Outlook 2017: Apparel Industry Issues in the Year Ahead

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In January 2017, Just-Style consulted a panel of industry leaders and scholars in its Outlook 2017–Apparel Industry Issues in the Year Ahead management briefing. Below is my contribution to the report. Welcome for any suggestions and comments.

1: What do you see as the biggest challenges – and opportunities – facing the apparel industry in 2017, and why?

I see the uncertainty in the global economy will pose one of the biggest challenges facing the apparel industry in 2017. Apparel business is buyer-driven. A great number of studies have suggested that economic growth is by far the most effective and reliable predictive factor for apparel consumption. Unfortunately, it seems apparel companies have to deal with another year of economic volatility and weak demand in 2017. For example, according to the latest International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecast released in October 2016, global economic growth in 2017 is projected to only recover to 3.4 percent from 3.1 percent in 2016. There is no particular excitement among major apparel consumption markets either: outlook of the U.S. economy in 2017 is complicated by the strong U.S dollar, the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy as well as the uncertain trade and tax policy to be adopted by the new Trump administration; Economic growth in the EU region next year will continue to be hindered by the unknown fallout from UK’s referendum on leaving the EU, pervasive geopolitical uncertainties, high unemployment rates and the rising protectionist tendencies; Japan’s economic growth is projected to be as low as 1.0 percent in 2017 according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); And China’s economic growth in 2017 could slow again to 6.5 percent, which would be the slowest pace in more than 25 years. Reflecting the trend, we might see a stagnant growth or even a decline of global textile and apparel trade in 2017 as well.

Nevertheless, companies’ continuous investments on technology and innovation will create exciting new opportunities for the apparel industry. Particularly, growing areas in the apparel industry such as 3D printing, wearable technology, digital prototyping and e-commerce have made many “non-traditional” players now interested in fashion, including technology giants like Google and Apple. I think we can expect the apparel industry to become even more modern and high-tech driven in the years to come. The changing nature of the apparel industry will also increase demand for talents from an ever more diversified educational background, such as engineering, physical therapy and business analytics.

2: What’s happening with sourcing? How is the sourcing landscape likely to shift in 2017, and what strategies can help apparel firms and their suppliers to stay ahead?

One observation from me is that textile and apparel (T&A) supply chain is becoming more regional-based. For example, data from the World Trade Organization (WTO) shows that 91.4 percent of textiles imported by Asian countries in 2015 came from other Asian countries, up from 86.6 percent in 2008. This suggests that Asian countries togetherare building a more integrated T&A supply chain. Likewise, in 2015 close to 90 percent of apparel exported by North, South and Central American countries went to the United States and Canada and 81 percent of apparel exported by EU countries went to other EU countries too. To be noted, all of these three major T&A supply chains are facilitated by respective free trade agreements in the region such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), ASEAN–China Free Trade Area (ACFTA) and of course the common market enjoyed by the EU members. On the other hand, fashion brands and apparel retailers often use the Western-Hemisphere supply chain and EU-based supply chain as a supplement to the Asia-based supply chain for more fashion-oriented or time-sensitive items. I think such a dual-track sourcing strategy will continue in 2017.

Related, I think supply chain management will play a growing important role helping apparel companies control sourcing cost, improve speed to market and better meet consumers’ demand in 2017. An interesting phenomenon revealed by the 2016 U.S. Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study released by the U.S. Fashion Industry Association is that around 30 percent of respondents say they plan to consolidate rather than diversify their sourcing base in the next 2 years. As one respondent commented, “(Our) focus right now is really finding efficiencies and maximizing productivity in the supply chain. While we won’t necessarily move out of any countries, we are consolidating the base within regions.”

Last but not least, I think in 2017 apparel companies will continue to give more weight to sustainability and social responsibility in their sourcing decisions. Building a more transparent and sustainable supply chain is an irreversible trend in the apparel industry. 

