Exclusive Interview with Julia K. Hughes, President of the United States Fashion Industry Association

Julia

(Photo above: Julia Hughes presented at the 25th Annual Textile and Apparel Importer Conference. Courtesy of the United States Fashion Industry Association)

Julia K. Hughes is the President of the United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA). USFIA represents all segments of the fashion industry, from apparel brands to retailers to service companies.  Ms. Hughes represents the interests of textile and apparel importers on trade policy issues to government officials, both in the United States and overseas. She has testified before Congress and the Executive Branch on textile trade issues. Ms. Hughes is also recognized as an expert in textile and apparel issues and is a frequent speaker at international conferences including the Apparel Sourcing Show, MAGIC, Foreign Service Institute, National Association of Manufacturers, Cotton Sourcing Summit, USIA’s Worldnet, the International Textiles and Clothing Bureau, Young Presidents’ Organization, World Trade Organization Beijing International Forum and others.

Julia Hughes is also well known to students enrolled in TMD433. She is featured in the book Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy, which highlights the global nature of the textile and apparel industry in the 21st century and those complicated economic, social and political factors associated with this important sector.

Interview Part

Sheng Lu: Would you please briefly introduce the current status of the U.S. fashion industry which your organization represents? For example, how large is the industry, how important is it to the US and the global economy, and what types of companies are involved as well as their business functions?

Julia Hughes: The phrase “the fashion industry” may call to mind images of Fashion Week and photo shoots. In this era of global trade, however, the high-fashion runways are just one part of the broader textile and apparel industry that ranges from high-end luxury brands to fast-fashion retailers—and the thousands of companies in between that produce and sell clothing, shoes, and other textile products.

United States Fashion Industry Association members and affiliates include companies across the value chain, which support our mission to remove barriers to textile and apparel trade. These companies include:

  • Brands, retailers, importers, and wholesalers of textiles and apparel.
  • Service providers, including consultants, customs brokers, freight forwarders, law firms, logistics providers, steamship lines, and testing and certification companies that help those brands, retailers, importers, and wholesalers.
  • Manufacturers and suppliers of finished products and inputs for finished products, as well as supplier associations, business councils, and promotional groups.
  • Agencies that promote the industry from a specific region, country, city, or other geographic entity.
  • Academic institutions.

This industry includes companies and professionals across the value chain, working in roles ranging from design and development, to sourcing and logistics, to trade policy and compliance, to retail and marketing. USFIA members include all of these types of companies and individuals…

Sheng Lu: The United States Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel (USA-ITA) has been a big name in the industry for 25 years. What leads your organization to change the name and rebrand yourself? Particularly, how will the USFIA distinguish itself with the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA), whose members also include many US-based apparel companies and retailers?

Julia Hughes: The United States Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel (USA-ITA), founded in January 1989 by nine U.S. importers, was instrumental in eliminating the global apparel quota system. At that time, it seemed like an almost insurmountable task to change the political dynamic enough so that the special protection for textiles and apparel would finally end.

On January 1, 2005, the quotas were officially eliminated, and since then, the industry has increasingly globalized. As a result, new challenges arise every day for apparel brands, retailers, and importers, ranging from challenges with compliance at the factories to challenges with transportation at the ports of entry. Over the years, the association has evolved with our members to address these new challenges—but our brand, including our name, logo, and official mission statement, had not changed in over two decades.

Accordingly, our major project in 2013 was rebranding the association to more clearly communicate our purpose and our direction for the future. It’s important to note that this project was not about changing our purpose or direction, but about ensuring that our brand accurately reflects the reality of the industry and the work we had already been doing for our members. The new brand—the United States Fashion Industry Association—was developed over 10 months with input from members and our trusted network across the value chain who participated in comprehensive overviews.

Why did we choose this name? First, our members are no longer just “importers.” While importing will be a critical aspect of our members’ sourcing plans for the foreseeable future, many of our members are truly global brands—for instance, designing product in the United States, producing that product in Asia, and then selling that product in Europe or Australia. Additionally, many of our members are also making product in the United States from U.S. and/or imported inputs. As we told WWD, “We are very supportive of Made in USA, and we sponsored some of the very first programs about Made in USA at MAGIC. It is a very important element, but it is one part of sourcing decision making.” Considering these realities, the phrase “Importers of Textiles and Apparel” no longer accurately described the industry or our members, so we needed to update it. (It was also a mouthful!) We settled on this exact name because “the fashion industry” is the phrase that companies, government, and the media uses most commonly to describe the wide variety of companies and professionals across the value chain—it best describes our association in 2013 and moving forward.

