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 #.)

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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)

2017 U.S. Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study Released

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The report can be downloaded from HERE

Key findings of the study:

While the majority of respondents remain confident about the five-year outlook for the U.S. fashion industry, the percentage of those who are “optimistic” or “somewhat optimistic” dropped to a record low since we began conducting this study in 2014. This change could be due to concerns about the “protectionist trade policy agenda in the United States” and “market competition in the United States from e-commerce,” the top two concerns this year.

  • The percentage of those who are “optimistic” or “somewhat optimistic” fell from 92.3 percent in 2016 to 71.0 percent in 2017, a record low since we began conducting this study in 2014. As many as 12.9 percent of respondents are “somewhat pessimistic” about the next five years, mostly large-scale retailers with more than 3,000 employees.
  • Despite the challenges, demand for human talent in the industry overall remains robust. This year, around 80 percent of respondents plan to hire more employees in the next five years, especially supply chain specialists, data scientists, sourcing specialists, and marketing analysts.
  • Cost is no longer one of the top concerns; respondents are less stressed about “increasing production or sourcing cost,” which slipped from #2 challenge in 2016 to #7 challenge in 2017. Only 34 percent rate the issue among their top five challenges this year, significantly lower than 50 percent in 2016 and 76 percent in 2015. Labor cost remains the top factor driving up sourcing cost in 2017.

Although U.S. fashion companies continue to seek alternatives to “Made in China,” China’s position as the top sourcing destination remains unshakable. Meanwhile, sourcing from Vietnam and Bangladesh may continue to grow over the next two years, but at a relatively slow pace.

  • 91 percent of respondents source from China; while 100 percent sourced from China in our past three studies, China is still the top-ranked sourcing destination this year, and the percentage of those expecting to decrease sourcing from the country fell from 60 percent in 2016 to 46 percent this year—and many more expect to maintain their current sourcing value or volume from the country in the next two years.
  • Likely reflecting the United States’ withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the expectation of increasing labor costs, only 36 percent of respondents expect to increase sourcing from Vietnam in the next two years, much lower than 53 percent who said the same in 2016.
  • Respondents are cautious about expanding sourcing from Bangladesh in the next two years, with only 32 percent expecting to somewhat increase sourcing While “Made in Bangladesh” enjoys a prominent price advantage over many other Asian suppliers, respondents view Bangladesh as the having the highest risk for compliance.

U.S. fashion companies continue to maintain truly global supply chains.

  • Respondents source from 51 countries or regions in 2017, close to the 56 in last year’s study.
  • 6 percent source from 10+ different countries or regions in 2017, up from 51.8 percent in last year’s survey. In general, larger companies have a more diversified sourcing base than smaller companies. Additionally, retailers maintain a more diversified sourcing base than brands, importers/wholesalers, and manufacturers.
  • Around 54 percent expect their sourcing base will become more diversified in the next two years, up from 44 percent in 2016; among these respondents, over 60 percent currently source from more than 10 different countries or regions.
  • The most common sourcing model is shifting from “China Plus Many” to “China Plus Vietnam Plus Many.” The typical sourcing portfolio today is 30-50 percent from China, 11-30 percent from Vietnam, and the rest from other countries.
  • While Asia as a whole remains the dominant sourcing region for U.S. fashion companies, the Western Hemisphere is growing in popularity. This year, we see a noticeable increase in sourcing from the United States (70 percent, up from 52 percent in 2016) and countries in North, South, and Central Americas, which offer a shorter lead time and relatively lower risk of compliance.

Today, ethical sourcing and sustainability are given more weight in U.S. fashion companies’ sourcing decisions. Respondents also see unmet compliance (factory, social and/or environmental) standards as the top supply chain risk.

  • 5 percent of respondents say ethical sourcing and sustainability have become more important in their company’s sourcing decisions in 2017 compared to five years ago.
  • 100 percent of respondents currently audit their suppliers, including how suppliers treat their workers, suppliers’ fire safety, and suppliers’ building safety. The majority (93 percent) use third-party certification programs to audit, with a mix of announced and unannounced audits.
  • As many as 90 percent of respondents map their supply chains, i.e., keep records of name, location, and function of suppliers. More than half track not only Tier 1 suppliers, suppliers they contract with directly, but also Tier 2 suppliers, i.e. supplier’s suppliers. It is less common for U.S. fashion companies to map Tier 3 and Tier 4 suppliers though, which could be because of the difficulty of getting access to related information with such a globalized and highly fragmented supply chain.

Free trade agreements (FTAs) and trade preference programs remain underutilized, and several FTAs, including CAFTA-DR, are utilized even less this year than in previous years.

  •  Of the 19 FTAs/preference programs we examined this year, only NAFTA is used by more than 50 percent of respondents for import purposes.
  • Even more concerning, some U.S. fashion companies source from countries/regions with FTAs/preference programs but, for whatever reason, do not claim the benefits. For example, as many as 38 percent and 6 percent of respondents, respectively, do not use CAFTA-DR and NAFTA when they source from these two regions.

Respondents unanimously oppose the U.S. border adjustment tax (BAT) proposal and call for the further removal of trade barriers, including restrictive rules of origin and high tariffs.