3: What should apparel firms be doing now if they want to remain competitive into the future? What will separate the winners from the losers?

To remain competitive into the future, apparel companies need to be prepared to change and be willing to try something new. Indeed, revolution is coming for the apparel industry, including the way products are made and sourced (example: 3D printing and various digital manufacturing tools), how consumers shop (example: the see-now-buy-now trend) and where and how to sell (example: the booming e-commerce and omni-channel retailing). In the past, small and medium sized companies (SME) were regarded more vulnerable than big players in the apparel industry for business survival.  However, nowadays, without embracing the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship, even large companies can quickly become “dinosaurs” and find their business struggling. 

4: What keeps you awake at night? Is there anything else you think the apparel industry should be keeping a close eye on in the year ahead? Do you expect 2017 to be better than 2016, and why?

One thing that keeps me awake at night as a professor is what needs to be changed or updated in our curriculum to better prepare our students for the needs of the apparel industry. Fashion programs like us directly prepare future professionals for the fashion apparel industry. This also means we are not immune to the big shift in the industry either. For example, our course offerings currently include textile science, product development, merchandising, branding and sourcing and trade. But in addition to these conventional topics, what else should be added to the curriculum? What new skill setsor knowledge points will be highly expected by the apparel industry for our students in the future? Personally I think talent training is a critical area that the apparel industry and our fashion educational programs can and should form closer partnership. And the outcomes will be mutual beneficial too.

Trade policy is another area that keeps me awake at night. Trade policy matters for the apparel industry because it affects the quantity, price and availability of products in the market. Specifically, in 2017 I will be watching closely about the following trade agendas: 1) the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), which is nearing entering into force. TFA aims to make customs and border procedures easier, speed up the passage of goods between countries and lower cost of trade.

2) negotiation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). In 2015, the sixteen RCEP members altogether exported $369 billion worth of textile and apparel (50% of world share) and imported $124 billion (34% of world share). Since the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) won’t be implemented anytime soon, RCEP has the potential to influence and reshape the T&A supply chain in the Asia-Pacific region.

3) a possible revision of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). NAFTA is a critical factor facilitating and maintaining the Western-Hemisphere textile and apparel supply chain. A recent study of mine shows that ending the NAFTA would significantly hurt apparel manufacturing in Mexico and textile manufacturing in the United States, largely because apparel “Made in Mexico” today often contains yarns and fabrics “Made in USA”.

4) Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP). Although many people think these two agreements are dead, I disagree. TPP and T-TIP are NOT conventional free trade agreements (FTAs) that deal with tariffs and non-tariff barriers only. Just like why we need traffic rules, TPP and T-TIP address our needs to update international trade regulations on 21st century trade agendas such as digital trade, state-owned enterprises, labor and environmental standards, small and medium sized enterprises and trade related investment. On the other hand, both TPP and T-TIP still have a solid and broad supporting base, which includes the fashion apparel industry. If trade politics is why TPP and T-TIP are in trouble, for the same reason, we should expect a reversal of the fate of these two agreements when time arrives. Plus, we should never underestimate the creativity and wisdom of trade policymakers.

Sheng Lu

Outlook for Trade Policy in the Trump Administration and Impact on the Textile and Apparel Industry: A Summary of Views from Experts

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TPP is in trouble, but NOT dead

David Spooner, Partner at Barnes & Thornburg LLP, Former Chief Textile & Apparel Negotiator at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and Former Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Import Administration: “it will be a tough road to pass it (the Trans-Pacific Partnership, TPP) during the Trump Administration…However, there may be opportunities for the (fashion) industry if Trump brings new faces to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and takes a fresh look at trade agreements.” Source: https://www.usfashionindustry.com/news/off-the-cuff-newsletter/2803-recap-28th-apparel-importers-trade-transportation-conference