We spoke to our members and some trusted partners in our network about who we are and what sets us apart. From those conversations, we developed five values that we keep in mind with every decision we make. They are:

1.      Integrity: Our members tell us that we listen to them, support them, and defend them—while our government partners tell us that we work with them to find creative solutions.

2.      Substance: We maintain and articulate a deep understanding of the industry and challenges most important to our members—the sourcing and compliance executives who make tough decisions every day on how to address these challenges.

3.      Focus: We keep a laser focus on our mission, which allows us to be agile and quickly seize upon opportunities to move the needle.

4.      Collaboration: Our members collaborate to share best practices and amplify the industry’s voice on the critical issues, putting aside marketplace competition to work together toward common goals.

5.      Foresight: We keep our members informed not only about the regulatory challenges today, but also the regulatory challenges of tomorrow—and as our industry globalizes, we likewise expand our reach.

Sheng Lu: As mentioned in your mission statement, the USFIA is dedicated to the removal of barriers that impede the free movement of textile and apparel products to the United States and international markets. What are the top trade policy and market access concerns for the USFIA right now?

Julia Hughes: For 25 years, the United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA)–formerly the United States Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel (USA-ITA)–worked to eliminate barriers that impede the free movement of textile and apparel products to the United States and international markets. We participate in advocacy activities on a number of issues related to our mission in order to eliminate the tariff and non-tariff barriers that impede the industry’s ability to trade freely and create economic opportunities in the United States and abroad. Our top issues include:

Sheng Lu: You are featured in the well-known book Travels of T-shirt in the Global Economy. Interestingly enough, your counterpart in the book—Mr. Auggie Tantillo, now taps to lead the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) which represents the US textile industry.  In the T-shirt book, you two held very different views on whether the U.S. should restrict apparel imports from China. Now almost 8 years later, do you (and the USFIA) still debate often with Auggie (and the NCTO) on textile and apparel trade policy issues? If so, what are you mainly debating about?

Julia Hughes: Today, Auggie and I still disagree on some of the basic trade policy issues–especially the negotiations for new free trade agreements. NCTO is trying to hold onto the same textile rules of origin that were negotiated in the 1990s, the yarn-forward rule of origin. USFIA and our members continue to encourage the U.S. textile industry to take a fresh look at the global industry.  But, so far, we remain far apart.

Nonetheless, we also have some areas where we can work together. Both our organizations support efforts to promote Made in the USA activities, as well as manufacturing in the Western Hemisphere. And, just this week I asked Auggie to help us with information about U.S.-based fabric mills. We also have collaborated on some proposals with Customs and Border Protection that build on the “trusted trader” concept and would focus enforcement measures on the companies who are not already proven to be compliant. And if I had to make a prediction, I would predict that in the next few years, we will find other areas where we can worth together productively.

Sheng Lu: Most of our students in the Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design (TMD) department will become professionals working for the US fashion industry after graduation. Does the USFIA have any resources available to our college students or have any future plans to expand the collaboration with the textile and apparel educational programs/academic institutions?

Julia Hughes: Yes! We welcome participation from universities, educators, and students in the fashion industry.

First, our website is a wonderful resource for information about the industry and our key issues. In addition to our issue pages, you’ll also find resources including recaps of past seminars, recordings of past webinars, our member publications, and more. (Some of this information is locked to USFIA members, but in the spirit of helping to grow our industry and future members, we’re always happy to help you access specific information you need! Just ask us!) We continue to build on the website, and in 2014, we will be launching a Value Chain Directory, which will provide comprehensive information on service providers and sourcing opportunities around the world.

Additionally, we host a number of events throughout the year, including our annual conference. We’re happy to work with educators and students to make attendance affordable, and we even have opportunities for universities to exhibit and students to volunteer.

We also encourage current and former students to visit our Career Center, which contains job opportunities at USFIA member companies. Even if you’re not looking for a job at the moment, it may be helpful to see what types of candidates these companies are seeking.

We’re always happy to work with universities, educators, and students to ensure that we educate the next generation of fashion industry leaders and professionals—future USFIA members!

USAITA to USFIA

China as an Apparel Importer: A Big Picture View

China is well-known as the single largest apparel exporter in the world. However, with the critical changes of the world economy as well as the evolution of the global textile & apparel sector over the past decade, it is the time to seriously study China as a fast-growing apparel import market.

First and foremost, it is a wrong perception that Chinese consumers only consume clothing “made in China”.  On the contrary, as put it by a 2011 ITC consulting report on the Chinese market for Clothing:  “in Zara’s stores in Shanghai, over 90% of stock-keeping units (SKUs) are imported, with Bangladesh, Egypt, Morocco, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, and Viet Nam and being the main import sources. Bangladesh, Cambodia, India and Indonesia are also important procurement target countries. Shoes made in Viet Nam and Spain account for a high proportion in Zara. New H&M stores in Shanghai attracted thousands of consumers when they opened in April 2007 Of H&M’s SKUs, 75% are imported, with Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia and Turkey being the main source countries.”