  • 100 percent of respondents oppose a border adjustment tax; 84 percent “strongly oppose” it.
  • Respondents support initiatives to eliminate trade barriers of all kinds, from high tariffs to overcomplicated documentation requirements, to the restrictive yarn-forward rules of origin in NAFTA and future free trade agreements.
  • Respondents say the “complex standards on labeling and testing”, “complex rules for the valuation of goods at customs” and “administrative and bureaucratic delays at the border” are the top non-tariff barriers they face when sourcing today.

The benchmarking studies from 2014 to 2016 can be downloaded from https://www.usfashionindustry.com/resources/industry-benchmarking-study 

VF Sourcing Strategy Case Study Updates (May 2017)

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(Slide above: VF Corporation European Headquarter; Photo Credits: Hannah Wilson)

VF Business Operation General

V.F. Corporation (VF) designs, manufactures, distribute and market branded lifestyle apparel, footwear and accessories. The company offers Jeanswear, outdoor and action sports, image wear, sportswear and contemporary brands. The company markets its products under brands namely, the North Face, Wrangler, Timberland, Vans, Lee and Nautica, among others. It sells its products to specialty stores, department stores, national chains and mass merchants, as well as through direct-to-consumer channel consisting of VF operated stores and internet sites.

VF reported revenue of $12 billion in 2016, up 1% over fiscal year 2015. Gross margin% of the company improved 20 basis points to 48.4% as benefits from pricing, lower product costs, and a mix-shift toward higher margin businesses. However, gross margin% was partially offset by changes in foreign currency and the impact of restructuring charges. VF’s adjusted operating income was down 6 percent to $1.7 billion. Adjusted operating margin decreased 90 basis points to 14.0%.

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VF Sourcing Strategy

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VF’s centralized global supply chain organization is responsible for producing, procuring and delivering products to its customers. On an annual basis, VF sources or produces approximately 523 million units spread across more than 30 brands. VF’s products are obtained from its 27 self-operated manufacturing facilities and approximately 1,600 contractor manufacturing facilities in over 50 countries. No single supplier represents more than 10% of VF’s total cost of goods sold. In 2016, 22% of VF’s units were manufactured in VF-owned facilities and 78% were obtained from independent contractors.

VF operates manufacturing facilities in the U.S., Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Europe. A significant percentage of denim bottoms and occupational apparel is manufactured in these plants, as well as a smaller percentage of footwear and other products.

For VF’s self-owned production facilities, VF purchases raw materials from numerous U.S. and international suppliers to meet their production needs. Raw materials include products made from cotton, leather, rubber, wool, synthetics and blends of cotton and synthetic yarn, as well as thread and trim (product identification, buttons, zippers, snaps, eyelets and laces). Products manufactured in VF facilities generally have a lower cost and shorter lead times than products procured from independent contractors.

Independent contractors generally own the raw materials and ship finished, ready-for-sale products to VF. These contractors are engaged through VF sourcing hubs in Hong Kong (with satellite offices across Asia) and Panama. These hubs are responsible for managing the manufacturing and procurement of product, supplier oversight, product quality assurance, sustainability within the supply chain, responsible sourcing and transportation and shipping functions. In addition, VF’s hubs leverage proprietary knowledge and technology to enable certain contractors to more effectively control costs and improve labor efficiency. Substantially all products in the Outdoor & Action Sports and Sportswear coalitions, as well as a portion of products for VF Jeanswear and Imagewear coalitions, are obtained through these sourcing hubs.

Products obtained from contractors in the Western Hemisphere generally have a higher cost than products obtained from contractors in Asia. However, contracting in the Western Hemisphere gives VF greater flexibility, shorter lead times and allows for lower inventory levels.

This combination of VF-owned and contracted production, along with different geographic regions and cost structures, provides a well-balanced, flexible approach to product sourcing. VF intends to continue to manage its supply chain from a global perspective and adjust as needed to changes in the global production environment (VF Annual Report, 2015, 2016).

“Third-Way” Sourcing Update

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VF has the goal of 40/40/20 for factory ownership. They want to own 40% of the factories they use, utilize the third-way approach in 40% of the factories, and use transactional sourcing for the other 20% (Glaser, 2014).

VF has expanded its Third-Way manufacturing program to sub-Sahara Africa, in addition to the third way factories VF works within Bangladesh, Cambodia, the Dominic Republic and Nicaragua. VF is looking into Africa because, while Africa may not be as efficient as Asia currently, there is potential to get it to 80% efficiency in the coming years. It could also be cheaper to source from Africa given the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) with the United States

Since its creation VF has split its “Third-Way” factories into three different categories: light, medium, and heavy. Light Third-Way is having engineers consult with the factories and visit each week. The medium Third-Way involves having an engineer on site and a long-term commitment to the supplier from VF. Lastly, the heavy Third-Way involves profit-share and open book costing as well as sharing of research and development (R&D) (Barrie, 2015). 

Trust continues to be a central theme in Third-Way sourcing, as does having the right people on board with the initiative. VF also believes that any positive changes made to the factories because of the Third-Way program will ultimately help the whole industry and drive positive change, even if the changes are used for other companies that source from the same vendor (Barrie, 2015).

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?

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.