Jeffrey J. Schott, Senior Fellow of the Peterson Institute for International Economics: “What’s the future for TPP? Most likely, Trump will simply not implement it. Without US participation, the pact cannot definitively enter into force. It’s death by malign neglect.” “But the 11 other TPP countries may not sit idly on the sidelines waiting for US ratification. Instead, they could agree among themselves to extend the TPP benefits to each other on a provisional basis, leaving the door open for US participation in the future. If the United States subsequently ratifies the TPP, the pact would then enter into force on a permanent basis.” Source: https://piie.com/blogs/trade-investment-policy-watch/tpp-could-go-forward-without-united-states

Steve Warner, President/CEO BeaverLake6 Group LLC, former President and CEO of the Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI): “TPP was dead going forward. TPP isn’t actually bad for the technical textiles industry except in a few instances. The real bad culprit, though, is the passage of the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which I opposed when it was being hotly debated in 2015. TPA gave no wiggle room for lawmakers to make even slight changes in the TPP when it was presented by the Obama administration that could at least mollify a representative’s constituents. You couldn’t just like parts of the agreement; you had to like all of it. Thus, you were either with it entirely or have to go against it. It proved to be safer to go against it. As for T-TIP, it was going to be a tough deal to conclude when the European Union insisted a primary objective for them was the elimination of the Berry Amendment protection for US domestic manufacturers” Source: http://www.beaverlake6.com/in-my-opinion/

Face uncertainties but with hope

Michael Singer, vice president of customs compliance at Macy’s and chairman of the U.S. Fashion Industry Association (USFIA): “I do see some opportunities believe it or not, and I had to struggle really hard to come up with something positive. From the regulatory basis, there may be an opportunity for some easing of government laws and mandates.” “One of the key issues we now face is how the administration and Congress will handle trade issues in 2017… We all know how important trade and the access to world markets is in our ability to provide our customers the choices and products they expected, and yet there is no doubt the protectionist sentiment in our country is at historic levels. USFIA will be doing our best to make sure that this remains a top priority and we clearly communicate the importance and benefit of trade to U.S. consumers and the U.S. economy.” Source: http://wwd.com/business-news/government-trade/donald-trump-on-trade-taxes-and-regulations-10702130/

 Julia Hughes, President of the U.S. Fashion Industry Association (USFIA): “A lot of folks were surprised by the (election) outcome… We can see we have our work cut out for us…We’re going to be dealing with a lot of unknowns even with the continuation of a Republican Congress.” Source: http://www.just-style.com/analysis/tpp-is-not-going-to-happen-in-a-trump-administration_id129272.aspx

Daniel J. Ikenson, director of Cato’s Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies: “If he (Trump) is able to expand and diversify the pool of people advising him, there is a reasonable chance that President Trump’s actions will be less bellicose than his rhetoric has been. After all, as someone who wants to make America “great again,” President-elect Trump will want the policies implemented by his administration to help grow the economy. Trade agreements have succeeded in that regard and, in addition to the TPP, there are plenty of countries and regions willing to partner, including the European Union and the United Kingdom (separately), and plenty of alternative negotiating platforms for accomplishing trade and investment liberalization. ” Source: https://www.cato.org/blog/shifting-gears-contemplate-trumps-trade-policies

David Spooner, Partner at Barnes & Thornburg LLP, Former Chief Textile & Apparel Negotiator at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and Former Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Import Administration: “I think there’s some opportunity in a Trump administration…Assuming chaos provides opportunities, and if Trump brings in new faces to USTR, it might give us an opportunity to do new things in trade. We’ve been screwed by the yarn-forward rule for decades. Maybe there’s an opportunity to do things, even if it’s around the margins.” Source: https://sourcingjournalonline.com/tpp-ttip-wont-happen-trump-administration/

