By  on February 14, 1994

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. women's and girls' apparel industry output in 1993 posted mixed results against 1992, but retail sales showed some gains, according to an ILGWU report that questions whether the economy is in a full-fledged recovery.

"It is unacceptable to suggest that the economy is moving along well, while high levels of unemployment persist and the rate of job growth in this recovery lags considerably behind any prior recovery period," says the study, the union's latest in its quarterly reports on industry conditions.

Based on preliminary government figures, women's and girls' retail sales for the first 11 months of 1993 were up 4.4 percent -- in real terms that factor out inflation -- against the same period in 1992. In department stores, women's and girls' apparel sales posted a 7 percent increase, while apparel sales in women's specialty stores rose 2.4 percent.

This was the best gain since 1986, the report points out. However, it adds that last year's sales growth lacked the "verve" of other economic recoveries, citing a 6 percent jump in 1983 and in 1984.

"Compounding the problem is the degree to which rebates, price cuts and other promotional gimmicks had to be used to achieve 1993's results," the report states, noting "a lack of fashion excitement in the stores" contributed to lower revenues.

"At one time, sales were largely post-season events, with an occasional pre-season promotion. In recent years, promotions have become year-round events. Discount stores, once a distinct minority, have become the standard. For example, more than half of all department store sales are made by so-called discount department stores."

Meanwhile, domestic production of women's and girls' apparel for the first nine months of 1993 was divided between gains and losses in the 20 categories in which data is obtained; 10 were up and 10 were down.

Among the areas posting increases were suit-type jackets, up 21.2 percent; swimwear, up 10.6 percent; knit T-shirts and tank tops, up 9.5 percent and suits and pantsuits, up 8.1 percent.

Production declined in coveralls, down 20 percent; infants' underwear and nightwear, down 18.9 percent; women's nightwear, down 8.1 percent and shorts, down 11.4 percent.In the report, the ILGWU attacks the administration for what it views as a policy of economic growth based on "rising international trade" without a national policy of job creation.

"Although this policy will result in job dislocation -- and as some see it, substantial job loss -- there is still no long-term program to create replacement jobs. Further opening of the U.S. markets to imports without real alternative job opportunities can only have a negative effect on the economy," the report states.

The administration's "open market" approach probably will not affect the capital-intensive U.S. textile industry as much as the more labor-intensive apparel industry, the report concludes.

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