Data source: Euromonitor Passport (2016)
New landscape of sourcing
- Sourcing is turning from regional to global. In the past, U.S. apparel companies/fashion brands set up regional offices to handle sourcing. Nowadays, companies are building a global infrastructure to develop, source and market their products around world. Global rather than regional sourcing also allows companies to improve sourcing efficiency and reduce total product and distribution cost while maintaining quality of their product and services.
- U.S. apparel companies/fashion brands are going with fewer but more capable vendors (“super vendors”). For example, executive from a leading U.S. apparel brand said their company has shrunk their sourcing base by 40% in the past few years. At the same time, they now expect their vendors to be able to supply on a global scale, including having multiple manufacturing facilities around the world and being able to provide value added services such as design and product development.
- Related, sourcing is shifting from cut-make-and trim (CMT) to full package. This is consistent with our findings in the latest USFIA benchmarking study which suggests that vendors are highly expected to have the capacity of supplying raw material.
- U.S. apparel companies/fashion brands are also investing to build a more partnership-based relationship with vendors— help vendors reduce cost, become more innovative and have the same vision looking at the whole picture of the supply chain. At the same time, U.S. apparel companies/fashion brands see vendors as their “ambassadors” and want to know more about them—what they believe, what they can bring to the table and how they treat their workers.
- Companies are redefining the role of sourcing in their businesses. Sourcing is no longer treated as a technical function, but an integral part of a company’s overall business strategy.
Made in USA
- There is a noticeable interest in sourcing textiles and apparel “Made in USA” at Magic. A dozen U.S.-based apparel companies attended the Magic show and their booths attracted a heavy traffic. According to representatives from these companies, U.S. consumers’ increased demand for apparel “Made in USA” has been a strong support for their business growth in recent years.
- Nevertheless, apparel “Made in USA” often contain imported inputs today. I specifically asked a few vendors where their fabrics come from. All but one company said fabrics were imported because it was so hard to find domestic suppliers, especially for woven fabrics. Interesting enough, some companies feel OK to label their apparel “Made in USA” even though they use imported fabrics. According to them, apparel can be labeled “Made in USA” as long as “domestic content exceeds 60% of the value of the finished product.”
- At a seminar, some entrepreneurs which make and sell “Made in USA” apparel and accessories said price and production cost remain one of their top business challenges. I asked the panel whether going high-end is the only option for the future of apparel “Made in USA” given the high labor cost in the country. They disagreed—saying technology advancement and design innovation could help reduce production cost. However, all panelists admit they carry some luxury product lines. Additionally, some companies choose to emphasize concepts other than “Made in USA”, such as “hand-made” and “Pride in Seattle”, in order to make their products look more personal to consumers and allow more flexibility in sourcing raw material.
Updates of sourcing destinations
- Ethiopia: as I observe, Ethiopia is THE star at this year’s Sourcing at Magic. The country was repeatedly mentioned by panelists at various seminars as a promising and emerging sourcing destination. Several events at the show were also exclusively dedicated to promoting apparel and footwear “Made in Ethiopia”. A couple of reasons why Ethiopia is so “hot”: 1) the ten year extension of AGOA creates a stable market environment encouraging sourcing from Africa and investing in the region (and for sure the duty free access both to the US and EU market). 2) Located in the middle of Africa, Ethiopia is regarded as a hub that has the potential to take a leadership role in integrating the apparel supply chain in the region. 3) It is said that Ethiopian government is very supportive to the development of the local textile industry. 4) Many U.S. fashion companies feel sourcing from Ethiopia involves less risks of trade compliance than sourcing from some Asian countries such as Bangladesh.
