2015 US Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study Released

[Note: The 2016 U.S. Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study has been released]

UntitledThe U.S. Fashion Industry Association (USFIA) released its 2015 benchmarking study today. The report examines the industry’s business environment and outlook, sourcing practices as well as U.S. fashion companies’ viewpoints on critical trade policy agendas. Among the key findings:

  • Overall, respondents remain optimistic about the five-year outlook for the U.S. fashion industry. Like last year, they are most concerned about increasing production or sourcing costs, but they expect increases to be more modest this year.
  • Consistent with our 2014 findings, U.S. fashion companies are NOT moving away from China, and Bangladesh remains a popular sourcing destination with high growth potential, though not quite as high as last year.
  • Companies continue to diversify their sourcing, though free trade agreements (FTAs) and preference programs remain underutilized.
  • The U.S. fashion industry is a critical Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) stakeholder, as close to 80 percent of respondents expect implementation will impact their business practices. However, the restrictive rules in the agreement limit the potential.
  • U.S. fashion companies continue to express interest in expanding sourcing in the United States in the next two years as they further diversify their sourcing. However, there is no evidence that companies are shifting their business models back to manufacturing.

This benchmarking study was based on a survey of 30 executives at the leading U.S. fashion companies from March 2015 to April 2015. The findings well reflect the views of the most influential players in the U.S. fashion industry, with 90 percent of respondents having more than 100 employees (including 60 percent with more than 1,000 employees).

The full report can be downloaded from HERE.

Euratex Releases Key Indicators of the EU Textile and Apparel Industry in 2014

In its annual release, the European Apparel and Textile Federation (Euratex) provides a skeletal statistical profile of the EU textile and apparel (T&A) in 2014. Most statistics cited in the report comes from the Eurostat.

Production

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In 2014, T&A production in EU enjoyed a slight growth. Output of Man-made fiber (MMF), textile (yarns, fabrics and made-ups) and apparel went up by 2.8 percent, 2.8 percent and 1.9 percent respectively from a year earlier. In 2014, about 48 percent of T&A industry output was contributed by the textile sector, followed by the apparel sector (46 percent) and the MMF sector (6%).

Employment and productivity

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Employment in the EU T&A industry continues to move downward in size, shrinking from 1.66 million in 2013 to 1.63 million in 2014. The most significant drop happened in the apparel sector (-1.7%) and the textile sector (-1.3%), whereas employment in the MMF sector increased by 5 percent. As one important factor contributing to the job decline, productivity (measured by the value of output per person) in the EU T&A industry has constantly improved since 2010, especially in the textile sector (+22%).

Consumption
Consumption data in 2014 is not available yet. Value of T&A consumption in EU (28) stood at €483.9 billion in 2013, a slight increase of 0.2 percent from 2012.

Trade

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The two-way EU T&A trade enjoyed a robust growth from 2013 to 2014. Specifically, EU T&A exports increased by 3.5 percent (+2.2% for textile and +4.7% for apparel), which may attribute to the depreciation of euros against major currencies around the world. Interesting enough, EU’s T&A imports went up even faster in 2014—an overall 8.5 percent increase from 2013 (+7.6% for textile and +8.8% for apparel). With regard to EU’s key trading partners:

  • China remained THE dominant external T&A supplier for EU in 2014. However. China’s market share in the EU apparel import market declined from 39.7 percent in 2013 to 38.8 in 2014, whereas China’s share in the EU textile import market went up from 31.5 percent to 32.6 percent. It seems China is gradually shifting towards more textile exports and less for apparel along with its industry adjustment in recent years.
  • The United States remained the largest textile export market (11.1%) and the 5th largest apparel export market (11.7%) for EU in 2014. In the meanwhile, the United States is the 5th largest supplier of textiles to EU (however, U.S. market share declined from 4.0% in 2013 to 4.2% in 2014).
  • Bangladesh’s apparel exports to EU increased by 12.7 percent from 2013 to 2014, which helped Bangladesh gained 15.1% market share, up from 14.6% a year earlier.

 

Two Years after the Rana Plaza Tragedy: What Has Changed?

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Note: the followings updates are compiled based on the 2015 Bangladesh Development Conference held from June 5th to 6th at the Harvard University. The conference attracted over 100 attendants and speakers from various aspects of the apparel industry, government agencies, international organizations, non-government organizations and academia.