However, like any other countries in the world, the apparel import market in China also has its unique features & patterns. For example, woven men’s wear accounted for almost 1/3 of China’s total apparel imports. Actually, the aggregate import demand for men’s wear was 17%-20% larger than the import demand for women’s wear in China from 2008 to 2012. As another important feature: in 2012, 83% and 13% of China’s apparel imports came from Asia and Europe respectively, leaving only 4% market share for the rest of the world. This pattern implies that China’s apparel import demand could be rather polarized: either extremely price competitive products (even cheaper than “made in China”) or very high-end luxury goods (such as those made in Germany, Italy, UK and France).

Additionally, it should be highly noted that  “China is not a single unified market but a collection of local markets, each with different market demands, consumer behaviors, competition levels, and market access conditions.” (More reading: Understand China’s retail market)  This feature is particularly important for those Western-based apparel retailers interested in entering China’s retail market. In general, Eastern coastline cities are the wealthiest part of China, where a high concentration of apparel stores can be found. Many famous international brands set up mainly in first-tier cities and then establish their presence in affluent second-tier cities. Currently, the tendency is for famous brands to penetrate into more second-tier cities. Among the first-tier cities, Shanghai plays a significant role in setting fashion trends on the mainland. Therefore, many foreign and domestic apparel suppliers choose to first establish a foothold in Shanghai before seeking further expansion.

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When Apparel “Made in China” Become More Expensive, Will U.S. Consumers Have to Pay More?

(This study was presented at the 2013 International Textile and Apparel Association Annual Conference)

By

Sheng Lu (University of Rhode Island) and Jessica Ridgeway (University of Missouri)

China’s soaring labor cost in recent years has triggered heated discussions on the future of “made in China” and its implication for U.S. consumers who rely heavily on “made in China” products (Rein, 2012). This is particularly the case in the U.S. apparel retail market, where over 98% of consumptions are supplied by imports and nearly 40% of them come from China in value (AAFA, 2012). Although numerous studies have been conducted to evaluate the relationship between imports and the U.S. domestic apparel production or employment (Martin, 2007), the direct linkage between the price of imports and the U.S. apparel retail price has seldom been explored. Because such a price linkage is the key to understand the implication of a more expensive “Made in China” for U.S. consumers, this study tries to fulfill the research gap and specifically investigate to which extent the U.S. apparel retail price is influenced by the price of U.S. apparel imports from China.

Through investigating the impact of the average unit price of U.S. apparel imports from China, the average unit price of U.S. apparel imports from sources other than China and the annual U.S. apparel retail sales on the annual U.S. consumer price index from 2001 to 2011 based on a revised Armington model, this study finds that:

First, for menswear, more expensive “made in China” will result in a higher retail price in the U.S. market. Specifically, the U.S. retail price is suggested to change by 0.137% in the same direction given a 1% change of the price of U.S. imports from China. Second, for womenswear, there is no evidence showing that the price of U.S. imports from China has statistically significant impact on the U.S. retail price Third, the U.S. apparel imports from China and from rest of the world are suggested to constitute higher degree of price elasticity of substitution for womenswear than for menswear.

Findings of this study contribute to the understanding of the direct price linkage between the U.S. apparel import market and the U.S. apparel retail market and have several important implications:

First, the results imply that when “made in China” becomes more expensive, U.S. consumers may not have to pay more, largely because of increased substitution supply from other apparel exporters. Second, the results suggest that the U.S. apparel market is highly competitive and suppliers may not own much market power in price determination despite their large market shares.Third, the results imply that although “made in China” may lose market share in the U.S. market when it becomes more expensive, the magnitude could vary by product categories.

References:

  1. American Apparel and Footwear Association, AAFA (2012).Apparelstats 2012. Retrieved from https://www.wewear.org/industry-resources/publications-and-statistics/
  2. Armington, P.S. (1969). A theory of demand for products distinguished by place of production. International Monetary Fund Staff Papers,16(1), 159-178.
  3. Martin, M. (2007). U.S. clothing and textile trade with China and the world: Trends since the end of quotas. Congressional Research Services, RL 34106, Washington, D.C..
  4. Office of Textiles and Apparel, OTEXA (2013). U.S. imports and exports of textiles and apparel. Retrieved from http://www.otexa.ita.doc.gov/msrpoint.htm
  5. Rodrigo, P. (2012). Re-shoring US apparel making tough but not impossible. Just Style. Retrieve from http://www.just-style.com/analysis/re-shoring-us-apparel-making-tough-but-not-impossible_id115455.aspx
  6. Rein, S. (2012). The end of cheap China: Economic and cultural trends that will disrupt the world: Wiley.
  7. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS. (2013). Consumer Price Index.  Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/cpi/
  8. U.S. Census Bureau, Census. (2013). Monthly and annual retail trade. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/retail/