- China: China unarguably remains the No.1 textile and apparel supplier to the U.S. market—in terms of numbers, around 60% vendors at the Magic show came from China. But I notice that booths of Chinese vendors didn’t have much traffic this time, an interesting signal for sourcing trend in the upcoming season. Nevertheless, while U.S. apparel companies/fashion brands are placing more emphasis on supply chain efficiency, quality of products, speed to market and added value in sourcing, “Made in China” will continue to enjoy many unique advantages over other suppliers. Plus, Chinse factories are actively investing overseas, from Southeast Asian countries to Africa. This makes Chinese factories likely to grow into “super vendors” that western fashion brands/retailers are looking for. To certain extent, macro trade statistics alone may not be able to fully reveal what is going on in apparel sourcing and trade.
- Vietnam: Regarding the future of Vietnam as a sourcing destination for U.S. apparel companies/fashion brands, somehow I hear more concerns than excitements at Magic. The uncertainty surrounding the ratification of TPP by the U.S. Congress definitely has made some companies hold back their investment and sourcing plan in Vietnam. Another big concern is Vietnam’s labor shortage and limited manufacturing capacity: apparel factories in Vietnam are already competing with electronic industry for young skilled workers. US companies also have to compete with their EU counterparts for orders in Vietnam. The newly reached EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), which is very likely to be implemented earlier than TPP, provides Vietnam duty free access also to the EU market. And EVFTA adopts a much more flexible rule of origin than TPP, making it easier for Vietnam factories to actually use the agreement.
The awareness of social responsibility and sustainability has much improved: everyone in the industry is talking about them and have a view on them. On a voluntary basis, some companies are making efforts to improve traceability of their products, i.e. to help consumers know exactly where their clothing comes from and what is happening at the upstream of the supply chain. Yet, how to encourage factories to share their information and control tier 2 and tier 3 suppliers remain a challenge.
by Sheng Lu
Note: Sourcing at Magic is one of the largest and most influential annual textile and apparel sourcing events hosted in the United States. Special thanks to the Center for Global and Areas Studies at the University of Delaware for funding the trip.
The report can be downloaded from HERE
Key Findings of the study:
I. Business environment and outlook in the U.S. Fashion Industry
- Overall, respondents remain optimistic about the five-year outlook for the U.S. fashion industry. “Market competition in the United States” is ranked the top business challenge this year, which, for the first time since 2014, exceeds the concerns about “increasing production or sourcing cost.”
II. Sourcing practices in the U.S. fashion industry
- U.S. fashion companies are more actively seeking alternatives to “Made in China” in 2016, but China’s position as the No.1 sourcing destination seems unlikely to change anytime soon. Meanwhile, sourcing from Vietnam and Bangladesh may continue to grow over the next two years, but at a slower pace.
- U.S. fashion companies continue to expand their global reach and maintain truly global supply chains. Respondents’ sourcing bases continue to expand, and more countries are considered potential sourcing destinations. However, some companies plan to consolidate their sourcing bases in the next two years to strengthen key supplier relationships and improve efficiency.
- Today, ethical sourcing and sustainability are given more weight in U.S. fashion companies’ sourcing decisions. Respondents also see unmet compliance (factory, social and/or environmental) standards as the top supply chain risk.
III. Trade policy and the U.S. fashion industry
- Overall, U.S. fashion companies are very excited about the conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations and they look forward to exploring the benefits after TPP’s implementation.
- Thanks to the 10-year extension of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), U.S. fashion companies have shown more interest in sourcing from the region. In particular, most respondents see the “third-country fabric” provision a critical necessity for their company to source in the AGOA region.
- Free trade agreements (FTAs) and trade preference programs remain underutilized in 2016 and several FTAs, including NAFTA and CAFTA-DR, are utilized even less than in previous years. U.S. fashion companies also call for further removal of trade barriers, including restrictive rules of origin and remaining high tariffs.
The benchmarking study was conducted between March 2016 and April 2016 based on a survey of 30 executives from leading U.S. fashion and apparel brands, retailers, importers, and wholesalers. In terms of business size, 92 percent of respondents report having more than 500 employees in their companies, while 84 percent of respondents report having more than 1,000 employees, suggesting that the findings well reflect the views of the most influential players in the U.S. fashion industry.
