Sourcing Trends of U.S. Fashion Companies: Discussion Questions from FASH455

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The following questions are proposed by students in FASH455 (Spring 2017) based on the 2016 U.S. Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study. Please feel free to join the online discussion (please mention the question # in your comment).

#1 With many bricks and mortar stores closing and profits decreasing in many of these stores, why do you think that 92% of respondents are optimistic or somewhat optimistic about the fashion industry over the next five years? Do you believe that there is a technological advance or a change in organizational structure that is coming in the future that is keeping them hopeful?

#2 U.S. fashion companies today have a very diversified sourcing base. For example, overall 52% of respondents report sourcing from more than ten different countries. However, it seems quite challenging to ensure all the factories they are sourcing from are up to the company’s standards. Do you think with increased pressure to become more sustainable as well as have ethical working conditions across their supply chain, U.S. fashion companies will source from fewer countries in the future?

#3 According to the survey, controlling sourcing and production cost remains one of the top business challenges for U.S. fashion companies. Does it imply that it is unrealistic to expect companies to make commitments to sustainability and social responsibility at the sacrifice of their profit?

#4 U.S. apparel imports from Vietnam has been growing rapidly in recent years. Why do you think Vietnam has been able to expand as a garment exporter so quickly, outperforming most of its Asian competitors?

#5 As optimism continues to create new demand for human talent, more specifically for fashion designers, buyers and merchandisers, sourcing specialists, and social compliance specialists how can the fashion department at the University of Delaware further prepare us to excel at these positions? Any specific suggestions?

#6 What other sourcing and trade topics do you think the benchmarking study could include?

The 2 Euro T-shirt

 

This video is a great reminder of the impact of our fashion apparel industry, in particular through trade and sourcing. One key learning objective of FASH455 is to help students get aware of those critical global agendas that are highly relevant to the textile and apparel sector.

Discussion Question: After watching the video, do you have any new thoughts about how you can contribute to the building of a better world as a FASH major?

Apparel Sourcing in 2017: Results from the Just-Style State of Sourcing Survey

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The latest Just-Style State of Sourcing Survey conducted in December 2016 suggests a few trends of apparel sourcing in 2017:

  • Exchange rate volatility and rising raw material and labor costs are among the top concerns for apparel sourcing in 2017. Around 69% of survey respondents expect overall sourcing costs to rise in 2017, compared with 54.5% in last year’s survey. The fluctuating exchange rate, buyer’s expectation for higher quality of products and complex compliance requirements are among the major factors driving up the sourcing cost.
  • Apparel companies expect more uncertainties regarding the political and policy environment in 2017. Specific concerns for apparel companies include trade policy under Trump’s Administration, possible renegotiation of trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and Trump’s threats to impose a 45% punitive tariff on US textile and apparel imports from China. Respondents say the uncertainties make it challenging for companies to do strategic planning in advance
  • Sourcing will play an increasingly important role helping companies achieve strategic goals. It is highly expected that sourcing can contribute to meeting the fast-evolving demands of omni-channel retailing, consumers’ expectations for a more convenient shopping experience, as well as greater product innovation across all sales channels. A few respondents say they will use process and productivity improvement and closer collaboration with key suppliers to try to achieve these goals and mitigate any sourcing cost increases.   
  • Sourcing destinations may continue to slightly adjust in 2017. Specifically, 72.1% of respondents say they are looking for alternative source of supply in 2017 compared with 69.2% last year. Popular emerging sourcing destinations include Central America and the United States, EU, UK, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Kenya. However, the survey also confirms that China‘s dominance as the top apparel supplier is unlikely to change anytime soon – with a rise in the number of respondents looking to increase orders from the country in the upcoming year.

Respondents of the survey include manufacturers (29%), importers, agents or sourcing office executives (23%), retailers (12%), fiber, yarn, or fabric suppliers (11%), consulting, research, government, trade institute, NGO and university fields (14%) and software suppliers (2.6%).

Full report of the survey is available HERE.

What Do You Take Away from FASH455?

I encourage everyone to watch the above two short videos, which provide a great wrap-up for FASH455 and remind us the true meaning of our course.