EURATEX Raises Concerns about Pakistan’s Membership in the EU GSP+ Program

In a statement released on November 4, 2013, the European Apparel and Textile Confederation (EURATEX) openly expressed their opposition to the proposed “unique delegated act” for the EU Generalized Scheme of Preferences plus (GSP+) program. Specifically, the EURATEX strongly questioned Pakistan’s qualification as a beneficiary of the GSP+ , saying that “Pakistan has a poor record in matters related to Human rights and in particular to the protection of religious minorities, women and children .”

As put by Mr. Alberto Paccanelli, president of the EURATEX: “During the recent GSP revision it was repeatedly stated by the EU Commission that one of the main objectives of the new regime was to ensure that preferences were given to the countries that need them and in the case of GSP+ to countries that are promoting high Human, Social and Environmental standards.”

The GSP system is an EU trade policy tool specifically designed to help developing countries expand exports to the European Union markets. Beneficiaries of the GSP program can enjoy special favorable market access conditions such as tariff reduction and quota elimination.  For example, the EU charges an average 6.2% and 11.2% tariff rate for textile and apparel imports respectively from most sources, but the rates are lowered to 5.0% and 9% respectively for imports from GSP beneficiaries.

As part of the GSP system, the GSP+ program provides additional market access preferences to those economically and socially vulnerable countries under the condition that these countries will “implement core human rights, labor rights and other sustainable development conventions.” For example, textile and apparel imports from beneficiaries of the GSP+ program will be waived for import tariffs in the EU market. This will substantially improve the price competitiveness of products from the GSP+ beneficiary countries when competing with Asian suppliers such as China and India.

Despite the emphasis on Pakistan’s human right practices, the real factor driving EURATEX’s opposition to Pakistan’s membership in the GSP+ program could be market competition.  Pakistan is one of the most competitive textile and apparel exporters among the GSP beneficiaries. Data show that Pakistan’s textile and apparel exports to the EU market enjoyed robust growth over the past decade, causing the EU domestic textile & apparel manufacturers to become nervous about import competition.  The EURATEX, which represents the commercial interests of the EU local textile & apparel industry, has consistently opposed EU’s duty free access to Pakistan’s textile and apparel products.

Moreover, under the EU GSP system, there is a mechanism called “graduation of competitive sector”, under which imports of particular groups of products originating in a given GSP beneficiary country will lose GSP preferences once the average imports of this particular sector exceed 15% of GSP imports of the same products from all GSP beneficiary countries (12.5% for textile and clothing). However, the “graduation of competitive sector” mechanism will not be applied to GSP+ members. This means that if Pakistan becomes a GSP+ member, the EU domestic textile and apparel manufacturers may have to face increasing import competition from Pakistan but can do little about it.  

The most critical yet controversial part of the debate is, to which extent, the GSP system can be built into an effective and balanced development tool. According to a 2012 World Bank study, “the textile and apparel sector is THE most important manufacturing sector of Pakistan, which generated one-fourth of the country’s industrial value-added, recruited more than 40% of industrial labor force, contributed 8% of the country’s overall GDP and accounted for about 60% of Pakistan’s total merchandise exports.”  That being said, allowing Pakistan to export more textiles and apparel to the EU market is one of the very few ways to make the GSP system work and bring actual benefits to the country. Yet, the EU domestic textile and apparel industry can also cite statistics, arguing the necessity of protecting the domestic textile mills and saving the jobs there by resisting as many textile and apparel imports as possible.

On the other hand, the GSP system needs to take into consideration the benefits of all beneficiaries, especially to avoid creating “losers” and “winners” within the group. This is the philosophy behind the introduction of the “graduation of competitive sector” mechanism so that the interests of those “small countries” can be particularly taken care of. For example, when Pakistan is gaining additional market shares in the EU textile and apparel import market because of the GSP+ status, other less competitive developing countries may see decline of their exports. The textile and apparel industry is as important to these “losers” as it is to Pakistan.

Overall, the GSP debate reflects the significance and the complexity of the textile and apparel sector in the 21st century global economy.  Particularly, trade policy will continue playing a key role in improving the situation, yet it calls for courage and wisdom of policymakers.

by Sheng Lu

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