Pattern of U.S. Textile and Apparel Imports (Updated: February 2015)

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Total U.S. textile and apparel imports enjoy steady growth from 2000 to 2014. From 2013 to 2014, value of apparel imports increased 2.5 percent and imports of fabric increased 5.4 percent. However, value of fiber imports declined 1.9 percent over the same period. Almost all fastest growing import categories from 2004 to 2014 are basic apparel.

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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 76.1 percent of total U.S. textile and apparel imports in 2014. Fabrics and yarns accounted for 5.8 percent and 1.3 percent respectively.

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While developing countries dominated apparel supply to the United States in 2014, developed countries remain important suppliers of textiles. For certain industrial textile products such as non-woven textiles, nearly 50 percent of imports still came from European Union (28), Canada and Japan. This pattern reflects different product nature of apparel (labor intensive) and textiles (capital intensive) as well as the respective comparative advantage of developing and developed economies.

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Overall, pattern of apparel imports is in parallel with apparel retail sales in the U.S. market. This reflects the fact that demand for imports is largely shaped by macro-economic conditions. It should also be noted that despite the heated discussion on “reshoring” apparel manufacturing in the U.S., apparel imports is NOT declining.

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By value, China accounted for 38.9 percent of total U.S. textile and apparel imports in 2014, which was slightly lower than the level of 39.8 percent in 2013. It should be noted that China’s market shares significantly varies by category. Within the total 167 number of textile and apparel product categories complied by the Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA), China enjoyed market share increase for 119 categories and suffered market share losses for 49 categories from 2004 to 2014 (many are sewing thread products).

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Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

3 thoughts on “Pattern of U.S. Textile and Apparel Imports (Updated: February 2015)”

  1. The information in in this article is quite interesting when examined against consumer awareness. The “Made in China” joke in the textile and apparel marketplace is becoming increasingly outdated factually. However, many consumers still associate apparel production, per U.S. imports, with China. That being said, China is losing their market share in the production of apparel. Their industry is becoming more sophisticated as the overall country develops, which begs the question, who will be the next China? Who will win this blatant race to the bottom?

  2. I think China is going to continue to suffer even more market share losses in the next decade or so. Vietnam is slowly becoming a bigger player in the market place for importing textile and apparel to the US. I don’t think this large number of imports coming to the US is going to decrease anytime soon. As long as the consumers continue to consume T&A at a rapid rate without thinking long term then the US producers will continue to respond to the consumers by importing cheap T&A from cheap poor developing countries. It is a vicious circle of not making changes and not thinking about the long term affects concerning resources we have and changing relationships we have with other countries.

  3. It is interesting to see the growth of apparel imports and retail follow along the same grid. That tells me that the demand for imports coincides with retailing apparel. I wonder what determines the change in product and why it varies so much from category to category each year. It seems right to see that developed countries are the highest exporters to the US for textiles because I feel that is the most specialized or intricate product being exported.

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