For the benchmarking studies in 2014 and 2015, please visit: https://www.usfashionindustry.com/resources/industry-benchmarking-study
The global apparel and footwear industry enjoys a 5 percent value growth in 2015. Asia Pacific remains the world’s largest apparel and footwear market, with market value increased by $30 billion USD in 2015. In particular, the United States, China and India contributed more than half the absolute increased value.
Market growth in Western Europe remains stagnant in 2015. However, some countries performed better than others. For example, apparel and footwear sales continued to experience significant losses in Greece and Italy with 7 percent and 2 percent declines in 2015, respectively. France didn’t do very well either and size of the French market is expected to contract by $1.5 billion USD by 2020. In comparison, UK, Western Europe’s largest market, posted modest 1 percent growth in 2015. Performance in Germany remained overall stable.
The US market continues to perform well with healthy value growth of 4 percent in 2015. However, the performance of key players such as J Crew and Gap, both of which plan to close a significant number of physical stores and lay off employees, highlight the increasingly competitive trading environment. US consumers overall remain cautious and adopt a value- driven approach to buying clothes resulting in a continuous discounting cycle, negatively impacting profit margins and slowing growth for the industry as a whole. From 2013 to 2014, volume growth of apparel sales in the United States exceeded value, primarily due to discounting, the proliferation of fast fashion brands and greater availability of low prices online. However, value growth returned to a more robust position in 2015, as a strengthening economy, improvements in the labor market and rising wages support future growth.
Sportswear is maintaining its momentum, increased by 8 percent in market value from 2014 to 2015, faster than any other apparel product categories. Consumers no longer consider sport a task that needs to be checked off on a day-to-day basis but instead it has become a lifestyle. Athleisure remains a heavily prominent trend as more consumers adopt an active and healthy lifestyle, increasing the demand for athletic products that are technically advanced and fashionable. In response to the evolving athleisure trend, major sportswear brands have turned their attention to women’s sports apparel and footwear. With Skechers, Lululemon, Under Armour and Nike reporting growth of 33 percent, 20 percent, 19 percent and 12 percent, respectively, in 2015.
Currency weakness, political unrest and tough economic environments continue to result in slowing growth among the emerging markets. However, internet retailing & e-commerce is a spotlight. Apparel and footwear sales through internet retailing grew by 23 percent in 2015 globally and are expected to continue providing impressive growth for apparel brands to 2020. Global mobile internet retailing has grown at a rapid of 92 percent over 2011-2015, highlighting the increasingly vital role mobile is playing within the buying process. Notably, emerging markets are accounting for a significant proportion of growth and are expected to boast a higher market size than developed markets by 2018.
Data source: Euromonitor Passport
China as the top textile and apparel sourcing destination for U.S. companies remains “unshakable”, according to product level data from the Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA) under the U.S. Department of Commerce. Specifically, based on the import value in 2015:
- Of the total 11 categories of yarns, China was the top supplier for 3 categories (27.3%)
- Of the total 34 categories of fabrics, China was the top supplier for 23 categories (67.6%)
- Of the total 106 categories of apparel, China was the top supplier for 95 categories (89.6%)
- Of the total 16 categories of made-up textiles, China was the top supplier for 12 categories (75.0%)
In comparison, Vietnam, the second largest textile and apparel supplier to the United States, was the top supplier for only four categories of apparel (3.8% of the total 106 categories).
For many textile and apparel products, China not only is the largest supplier, but also holds a lion’s market share. Specifically, for those textile and apparel product categories that China was the top supplier in 2015 (by value):
- China’s average market share reached 20.7% for yarns, 2.3 percentage points higher than the 2nd top supplier
- China’s average market share reached 42.0% for fabrics, 25 percentage points higher than the 2nd top supplier
- China’s average market share reached 52.7% for apparel, 37.2 percentage points higher than the 2nd top supplier
- China’s average market share reached 56.8% for made-up textiles, 42.7 percentage points higher than the 2nd top supplier
by Sheng Lu
(In the video: Gail Strickler, former Assistant US Trade Representative for Textiles, highlights the immense opportunities created by the renewal of AGOA for duty free access to the massive US market for African textile and apparel producers.)
