The following analysis is from the latest Just-Style Op-ed Is China Losing Its Edge as a US Apparel Supplier.
A fact-checking review of trade statistics in 2016 of a total 167 categories of T&A products categorized by the Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA) suggests that textile and apparel (T&A) “Made in China” have no near competitors in the U.S. import market. Specifically, in 2016:
- Of the total 11 categories of yarn, China was the top supplier for 2 categories (or 18%);
- Of the total 34 categories of fabric, China was the top supplier for 25 categories (or 74%);
- Of the total 106 categories of apparel, China was the top supplier for 88 categories (or 83%);
- Of the total 16 categories of made-up textiles, China was the top supplier for 12 categories (or 68%);
In comparison, for those Asian T&A suppliers regarded as China’s top competitors:
- Vietnam was the top supplier for only 5 categories of apparel (less than 5% of the total);
- Bangladesh was the top supplier for only 2 categories of apparel (less than 2% of the total)
- India was the top supplier for 2 categories of fabric (9% of the total), one category of apparel (1% of the total) and 5 categories of made-up textiles (41.7% of the total)
Notably, China not only was the top supplier for many T&A products but also held a lion’s market shares. For example, in 2016:
- For the 34 categories of fabric that China was the top supplier, China’s average market shares reached 41%, 23 percentage points higher than the 2nd top suppliers for these categories
- For the 88 categories of apparel that China was the top supplier, China’s average market shares reached 53%, 38 percentage points higher than the 2nd top suppliers for these categories.
- For the 16 categories of made-up textiles that China was the top supplier, China’s average market shares reached 57%, 40 percentage points higher than the 2nd top suppliers for these categories.
It is also interesting to see that despite the reported rising labor cost, T&A “Made in China” are NOT becoming more expensive. On the contrary, the unit price of U.S. T&A imports from China in 2016 was 6.8% lower than a year earlier, whereas over the same period the unit price for U.S. T&A imports from rest of the world only declined by 2.9%.
Furthermore, T&A “Made in China” are demonstrating even bigger price competitiveness compared with other suppliers to the U.S. market. For example, in 2016, the unit price of “Made China” was only 78% of the price of “Made in Vietnam” (in 2012 was 89%), 88% of “Made in Bangladesh” (in 2012 was 100%), 86% of “Made in Mexico” (in 2012 was 103%) and 72% of “Made in India” (in 2012 was 81%).
Are the results surprising? How to explain China’s demonstrated price competitiveness despite its reported rising labor cost? What’s your outlook for the future of China as a sourcing destination for U.S. fashion brands and retailers? Please feel free to share your views.
#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.]
- Zara Hayes, Director of Clothes to Die For
- Sarah Hamilton, Producer of Clothes to Die For
- Mara Burr, Senior vice president from the Albright Stonebridge Group
- Avedis Seferian, President and CEO of Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production(WRAP)
- Marsha A. Dickson, Professor of Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies, Irma Ayers Professor of Human Services, Co-Director of Sustainable Apparel Initiative, University of Delaware
Panel discussion questions:
- What does the Rana Plaza tragedy bring out those aspects of the garment industry that many people don’t know?
- What was it like going to Bangladesh and talking to survivors of the Rana Plaza? What are the behind the scene stories of filming the documentary Clothes To Die For?
- What changes are happening in the Bangladesh garment industry after the Rana Plaza? Particularly, what people in Bangladesh are doing to prevent tragedies like the Rana Plaza from happening again?
- The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (the Alliance) is a major effort from the U.S. business community in response to the Rana Plaza tragedy. What the Alliance has being doing, what major accomplishments have been achieved and what is the future work plan of the organization?
- Has corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices in the Bangladesh garment industry critically improved after the Rana Plaza? Compared with other leading apparel manufacturers in the world such as China, Vietnam, India, Cambodia and Indonesia, is Bangladesh still significantly lagging behind in terms of corporate social responsibility practices?
- How does the academia look at the Rana Plaza? Does the tragedy lead to some new research questions? What is the “academic” recipe for improving the CSR practices in the Bangladesh garment industry?
- Will enhanced factory inspection increase production cost and make apparel “Made in Bangladesh” lose price competitiveness?
- To prevent tragedies like the Rana Plaza from happening again, what each individual consumer can do or should do?
- Sub-contracting is regarded as an indispensable part of today’s global apparel supply chain. But factories undertaking sub-contracting work operate in a “black box”—many of them are off the chart for inspection and audit. Any progress or new thinking on how to solve the sub-contracting issue in the garment industry?