Robert Antoshak, managing director at Olah Inc.: “First, (Trump) he’ll let TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership) just wither on the vine. It’s pretty easy to kill TPP by doing nothing; Congress hasn’t voted on it yet. Next, he may activate the escape clause in NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico), which gives signatories a six-month window to exit the agreement. During that time, he could use an exit for political gain in the media – imagine the headlines about the US pulling out of NAFTA – but in reality, he could use the time to renegotiate portions of the agreement. And then there’s T-TIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership free trade deal with the EU. Personally, I’m going to keep a close eye on relations between the White House and 10 Downing Street. The commonalities between the forces supporting Brexit and Trump are all too similar. Why negotiate with all of the EU, when it may be more politically expedient for Trump to negotiate a separate economic-trade deal with Theresa May?” “I am confident that he (Trump) will attempt to alter the global hierarchy. One way of changing the system will be to focus on trade. He can make tactical adjustments to trade policy that will not only give him the front-page news he craves, but will enact the kind of systemic change upon which he ran for president.” Source: http://www.just-style.com/comment/trump-trade-policy-who-knows-what-hell-do_id129295.aspx

US-China Trade War? Keep a close watch

Augustine Tantillo, president and chief executive officer of the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO): “(I) would be surprised if Trump does not take some steps to crack down on currency devaluation, particularly as it relates to China.” Source: http://wwd.com/business-news/government-trade/donald-trump-on-trade-taxes-and-regulations-10702130/

 Chad Bown, Senior Fellow of the Peterson Institute for International Economics: “What he (Trump) has said is that they (China) manipulate their currency and he has threatened to impose tariffs upwards of 45%. The concerns with doing that is that we (USA) do have a trade agreement with 163 other economies of the world, the WTO. China is a part of that and by doing that (imposing tariffs upwards of 45%) unilaterally, would be violating our commitments, legal commitments to our trading partners under that deal and China would be authorized and probably would retaliate and strike back and probably do the same thing against the United States which would mean U.S. companies and exporters that make goods and agricultural products, and send those to China would suffer as a retaliatory response.” Source: https://www.c-span.org/video/?417891-3/washington-journal-chad-bown-trade-policy-trump-administration

Textile and apparel industry needs NAFTA 

Steve Lamar, executive vice president for the American Apparel & Footwear Association(AAFA): “It is well established that CAFTA and NAFTA are critical for the U.S. textile and apparel industry. The things we have continued to argue is how to find ways to make it better… NAFTA was negotiated when there were no other free-trade agreements and the world was surrounded by quotas and rules of origin that catered to the United States. But the industry has evolved.” “Trump will renegotiate NAFTA and is only threatening to abrogate the free-trade accord… Trump likes to build up leverage to get the best possible deal, and he can view trade with that same lens.” Source: https://www.apparelnews.net/news/2016/nov/17/how-would-end-nafta-affect-la-apparel-industry/

Augustine Tantillo, president and chief executive officer of the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO): “there will be a ‘level of caution,’ when it comes to renegotiating NAFTA. This agreement has been in place for a while and it would be clearly disruptive to simply walk away from it at this point.” Source: http://wwd.com/business-news/government-trade/donald-trump-on-trade-taxes-and-regulations-10702130/

Leonie Barrie, Managing editor of Just-Style: “Will a Trump administration revisit NAFTA? Such a prospect is a concerning one because NAFTA’s free trade framework with Mexico has been at the heart of many sourcing strategies in North America. The US exported $6.5bn of apparel and textiles to Mexico last year and, in turn, Mexico shipped $4.2bn to the US. Earlier this year executives told just-style that if Trump went ahead with threats to build a 3,200-kilometre fence on the Mexican-American border to stem immigration, it could cut $2.2bn or 20% of the $11bn in US-Mexican textiles and apparel trade in its first year.” Source: http://www.just-style.com/comment/what-might-a-trump-presidency-mean-for-apparel_id129260.aspx

Please feel free to respond to any comments above or leave your thoughts.

