WASHINGTON — Cambodia and Bangladesh are beginning to feel the bite from the upheavals taking place in their apparel-manufacturing industries.
On Wednesday, U.S. Labor Department officials held a conference call with fashion industry trade groups about instability in Cambodia’s garment industry, according to industry sources. At the same time, the Commerce Department released its monthly trade report, showing that apparel imports from Cambodia and Bangladesh tumbled in April.
The heightened scrutiny follows months of protests and strikes by Cambodian garment workers and union leaders who have been calling for an increase in the country’s minimum wage to $160 a month from the current rate of $100 a month.
A nationwide strike in Cambodia turned deadly on Jan. 3, when Cambodian security forces opened fire on thousands of workers, leaving five dead and injuring more than 40 people.
Nate Herman, vice president of international trade at the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said Obama administration officials have been in conversations with the Cambodian government to address the issues.
“A lot of the focus has been on labor laws in Cambodia and the treatment of unions…and moving industrial relations forward to try to improve labor laws,” Herman said.
A series of meetings in Cambodia last week and a court’s decision to convict — then free — 23 people arrested after the demonstration left brands and retailers uncertain and without a path forward, he said.
“Most Western buyers were hoping one of the events last week would set the stage on how to move forward on the wage issue and other outstanding issues in Cambodia,” Herman said. “But it just created a lot more uncertainty than they already had and didn’t seem to resolve anything.”
Apparel imports from Cambodia to the U.S. fell 7.9 percent to 88 million square meter equivalents in April compared with April 2013, largely a result of the disruptions caused by factory shutdowns in January, industry officials said.
For the year-to-date through April, apparel imports from Cambodia were down 0.2 percent to 370 million SME.
Herman said he does not expect a “massive pullout” from companies, but noted that several firms have said they are going to pull back from placing new business in Cambodia in the short term. By the same token, Herman said another company, which he declined to name, plans to open up three new factories in the country.
Julia Hughes, president of the U.S. Fashion Industry Association, said, “As long as we are continuing to see the protests and the dispute between the government and unions and workers, it is not a surprise that imports are down.”
Hughes said she expects the disruption to continue at least in the short term.
While two major industry-backed initiatives aimed at improving fire and building safety in Bangladesh in the wake of fatalities there have helped lead to some stability in the country, apparel imports fell in April, compared with a year earlier. Apparel imports from Bangladesh to the U.S. fell 5.3 percent to 131 million SME. For the year-to-date through April, apparel imports from Bangladesh declined 3.5 percent.
“While there are still concerns about Bangladesh, we are getting very positive feedback for the long run and companies expect Bangladesh will deal with these problems,” Hughes said. “I don’t think we will see a crash in imports from Bangladesh, although we are seeing this dip.…What we are seeing now are orders that would have been placed potentially a year ago or nine months ago after Rana Plaza happened, so it is not a surprise to see a bit of a dip for some companies that were uncertain and diversified their sourcing beyond Bangladesh.”
Bangladesh garment industry trade groups, government officials and representatives from the industry initiatives are poised to visit Boston, New York and Washington next week. The delegation is planning to meet with administration officials and U.S. lawmakers here to discuss improving working conditions in the hopes of restoring trade benefits the U.S. rescinded last year, as well as attend a conference at Harvard University on globalization and sustainability in Bangladesh’s garment industry on June 14, according to industry officials.
Vietnam, the second-largest apparel supplier to the U.S., has also just been through a period of turmoil, in which anti-Chinese protesters set fire to factories in mid-May, causing some major apparel and footwear companies to temporarily halt production there.
While apparel imports from Vietnam in April rose 13 percent to 217 million SME, some expect to see a downturn in future imports, reflecting the instability there.
Herman said the widespread unrest reportedly left a dozen apparel and footwear factories burned down and another dozen damaged.
“I think you could see a little slowdown in imports from Vietnam, which have consistently seen double-digit growth,” Herman said. “There is at least a hesitation now [in placing new orders there].”
In yet another fashion show shuffle, @elleryland is moving its show in sync with the Paris couture calendar — though the brand is still keeping one foot on the city’s ready-to-wear schedule. Their runway show in January will coincide with the launch of a new strategy: designing two main collections each year instead of four, which will then be released in four drops. “As we all know, the system needs to change. We need to show sooner to give time back to artisans and designers to do what they do best — create,” said founder Kym Ellery. #wwdnews #wwdfashion (📷: @kukukuba)
@maxmara’s classic 101801 coat was the cornerstone of its pre-fall 2018 collection. The design team expanded the traditional double-breasted, kimono-sleeved style into a trapeze coat, lean belted styles and a peacoat and presented them in monochromatic looks – like the camel one pictured here. #wwdfashion #prefall18 (📷: George Chinsee)
The @cfda has shifted the dates of #NYFW, with Men’s showing on February 5 through February 7, and Women’s will directly follow, running from February 8 through 14. The preliminary schedule will be released on the CFDA’s web site in the next few days, but Mark Beckham, VP of marketing for the CFDA, revealed that @rafsimons will be back to close the men’s-specific part of the week with a show on February 7 #wwdfashion (📷: Kelly Taub)
@ferragamo is introducing a new space dedicated to the development of women’s and men’s leather good samples. The laboratory, which is created eco-friendly materials and designed to reduce the environmental impact of the manufacturing processes, will allow the company to expand its accessories offering through traditional artisanal approaches. #wwdfashion (📷: @aitorrosasphoto)
How does a “regular, degular, schmegular” girl from the Bronx, N.Y., become a Grammy-nominated artist with a certified platinum record in less than a year? Call it the @iamcardib come up. The 25-year-old has become a musical sensation, and the fashion world is taking note. “If I could describe her style I would say drama. She’s really into the dramatics,” says Cardi B’s stylist @kollincarter. See how Carter styles her bold and out there looks with the link in bio. #wwdfashion
“There is no formula. There is no guideline. I can watch Ted Talks all day, but there is no one who can advise me on exactly what it is I should be doing,” said @ronniefieg, CEO of @kith, in an interview with WWD’s @ariahughes at the brand’s new SoHo office in Manhattan. Head to WWD.com to see how Fieg went from hanging out in shoe stockrooms at 13 to building his own business. #wwdfashion (📷: @weston.wells)
@fearofgod and @maxfieldla have teamed up on a pop-up installation. The store, located in the gallery space across from Maxfield’s Melrose Ave location, is the site of the brand’s House of God pop-up in which Fear of God founder @jerrylorenzo has created a church-inspired installation. A dozen vintage church pews sit in front of an LED screen playing 90s gospel singers in an effort to re-create an environment akin to a Southern Baptist Church, Lorenzo explained. Read more about the pop-up on WWD.com #wwdfashion (📷: Jennifer Johnson)
Known for his sleek, sophisticated American glamour, Norman Norell is the subject of an upcoming exhibition at @fitnyc. “Norell: Dean of American Fashion,” which runs from February 9 through April 14, will feature approximately 100 ensembles and accessories. His best work is exemplified by the designer’s glittering “mermaid” gowns frosted with thousands of hand-sewn sequins – like the one pictured. (📷: William Helburn) #wwdfashion
For pre-fall 2018, @balmain didn’t let go of the glitz. A crystal embroidered baseball jacket priced at around $40,000 hangs in the “couture” section of the brand’s first men’s pre-collection. Sporting the words “Balmain Army” across the back, the item took around two months to make. “When it was completed, it was like Christmas, it was like, ‘It’s done, it’s exactly what I wanted,’” said Balmain’s creative director @olivier_rousteing during a tour of the collection in a Paris showroom on Monday. #wwdfashion