1. Overall, the industry side argues that tremendous efforts have been made to improve work safety in the Bangladesh apparel industry and things are gradually improving. However, representatives from some labor unions say that changes are not happening fast enough as they should.

2. Indeed, as one of the most noticeable changes after the Rana Plaza tragedy, the Bangladesh apparel factories are now facing more frequent safety inspection and audit from various parties:

  • In addition to the regular inspection conducted by individual fashion brand or retailer, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (the Accord) and Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (the Alliance) were established in 2013 respectively (mostly funded by western apparel brands sourcing from Bangladesh) to maintain minimum safety standards in the Bangladesh apparel industry.
  • The Accord has a total five-year budget of $50 million to be used on factory safety inspection and improvement. However, it is far from being clear what will happen after the Accord agreement expires in 2018 and whether the inspection achievements can be maintained afterwards.
  • The International Labor Organization and International Finance Corporation launched the “Better Work” program in collaboration with Bangladesh government, apparel factory owners, workers, fashion buyers and other relevant stakeholders. The program intends to provide assessments of factory compliance with national law and core international labor standards, paired with transparent public reporting on findings.
  • Nevertheless, some people argue that audit itself is not the answer to the problem, just like “a pig will not gain weight simply by weighting it; instead, we have to feed it.” Reflecting on the limitation of inspection and audit, they refer to compliance as just a piece of paper whereas ethics is something that keeps people awake in bed.

3. Some foreign governments also have responded to the Rana Plaza tragedy, although in different ways:

  • Stick: the U.S. government decided to suspend Bangladesh’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) status in 2013 as a response to the Rana Plaza tragedy. Because textile and apparel are excluded from GSP, this measure has no direct impact on Bangladesh’s apparel exports to the United States. But the movement is symbolic and significantly increases the publicity of corporate social responsibility (CRS) issue in the Bangladesh apparel industry.
  • Carrot: in comparison, the European Union chooses to continue providing Bangladesh its GSP benefits. As a GSP beneficiary, Bangladesh’s apparel exports to EU can enjoy duty free treatment when competing with other Asian suppliers such as China and India. According to EU, from 2008 to 2012 EU28 imports from Bangladesh increased from €5,464 million to €9,212 million (+69%), which is more than half of Bangladesh’s total exports. While granting Bangladesh the benefit, EU also launches the GSP Action Plan and the Sustainability Compact to encourage responsible businesses in Bangladesh.

4. Training has been provided for Bangladesh officials to help them better understand building safety requirements.

5. More apparel factories in Bangladesh now have their own labor unions. According to the local law, 30 percent of the labor force in a factory can form its own labor union, meaning theoretically one factory can have up to three different unions. There has been more open discussions on “worker/women empowerment”, “social dialogue” and “stakeholder engagement” in the Bangladeshi society as well.  

6. Some creative financial incentive mechanisms are suggested to improve the situation, such as offering factories with better compliance record with more attractive interest rate for bank loans; and adding building safety clauses in factory insurance contract.  

7. Academia is actively engaged in finding a solution for improving the CRS practices in the Bangladesh apparel industry as well:

  • Based on analyzing the factory inspection data, some scholars start to evaluate the effectiveness of the current inspection system (eg: does who pay for the inspection matter for the result? Does violation go down overtime in inspection? What is the role of on-going people to people relationship in inspection?).
  • Some projects intend to develop an estimate of the true size of the Bangladesh apparel industry, given the fact that the worst work condition may exist in those undocumented factories. As a matter of fact, even the Bangladesh government doesn’t know how many garment factories they have in the country.
  • Some scholars propose the idea of linking a company’s social compliance data with its business financial data to evaluate the business implication of CRS practices.
  • Some studies compare the labor practices between Bangladesh and other developing countries in South Asia such as Cambodia and Sri Lanka.
  • Some people suggest using case studies to develop hypotheses for a policy change.
  • More and more studies are now conducted based on field trip and interview in Bangladesh.

8. Criminal charges recently are filed against a dozen individuals and companies identified responsible for the Rana Plaza tragedy.

9. Response to the Rana Plaza tragedy has further led to a discussion on the broader economic, social and political reform in Bangladesh.

Sheng Lu