EU Textile and Apparel Industry Sees Commercial Opportunities in Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP)

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(picture source: Euratex)

According to the European Apparel and Textile Federation (Euratex), Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP), if reached and implemented, will bring substantial commercial benefits to the EU textile and apparel (T&A) industry. Euratex sees T-TIP has the great potential to help EU T&A expand exports to the U.S. market, particularly in two areas:

One is high-end apparel. The United States is EU’s third largest apparel export market only after Switzerland and Russia. In 2014, apparel exports from EU(28) to the United States exceed €2.5 billion and most products were much higher priced than those exported from elsewhere in the world. Euratex expects that when the high tariff facing EU apparel products in the U.S. market is removed—such as 28% tariff rate for women’s jacket, and customs red tape is cut, many small and medium (SME) sized EU T&A companies will be able to gain more access to the 300 million people U.S. apparel market.

The other is technical textiles: Euratex highlighted that “technical textiles, like high functionality fabrics used for firefighters’ uniforms or airbags, represent half of our textiles exports to the US. European home textiles are of great success in the US: more than €92million of bedlinen were sold in 2014. Nonwoven textile products for hygiene and medical purposes (cleansing tissues, surgical bedsheets, gauze, bandages, etc.) are a growing part of our exports to the U.S.. High-tech textiles products cover a wide range of applications – transport, construction, agriculture, defense, personal protection and much more.”

Moreover, it seems that the EU technical textile industry is very interested in getting access to the U.S. market currently protected by the Berry Amendment. Euratex sees “Opening business opportunities in public sector for technical textiles is a must in T-TIP. “Europe is a recognized leader in production of smart technical textiles due to advanced manufacturing technologies and constant innovation of materials and their application. The production of technical textiles in Europe significantly increased over the past ten years. With TTIP, the US public services will be able to benefit from the innovative products manufactured in Europe.” Euratex says.

Background: the state of EU-US textile and apparel trade

EU-US T&A trade

Why NCTO and Euratex Disagree on the Textile and Apparel Rules of Origin in T-TIP?

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In an April 13 press briefing, the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) which represents the U.S. textile industry, insists the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) shall adopt the so called “yarn-forward” Rules of origin (RoO). Yarn-forward (or “triple transformation”) in T-TIP means, in order to receive preferential duty treatment provided under the trade agreement, yarns used in textile production in general need to be sourced either from the US or EU.  All 14 existing free trade agreements (FTA) in the United States adopt the yarn-forward RoO.

In comparison, in its position paper released in June 2015, the European Apparel and Textile Confederation (Euratex), which represents the EU textile and apparel industry, favors a so called “fabric forward” RoO in T-TIP instead of “yarn-forward”. Fabric-forward (or “double transformation”) in T-TIP means in order to receive preferential duty treatment provided under the trade agreement, fabrics used in apparel production in general need to be sourced either from the US or EU, but yarns used in textile production can be sourced from anywhere in the world.

US

Exploring data at the 4-digit NAICS code level can find that the United States remains a leading yarn producer. Value of U.S. yarn production (NAICS 3131) even exceeded fabric production (NAICS 3132) in 2014. This means: 1) U.S. has sufficient capacity of yarn production; 2) it will be in the financial interests of the U.S. textile industry to encourage more use of U.S.-made yarns in textile production in the T-TIP region (i.e. pushing the “yarn-forward” RoO).

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EU yarn import

However, data at the 4-digit NACE R.2 code level suggests that EU(28) was short of €5,643 million local supply of yarns (NACE C1310) for its manufacturing of fabrics (NACE C1320) in 2013 (latest statistics available). This figure well matched with the value of €4,514 million yarns that EU (28) imported from outside the region that year. Among these yarn imports (SITC 651), over half came from China (22%), Turkey (19%) and India (13%), whereas only 5% came from the United States. Should the “yarn-forward” RoO is adopted in T-TIP, EU textile and apparel manufacturers may face a shortage of yarn supply or see an increase of their sourcing & production cost at least in the short run.