Indeed, I hope students can take away essential knowledge about textile and apparel (T&A) trade & sourcing from FASH455. So far in the course we’ve discussed various trade theories, evolution pattern of the global T&A industry, three major T&A supply chains in the world today (namely the “Western-Hemisphere” supply chain, “Factory Asia” supply chain based on the flying geese model and the phenomenon of intra-region T&A trade in Europe) as well as T&A trade policy. Understanding how trade and sourcing work will be highly relevant and beneficial to your future career in the fashion industry, no matter you’d like to become a fashion designer, buyer, merchandiser, sourcing specialist or marketing analyst.

However, more importantly, I hope FASH helps students shape a big picture vision of the T&A industry in today’s global economy and provides students a fresh new way (perspective) of looking at the world. Throughout FASH455, we’ve examined many critical, timely and pressing global agendas that are closely connected with the T&A industry, from the social responsibility problem, controversy of used clothing trade, debate on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to trade politics in the U.S. presidential election. It is important 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.

Likewise, I hope FASH455 puts students into thinking the meaning of being a FASH major (as well as a college graduate) and how to positively contribute to the world we are living today. What is often overlooked is that T&A is far more than just about “sewing”, “fashion magazine”, “shopping” and “Project Runway”. The fact is, as one of the largest and most economically influential sectors in the world today, T&A industry plays a critical and unique role creating jobs, promoting economic development, enhancing human development and reducing poverty. For example, 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&A usually accounts for 70%–90% of their total merchandise exports and provide one of the very few opportunities for these countries to participate in globalization. We are as important as any other major on the campus!

Last but not last, I hope from taking FASH455, students can take away some meaningful questions that can inspire their future study and even life’s pursuit. For example:

  • How to more equally distribute the benefits & cost of globalization among different countries and groups of people?
  • How to make sure that tragedies like the Rana Plaza building collapse will never happen again?
  • How to make international trade work better and more effectively lead to economic growth and human development?
  • How to achieve sustainability while develop the economy? To which extent shall we renovate the conventional growth model?
  • How to use trade policy as a tool to solve some tough global issues such as labor practices and environmental standard?

These questions have no good answer yet. But they are waiting for you, the young professional and new generation of leaders, to explore and 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.

Rana Plaza Case Study: Discussion Questions from FASH455

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#1 How shall we describe the relationship between the Alliance and the Accord? Are they collaborators or competitors? Do you think the Alliance and the Accord can join forces?

#2 How many inspectors are “enough” for Bangladesh? The case study mentions that the Alliance and the Accord are observing around 2,000 factories, but how about the other 3,000 in Bangladesh? And how about those unknown and “undocumented” factories, where the working conditions could be even worse?

#3 Do Western fashion brands genuinely care about what is happening in the Bangladeshi garment factories? Or do they actually care about their own interests—profit, public image and reputation among consumers?

#4 What has made Western fashion brands stay in Bangladesh after the Rana Plaza tragedy instead of moving their sourcing orders to other Asian countries in the area such as Cambodia and Vietnam?

#5 How transparent should be companies’ supply chain? Should fashion brands be required to disclose more supply chain information—such as where their products were made and who made them? What could be the difficulty of enforcing a more transparent apparel supply chain?

#6 In addition to more frequent inspections, what other measures can be taken to improve social responsibility practices in the garment industry?  

#7 Three years after the Rana Plaza, are you satisfied with the changes that have happened in Bangladesh? What major social responsibility problems in the Bangladeshi garment industry remain unsolved?

[Please feel free to join our online discussion. For the purpose of convenience, please mention the question # in your reply/comment.]

Debate on Used-clothing Trade, Sustainable Development Strategy and Wage Level in the Garment Industry: Discussion Questions from FASH455

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Debate on used-clothing trade and strategy for building a sustainable garment industry

#1 Should countries in East Africa ban on imported used-clothing for the survival of its own apparel manufacturing industry, which is at the nascent stage of development?

