arms (EBA) Program

Last week in FASH455, we discussed the unique critical role played by textile and apparel trade in generating economic growth in many developing countries. The developed countries also use trade policy tools, such as trade preference programs, to encourage the least developed countries (LDCs) making and exporting more apparel. However, a debate on these trade programs is that they have done little to improve the genuine competitiveness of LDCs’ apparel exports in the world marketplace, but instead have made LDCs rely heavily on these trade programs to continue their apparel exports. Here is one more example:

With growing concerns about “the deterioration of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law in Cambodia”, in a statement made on February 12, 2019, the European Union says it has started the process that could lead to a temporary suspension of Cambodia’s eligibility for EU’s Everything But Arms (EBA) program. Specifically, the EU process will include the following three stages:

  • Stage 1: six months of intensive monitoring and engagement with the Cambodian government;
  • Stage 2: another three months for the EU to produce a report based on the findings in stage 1
  • Stage 3: after a total of twelve months in stages 1 & 2, the EU Commission will conclude the procedure with a final decision on whether or not to withdraw tariff preferences; it is also at this stage that the Commission will decide the scope and duration of the withdrawal. Any withdrawal would come into effect after a further six-month period.

However, the EU Commission also stressed that launching the temporary withdrawal procedure does not entail an immediate removal of Cambodia’s preferential access to the EU market, which “would be the option of last resort.”

Developed in 2001, the EBA program establishes duty-free and quota-free treatment for all Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in the EU market. EBA includes almost all industries other than arms and armaments. As of February 2019, there are 49 EBA beneficiary countries.

The EBA program has benefited the apparel sector in particular given clothing accounts for the lion’s share in many LDCs’ total merchandise exports. Because of the preferential duty benefits provided by EBA, many LDCs can compete with other competitive apparel powerhouses such as China. Notably, the EBA program also adopts the “cut and sew” rules of origin for apparel, which is more general than the “double transformation” rules of origin typically required by EU free trade agreement and trade preference programs. Under the “cut and sew” rule, Cambodia’s apparel exports to the EU can enjoy the import duty-free treatment while using yarns and fabrics sourced from anywhere in the world.

Cambodia is a major apparel supplier for the EU market, accounting for approximately 4% of EU’s total apparel imports in 2017. Exporting apparel to EU through the EBA program is also of particular importance to Cambodia economically. In 2016, the apparel sector created over 500,000 jobs in Cambodia, of whom 86% were female, working in 556 registered factories. According to Eurostat, of EU’s €4.9bn imports from Cambodia in 2017, around 74.9% were apparel (HS chapters 61 and 62). Meanwhile, of EU’s €3.7bn apparel imports from Cambodia in 2017, as high as 96.6% claimed the EBA benefits. Understandably, losing the EBA eligibility could hurt Cambodia’s apparel exports to the EU significantly.

Trade Wars, Tariffs and Strategic Textile and Apparel Sourcing


Lenzing Texworld USA Winter 2019 Educational Series

Speaker: Gail Strickler, President of Global Trade Brookfield Associates, LLC & former Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Textiles;

Topics covered:

  • The state of trade in textiles and apparel
  • Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—what is now without the United States?
  • Latest on the U.S. Section 301 tariff against China
  • Updates on free trade agreements and textile and apparel (including USMCA, KORUS, US-EU FTA, CAFTA-DR, and AGOA)

Demystify the “Made in the USA” Apparel Sourcing Strategy

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.

During 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.

The competitive 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. retail market.

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 clothing.

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.

By Sheng Lu