Sheng Lu

Extra-EU Trade for Textile & Apparel Went Up in 2015

EU export (2015)

EU import (2015)

According to statistics released by the European Apparel and Textile Confederation (Euratex), extra-EU trade for textile and apparel (T&A) achieved record high in 2015, suggesting a positive economic state of the industry.

Specifically, extra-EU T&A exports went up by 3.6 percent in 2015. Among the key export markets: thanks to the appreciation of U.S. dollar against Euro last year, EU’s textile and apparel exports to the United States respectively increased by 16 percent and 21 percent. Despite China’s slowed economic growth, EU’s export to China was also robust: 6 percent growth for textile and 19 percent growth for apparel. However, EU’s T&A exports to Russia (down 27 percent for textile and down 29 percent for apparel) and Ukraine (down 26 percent for apparel) sharped dropped, reflecting the substantial impact of political instability on trade.  

In terms of the import side, extra-EU T&A imports rose 9.6% in 2015. China remained the top external T&A supplier to the EU, however, other Asian countries with lower-production cost are quickly catching up. This is particularly the case for apparel: while EU’s apparel imports from China went up 6 percent in 2015, imports from Bangladesh (up 24 percent), Cambodia (up 33 percent), Vietnam (up 26 percent), Pakistan (up 25 percent) and Myanmar (up 79 percent) grew much faster, suggesting a relative decline of China’s market share in the EU market.

Potential Impact of the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) on Related Textile and Apparel Trade Flows

The presentation was delivered at the 2015 International Textile and Apparel Association (ITAA) Conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico on November 13, 2015. Welcome for any suggestions and feedback.

The Future of Asia-Pacific and Implications for the U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry

Asia Pacific

The following discussion questions are proposed by students enrolled in FASH455 (Global Apparel & Textile Trade and Sourcing) Fall 2015 after learning the unit on textile and apparel industry & market in the Asia-Pacific region. Please feel free to leave your comment and engage in our online discussion.

  1. We’ve heard so much about China’s superior involvement in the textile & apparel sectors globally, but how are these industries contributing to the local economy?
  2. As rules on working conditions and minimum wage have been enforced in Mainland China many business people have moved their operations to Southeast Asia, do you think the Southeast Asia will eventually become like mainland China forcing businessmen to seek low wages elsewhere?
  3. Will Vietnam shift its sourcing of yarns and fabrics from China to US after TPP? What are some setbacks associated with this? What are some potential opportunities?
  4. While Vietnam is currently one of the primary exporters of apparel to the United States, what should be the actions taken by the United States if they continue to “refuse” to cut out Chinese Textiles? Or, should the United States continue their trading patterns with Vietnam despite their reliance on Chinese Textiles?
  5. The Asia pacific region is made up of a variety of countries with different strengths and political infrastructure. How does the variety of policies and governments affect how we do business abroad, and is there a way to set standards that are not individualized to each country?
  6. China and the US can be seen as a threat to one another. However the president of China said the “Pacific Ocean has enough space for the two large countries”. Do you think they are threats to each other, or are they ultimately helping each other’s economies grow?
  7. What will happen as more and more countries that used to produce apparel move into producing more capital intensive production?
  8. What are the advantages or disadvantages of excluding China from international trade agreements such as TPP?
  9. If the T&A industry in China is envisioned by policymakers as beginning to focus more on technical textiles, how will the textile industry in China compete with the industry in the United States?
  10. Why has East Asia become one of the most economically interconnected regions in the world?
  11. What are some of the reasons that China still remains one of most price competitive export markets in the World? Also, does China face challenges in losing their top spot as leader in price competitiveness? If so, what are some of the reasons they are in danger of competition?
  12. How is the discussion about yarn forward rules of origin different in regards to TPP countries than the same discussion between the NAFTA/CAFTA-DR countries?

 [Discussion for this post is closed].