The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is a non-reciprocal trade agreement enacted in 2000 that provides duty-free treatment to U.S. imports of certain products from eligible sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries. AGOA intends to promote market-led economic growth and development in SSA and deepen U.S. trade and investment ties with the region. (note: non-reciprocal means SSA countries do not need to offer equivalent benefits to imports from the United States.)
Because apparel production plays a dominant role in many SSA countries’ economic development, apparel has become one of the top exports for many SSA countries under AGOA. Like many trade agreements and trade preference programs, AGOA also set unique rules of origin for textile and apparel (T&A):
First, to enjoy duty-free and quota-free treatment in the US market, eligible T&A products made in qualifying AGOA countries need to be one of the following categories:
- Apparel made with US yarns and fabrics;
- Apparel made with Sub-Saharan African (SSA) regional yarns and fabrics, subject to a cap;
- Apparel made with yarns and fabrics not produced in commercial quantities in the United States;
- Certain cashmere and merino wool sweaters; and
- Eligible hand-loomed, handmade or folklore articles and ethnic printed fabrics.
Second, under a special rule called “third-country fabric” provision, AGOA countries with lesser-developed countries (LDBC) status can further enjoy duty-free access in the US market for apparel made from yarns and fabric originating anywhere in the world (such as China, South Korea and Taiwan). This special rule is deemed as critical because most SSA countries still have no capacity in producing capital and technology intensive textile products. [Note: Although the US imports of apparel made with third-country fabric are subject to a cap, the cap has never been reached].
According to a 2014 comprehensive study conducted by the USITC, the “third-country fabric” provision has three major benefits to the AGOA members:
1) Increase exports of apparel. This can be evidenced by the fact that most US apparel imports under AGOA came from those countries that are eligible for the “third-country fabric” provision, such as Lesotho, Kenya, Mauritius and Swaziland. In comparison, because South Africa is not eligible for the “third-country fabric” provision, its apparel exports to the United States had significantly dropped since 2003 and only accounted for 0.6% among AGOA countries in 2013.
2) Encourage foreign investment. From 2003 to 2013, a total 21 T&A FDI projects were made in SSA, among which 18 projects (or 85.7%) were greenfield FDI. The third-country fabric provision is the main driver for these FDI projects. For example, many Chinese and Taiwanese investors had opened apparel factories in Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria and Tanzania as a source of exports to the United States and the EU.
3) Enhance trade diversification. Theoretically, relaxing rules of origin (RoO) such as the third-fabric provision can free up companies’ resources and allow them to expand export product lines. As observed by a few empirical studies, AGOA’s third-country fabric provision helped related countries increase the varieties of apparel exports between 39 and 61 percent.
AGOA receives new authorization in 2015, which will last for 10 years until 2025 (including the 3rd country fabric provision). This ten-year renewal of AGOA is regarded as critical and necessary to encourage more long-term investment to the region. As put by Florizelle Liser, Assistant US Trade Representative for Africa “What we know is that African producers of apparel, like producers of apparel all around the world, need to have the flexibility to source their input from wherever of those can be produced most effectively, cost effectively for the products that they are sewing. So we want through the “third country fabric” provision to give the African producers of apparel that flexibility. We do know in terms of establishing textiles business on the ground producing those inputs right there in Africa and that more of that indeed is going to happen. The reason is that as U.S. buyers of apparel and this is an enormous market for apparel… as U.S. buyers of apparel source more of their apparel from Africa, then investors in textile mills, which are very expensive, will be incentivized and are being incentivized to actually establish those fabric mills right there in Africa, and then be able to save time, in terms of getting those inputs that are needed for the clothing that is being produced. So we see that happening already: it’s happening in Kenya, it’s happening in Ethiopia and around the continent. And that is what we need to have more of as we go forward in this ten-year extension of AGOA.”