China’s Changing Role in the World Textile and Apparel Supply Chain

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Following the steps of many countries in history, China is gradually shifting its role in the world textile and apparel supply chain. While China unshakably remains the world’s largest apparel exporter, its market shares measured by value fell from 38.6 percent in 2015 to 35.8 percent in 2016.  China’s market shares in the world’s top three largest apparel import markets, namely the United States, EU and Japan, also indicate a clear downward trend in the past five years. This result is consistent with several recent survey studies, which find that fashion brands and retailers are actively seeking alternative apparel sourcing bases to China. Indeed, no country, including China, can forever keep its comparative advantage in making labor-intensive garments when its economy becomes more industrialized and advanced.

However, it is also important to recognize that China is playing an increasingly important role as a textile supplier for apparel-exporting countries in Asia. For example, measured in value, 47 percent of Bangladesh’s textile imports came from China in 2015, up from only 39 percent in 2005. We can observe similar trends in Cambodia (up from 30 percent to 63 percent), Vietnam (up from 23 percent to 50 percent), Pakistan (up from 32 percent to 68 percent), Malaysia (up from 25 percent to 49 percent), Indonesia (up from 26 percent to 40 percent), Philippines (up from 19 percent to 40 percent) and Sri Lanka (up from 15 percent to 38 percent) over the same time frame. 

So maybe the right question to ask in the future is: how much value of “Made in China” actually contains in Asian countries’ apparel exports to the world?

China’s Textile and Apparel Factories Today

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What Do You Take Away from FASH455?

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

First of all, I do hope students can take away essential knowledge about textile and apparel (T&A) trade & sourcing from FASH455. So far in the course we’ve examined the phenomenon of globalization and its implications; we also discussed various trade theories and the general pattern of the evolution of T&A industry in a country’s industrialization process; we further explored three primary T&A supply chains in the world (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); last but not least, we looked at trade policies that are unique to the T&A sector (e.g.,: MFA and yarn-forward rules of origin) as well as the complicated economic, political and social factors behind the making of these trade policies. No matter your dream is to be a fashion designer, buyer, merchandiser, sourcing specialist or marketing analyst, understanding how trade and sourcing work will be highly relevant and beneficial to your future career given the global nature of today’s fashion industry.

Second, I hope FASH455 helps students shape a big picture vision of the T&A industry in the 21st-century world economy and provides students a fresh new perspective of looking at the world. Throughout the semester, we’ve examined many critical, timely and pressing global agendas that are highly relevant to the T&A industry, from apparel companies’ social responsibility practices, the debate on the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and Trump Administration’s trade policy agenda to the controversy of second-hand clothing trade. It is critical 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. This is also the message from many of our distinguished guest speakers this semester and I do hope you find these sessions enlightening and inspiring. 

Likewise, I hope FASH455 puts students into thinking the meaning of being a FASH major (as well as a college graduate) and how to contribute to the world we are living today positively. A popular misconception is that T&A is just about “sewing,” “fashion magazine,” “shopping” and “Project Runway.” In fact, as one of the largest and most economically influential sectors in the world today, T&A industry plays a critical and unique role in creating jobs, promoting economic development, enhancing human development and reducing poverty. As we mentioned in the class, 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. Indeed, T&A is such an impactful sector and we are as important as any other majors on the campus!

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

  • How to make the growth of global textile and apparel trade more inclusive?
  • What trade policy can promote and support textile and apparel manufacturing in the United States?
  • How to make sure that tragedies like the Rana Plaza building collapse will never happen again?
  • How to distribute the benefits & cost of globalization among different countries and groups of people more equally?
  • How to use trade policy as a tool to solve some tough global issues such as labor practices and environmental standard?
  • Is inequality a problem caused by global trade? If global trade is the problem, what is the alternative?

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

Apparel Sourcing in U.S. Trade Preference Program Countries

Speakers:

  • Tarek Kabil – Egyptian Ministry of Trade & Industry
  • Ashraf Rabiey – QIZ Minister of Egypt
  • Gabi Bar – QIZ Minister of Israel
  • Mark D’Sa – Special Project Director for Haiti
  • Moderator: Gail Strickler – former Assistant US Trade Representative for Textiles

Discussion questions:

  1. How are trade preference programs different from free trade agreements? 
  2. What are the financial incentives for US brands and retailers to source apparel in preference program countries? Why do U.S. apparel imports from members of AGOA, QIZs and HELP overall remain at a fairly low level despite the trade preference programs? How to improve the situation?
  3. Overall, why or why not should the US keep the trade preference programs or any critical reforms are needed?
  4. Any other interesting points you learned from the video or questions you may have?

Interview with Dr. Marsha Dickson, Co-founder of Better Buying

 Dr. Marsha Dickson, Irma Ayers Professor, Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies at the University of Delaware discusses her co-founded Better Buying project(http://www.betterbuying.org), a meaningful effort to improve the social responsibility practices in the global apparel industry. The video is produced by Mallory Metzner, reporter of channel 49 of the University of Delaware.

Debate on Sourcing and Manufacturing in the U.S. Apparel Industry–Discussion Questions from FASH455

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(Figure source: USITC 2016 Shifts in US Merchandise Trade)

The value and future of apparel “Made in the USA”

#1 What are the primary obstacles in bringing apparel manufacturing back to the United States? Why or why not the labor cost is a detrimental factor?

