Cheaper to Make Textiles in the United States than in China: Reality or Myth?

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A New York Times article back in August 2015 suggests that “yarn production costs in China are now 30 percent higher than in the United States” because of savings in raw and auxiliary material. The article believes the cost difference is why some Chinese textile companies are coming to build factories in the United States, such as Keer Group’s cotton mill in South Carolina.

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However, in a recent interview with China Textile News, Chairman of the Cixi Jiangnan Chemical Fiber Co (Cixi) provides a different cost sheet (above). In September 2013, Cixi invested a $45million polyester staple fiber mill in South Carolina. Because nearly 80% of Cixi’s outputs are sold outside of China, and the United States is its single largest export market, the investment intends to help the company maintain its presence in the U.S. market and substantially save transportation cost.

According to Cixi, it is a misunderstanding that making textiles in the United States is cheaper than in China. Although moving factories to the United States may help Chinese companies save money in land, electricity, natural gas, and logistics, it will significantly increase the costs in purchasing manufacturing equipment, building factories and managing daily operation of the company.  Additionally, culture and language barriers, as well as labor policy in the United States, could also become critical challenges facing Chinese investors. Cixi admits that to keep its U.S. factory running smoothly, members of its management team all come from China.

State of the U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry: Output, Employment and Trade (Updated March 2017)

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The size of the U.S. textile and apparel industry has significantly shrunk over the past decades. However, U.S. textile manufacturing is gradually coming back. Value added of U.S. textile manufacturing reached $17.98 billion in 2015, which was the highest level since 2009.

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Nevertheless, the share of U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing in the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) dropped to only 0.16% in 2015 from 0.57% in 1998.

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The U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing is also changing in nature. For example, textiles had accounted for nearly 70% of the total output of the U.S. textile and apparel industry as of 2015, up from 58% in 1998. Meanwhile, clothing had only accounted for 12% of the total U.S. fiber production by 2012, suggesting non-apparel textile products, such as industrial textiles and home textiles have become more important part of the industry.

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Manufacturing jobs are NOT coming back to the U.S. textile and apparel industry. From January 2015 to December 2016, U.S. textile manufacturing (NAICS 313 and 314) and apparel manufacturing (NAICS 315) lost 8,300 and 9,200 jobs respectively. However, improved productivity is one important factor behind the job losses.

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U.S. remains a net textile exporter and a net apparel importer. However, the U.S. trade surplus in textiles significantly dropped to only $68 million in 2016 from $347 million a year earlier. More U.S.-made textiles are now exported than a decade ago. Meanwhile, the U.S. trade deficit in apparel reached $81,754 million in 2016, which was slightly smaller than $86,311 million a year earlier.  

Sheng Lu

Additional readings:  The Pattern of U.S. Textile and Apparel Imports

Discussion questions:

#1 Is the state of the U.S. textile and apparel industry consistent with the stage of development theory? Please specify your answer.

#2 Based on the statistics, do you think textile and apparel “Made in the USA” have a future? Please explain.

#3 Based on the statistics, what is the impact of trade on the development of the U.S. textile and apparel industry: positive, negative, mixed or you need more information (please specify) to evaluate?

#4 Overall, do you think the U.S. textile and apparel industry is in good shape? Why or why not?

New USCBC Study Suggests Overall Positive Impacts of China on the US economy

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Although the trade relationship with China is often blamed for causing job losses in the United States, a new study prepared for the U.S.-China Business Council (USCBC) by Oxford Economics suggests overall positive impacts of China on the US economy. According to the study:

  • China has grown to become the third-largest destination for American goods and services, only after Mexico and Canada. China purchased $165 billion in goods and services from the United States in 2015, representing 7.3 percent of all US exports and about 1 percent of total US economic output. By 2030, US exports to China are projected to rise to more than $520 billion annually.
  • The US-China trade relationship supports roughly 2.6 million jobs in the United States. Specifically, US exports to China directly and indirectly supported 8 million new jobs in 2015.
  • The reported gross US trade deficit with China is overstated and somehow misleading. As China has become an integral part of the global manufacturing supply chain, much of its exports are comprised of foreign-produced components delivered for final assembly in China. If the value of these imported components is subtracted from China’s exports, the US trade deficit with China is reduced by half, to about 1 percent of GDP—about the same as the US trade deficit with the European Union.
  • Additionally, “Made in China” lowered prices in the United States for consumer goods. As estimated, US consumer prices are 1 percent – 1.5 percent lower because of Chinese imports–trade with China saved each American household up to $850 in 2015. Given the fact that hourly labor costs in the textile industry were $2.65 in China in 2014 compared with $17.71 in the United States, the report argues that replacing Chinese imports of textiles and clothing with US manufactured products would significantly raise US consumer prices.