#2 From an environmental sustainability standpoint, wouldn’t it make sense for East Africa to continue importing used clothes for their Mitumba wholesale center rather than ceasing this trade and manufacturing new clothes? What is your view?

#3 If clothing manufacturing has significantly helped Haiti grow its economy, should East African countries follow the same development path?

#4 The reading article says that trade agreements have extended Haiti’s duty free access to the United States until 2020. What might happen to Haiti’s garment exports after 2020? Can it survive? In your view, is Haiti’s garment industry a model for sustainable development?

#5 Why is the United States willing to offer duty free access for apparel made in Haiti but not made in other Asian countries, such as Bangladesh? Is it fair?

Debate on Wage level of garment workers

#6 Garment manufacturing and exporting are picking up Haiti’s economy, although most Haitian garment workers only make roughly $180-$200 per month. Meanwhile, Haiti is looking to attract retailers’ further investment. Given the fact that there are so many places in the world that retailers can source clothing from, will an increase of wage level drive away foreign investment in Haiti and negatively affect Hait’s garment exports?

#7 If consumers are willing to pay higher, will it help increase the wages of factory workers in developing countries? Or as consumers, we can do little about it?

#8 Should globalization be responsible for the low wage of garment workers in the developing countries? Without globalization, would garment workers in the developing countries live a better life?

[Please feel free to join our online discussion. For the purpose of convenience, please mention the question # in your reply/comment.]

CRS Releases Updated Study on the U.S. Textile Industry and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

crs-reportOn September 1, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) released its updated study on the U.S. textile industry and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). According to the report:

First, TPP is suggested to have a limited impact on U.S. domestic textile and apparel manufacturing, because:

1) Automation rather than imports is found to be the top factor causing job losses in the U.S. textile industry in the past decade;

2) U.S. is one of the very few TPP members whose textile output mostly went into home textiles, floor coverings and other technical textile products rather than apparel.

3) More than 90% of apparel sold in the United States is already imported. Some companies maintain U.S. manufacturing of high-value products or products requiring quick delivery, which are not likely to be supplied by other TPP members.

4) A quantitative assessment conducted by the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) in May also suggests that U.S. imports of textiles will only climb 1.6% by 2032 if TPP enters into force in 2017. Over the same 15-year period, both output and employment in the U.S. textile industry could slightly shrink by 0.4% as a result of the implementation of TPP.

Second, TPP could challenge the Western-Hemisphere supply chain and negatively affect U.S. textile exports to the region:

1) TPP will make apparel manufacturers located in Mexico and Central America lose one important advantage—duty free access to the U.S. market, when competing with Asian TPP members such as Vietnam and Malaysia.  The Central American-Dominican Republic Apparel and Textile Council also estimates the CAFTA-DR region could see a contraction of 15%-18% in industrial employment resulting from lost production orders in the first year after the TPP agreement is implemented.

2) The major products sourced by U.S. apparel companies from the Western Hemisphere region include basic, low-value knitwear garments such as shirts, pants, underwear, and nightwear, with a focus on men’s and boys’ wear. However, these products are with low time sensitivity but high price sensitivity, meaning Asian TPP members can easily offer a more competitive price and take away sourcing orders after the implementation of TPP.  

3) Because of physical distance and abundance of local supply, leading Asian TPP apparel exporters such as Vietnam seldom use US-made yarns and fabrics. Supported by foreign investments, Vietnam is also quickly building up its own textile manufacturing capacity, which is expected to reach 2 million metric tons for fabrics and 650,000 metric tons for fibers by 2020. This implies that TPP may help little creating new export markets for US textile products, despite the restrictive yarn forward rules of origin.

Additionally, TPP could result in intensified competition in the technical textile area, which is of strategic importance to the future of the U.S. textile industry:

1) If the proposed agreement is implemented, those segments of the U.S. textile industry that supply industrial textiles are likely to face greater competition from rising imports from Japan.

2) TPP will allow Japanese industrial textiles to newly get duty free access to Mexico and Canada, which are the largest export markets for U.S. industrial fabrics in 2015. However, TPP won’t help US companies get more favorable access to China, which is the top export market for Japanese industrial fabrics.