#2 Shall policymakers encourage “jobless recovery” in the U.S. apparel manufacturing sector—meaning using more machines to make apparel but with empty factory floors?

#3 If apparel manufacturing generates the lowest added value to the final product, why not just let it go? Isn’t most U.S. apparel brands and retailers which moved production overseas and invested in design, product development, branding and retailing are doing very well financially?

2017 US Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study and Apparel Sourcing

#4 Why do you think respondents say that social compliance and sustainability issues are more important today than five years ago? Is this because of the many issues that have occurred in the recent years? What has changed?

#5 If the majority of respondents answered that they have increased their concerns and decisions on ethical sourcing and sustainability, why are there still manufacturing incidents overseas related to American-based brands?  All the respondents even audit their suppliers.  Should there be a standardized code for the process and requirements for auditors especially with overseas suppliers to ensure the ethical supply chain brands promise?

#6 According to the study some US fashion companies source from places with duty-free programs but don’t claim the benefits. They claim it is because of strict, complicated rules of origin and heavy documentation requirements by NAFTA and CAFTA-DR. How can these rules and regulations be changed? What are the obstacles?

#7 Through this article we understand that larger companies generally have a more diversified sourcing base than smaller companies. How could these extended operations correlate to our previous discussions of supply chain management and how it affects humanistic aspects of production such as workers’ rights and various labor laws?

#8 The benchmarking study finds that hiring plans of businesses within the fashion industry are beginning to shift.  Companies plan to increase their talent to include more diverse educational backgrounds such as engineering and business analytics. What are the implications for conventional fashion educational programs like FASH? How should FASH keep up with the changing nature of the apparel industry and improve the competitiveness and employability of our students?

(Please feel free to join our online discussion. In your comment, please mention the question #.)

Trade Issues Facing the U.S. Apparel and Retail Industry

Panel:

  • Steve Lamar, Executive VP at the American and Apparel Footwear Association (AAFA)
  • Jon Gold, VP of Supply Chain and Customs Policy at the National Retail Federation (NRF)
  • Robert Antoshak (Host), Managing Director at Olah Inc.

Topic discussed

  • Renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
  • Trump’s trade policy agenda
  • What’s going on in the retail market?
  • Technology and the future of apparel supply chain
  • US labeling requirements and a return of Made-in-USA

Outlook of Sourcing from Vietnam (Updated: August 2017)

State of Vietnam’s Textile and Clothing Industry

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Vietnam has a substantial textile and clothing industry comprising around 4,000 enterprises, of which the majority were located in the country’s two principal population centers—Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Around 70% of these enterprises were involved in the manufacture of clothing. A further 17% were involved in the fabric sector, 6% in the yarn sector, 4% in the dyeing sector and 3% in the accessories sector.

It is estimated that around 70% of Vietnam’s textile and clothing production is dependent on the cut and trims operations, using imported textiles and other inputs predominantly from China. This problem is not limited to a single category as the country needs to import man-made fibers, yarns, fabrics, and accessories as well as raw cotton.

The dyeing and finishing segments of the supply chain remain fairly underdeveloped. In the past, the Vietnamese government has issued tightly controlled permits for these operations. Also, there has been a deficiency of investment in these segments because of unclear regulations, and this has resulted in a bottleneck in the supply chain.

Similarly, high added-value design and “downstream” activities rely on the input of foreign companies are also underdeveloped. Consequently, in carrying out these activities, the industry relies heavily on the help or participation of foreign companies.

State of Vietnam’s Textile and Apparel Export

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Vietnamese textile and clothing exports began to gain momentum in 2001 when trading relationships were established with Western countries (e.g., the US-Vietnam Textile Agreement). The industry’s exports received a further boost after Vietnam joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) at the start of 2007, and the quotas which had been restricting imports of Vietnamese goods in the US market were eliminated.

In 2016, Vietnam’s textile and clothing exports totaled $28 billion (84% were clothing), which represented 16.0% of Vietnam’s total merchandise exports. Globally, Vietnam was the world’s third largest apparel exporter in 2015, after China and Bangladesh (WTO, 2016).

The Vietnam Textile & Apparel Association (VITAS) expects Vietnam’s textile and clothing exports to enjoy an average 15% annual growth in the next four years and exceed $50 billion USD by 2020.

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Vietnam’s textile and clothing exports went to around 180 countries. The United States is Vietnam’s top export market (around 40%), followed by the EU (around 12.5%), Japan (10.3%) and South Korea (8.1%).

Outlook of Sourcing from Vietnam by US Fashion Companies

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According to the 2017 US Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study, Vietnam is the 2nd most used sourcing destination by respondents. Particularly, the most commonly adopted sourcing model is shifting from “China Plus Many” to “China Plus Vietnam Plus Many”:

  • China typically accounts for 30-50 percent of respondents’ total sourcing value or volume. 
  • Vietnam typically accounts for 11-30 percent of companies’ total sourcing value or volume. 
  • For the “many” part, each additional country (such as US, NAFTA members and CAFTA members, EU countries and members of AGOA) typically accounts for less than 10 percent of respondents’ total sourcing value or volume.

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Respondents also see Vietnam overall a balanced sourcing destination, regarding “speed to market”, “sourcing cost” and “compliance risk”.

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Additionally, U.S. fashion companies intend to source more from Vietnam through 2019, but imports may grow at a relatively slow pace, possibly due to the United States’ withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the increasing labor costs in the country.

References:Textile Outlook International (2017); WTO (2017); UN Comtrade (2017)