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In terms of the textile and apparel (T&A) sector, the report suggests that:

  • The rising U.S. import from China mostly represents China’s displacement of imports from other countries and regions: China has been squeezing out traditional apparel manufacturers such as Mexico, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
  • Meanwhile, textile and apparel manufacturing is one of the very few sectors that observe a paralleled pattern of rising imports from China and declining gross value added in the United States since 2000. In comparison, over the same period other sectors that experienced the most rapid growth in Chinese imports are also the sectors where US businesses have seen the strongest growth.

The report can be downloaded from HERE.

Apparel “Made in America” of Imported Fabrics

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Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton recently launched a new website “Made In America: A Buyer’s Guide for Donald Trump”, which highlighted hundreds of U.S. manufacturers for products ranging from men’s ties, suits to furniture. 

Joseph Abboud is one of the companies highlighted by the website for making “Made in America” suites and shirts. But does “Made in America” mean a Joseph Abboud branded suit or shirt is 100% made in the United States from yarns, fabrics to the cut-and-sew process? Not necessarily!

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According to information submitted by Joseph Abboud to the “Made in USA” database managed by the Office of Textiles and Apparel under the U.S. Department of Commerce, some of its products actually are “partially made in U.S.A. with imported fabrics”.

This is evidenced both by Joseph Abboud’s product label and information provided by some retailers which sell Joseph Abboud’s branded products (See pictures below).

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Hamilton Shirts of Houston is another company highlighted by Clinton’s “Made in USA” website. But similar as the case of Joseph Abboud, a Hamilton branded shirt priced at $215-$245 is typically “Hand cut and sewn in the USA. 100% cotton Italian fabric.”

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Actually, Joseph Abboud is a brand owned by JA Holding, Inc., which was acquired by Tailored Brands for $94.9 million on August 6, 2013. As of June 2016, Tailored Brands also owns the Men’s Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank.

Like most other US apparel companies/fashion brands today, Tailored Brands commits to global sourcing. In fiscal year 2015, the company “sourced approximately 60% of direct sourced merchandise from Asia (36% from China) while 13% was sourced in the U.S., 12% in Mexico, and 15% was sourced in other regions.” (Source: Tailored Brands Annual Report, 2015)

Tailored Brands uses the factory in New Bedford, MA (the one highlighted by Clinton’s website) to make tailored clothing under the Joseph Abboud label, including designer suits, tuxedos, sport coats and slacks which they sell in Men’s Wearhouse stores as well as Joseph Abboud’s flagship store. Tailor Brands also sells Joseph Abboud branded products in Moores stores, which are made in Canada by a third party.

Related article: Clothing Label Reveals the Global Nature of the Textile and Apparel Industry 

Disclaimer: All blog posts on this site are for FASH455 educational purposes only and they are nonpolitical and nonpartisan in nature. No blog post has the intention to favor or oppose any particular presidential candidate, nor shall be interpreted in that way.

Global Apparel and Footwear Industry (Updated in June 2016)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

International Trade Supports Textile and Apparel “Made in USA”

International trade plays a critical role supporting textile and apparel (T&A) “Made in USA”, according to latest firm-level data from the Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA) under the U.S. Department of Commerce.

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First and formost, textile and apparel “Made in USA” today contain imported components. Data collected from the OTEXA “Made in USA” Sourcing database shows that using imported inputs such as cut parts, fabrics, accessories and trims is a very common practice among the total 122 companies which claim making either yarn, fabric, home textiles, technical textiles or apparel in the United States. Particularly, more than 76% of companies which make apparel in the United States say they use imported inputs, followed by companies which make technical textiles (52%) and fabrics (46%). Moreover, the lack of sufficient supply of locally made fabrics is the top reason why U.S. T&A companies use imports as alternatives.

The supportive role played by imports to T&A “Made in USA” also explains why the U.S. T&A industry is in favor of the passage of the American Manufacturing Competitiveness Act 2016 (Miscellaneous Tariff Bill, MTB). The Bill, which passed by the U.S. Congress in May, will eliminate or reduce hundreds of import duties on textile raw materials and intermediate products that are not produced or available domestically in the United States.

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On the other hand, export promotes “Made in USA” textiles and apparel as well. Data from the OTEXA “Made in USA” sourcing database shows that as many as 88.9% of U.S.-based yarn manufacturers, 82.9% of technical textile manufacturers, 75% of fabrics manufacturers and 76% of home textile manufacturers currently export and sell their products overseas.

For more detailed data and analysis, please stay tuned…

Sheng Lu