By and  on January 14, 2010

WASHINGTON — Apparel companies assessed the situation on the ground in Haiti on Wednesday after the devastating earthquake on Tuesday that killed thousands of people and crippled the Caribbean nation.

The American Apparel & Footwear Association and the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel said they had reached out to members doing business in Haiti and would continue to do so as the situation evolved.

“Right now, members are focusing on the safety of workers and providing relief,” said Kevin Burke, president and chief executive officer of the AAFA. “As we learn more information we will be able to better assess the possibility of business disruptions and will work with members to prevent them.”

The AAFA Apparel Foundation, the group’s charitable arm, began coordinating with disaster relief organizations on Wednesday to offer assistance. Allan Ellinger chairman of the Fashion Delivers Foundation, has put out a call for donated women’s and men’s clothing, as well as sheets, throws and blankets.

Communications and infrastructure collapses in Haiti have complicated efforts to assess the impact of the disaster.

Gildan Activewear Inc. said it would move some of its manufacturing operations to Central America after the earthquake in Haiti damaged one of its subcontractor’s factories. The Montreal-based company, which manufactures T-shirts, socks and underwear, said one of three factories that sews fabric for Gildan suffered substantial damage during Tuesday’s quake.

Gildan said it would shift production of the shirts destined for the U.S. screen-print market to the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua. The company said its U.S. retail customers will not be affected.

Haiti is the 17th largest supplier of apparel products to the U.S. by volume. According to the most recent data from the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel, imports to the U.S. from Haiti increased 6.8 percent to 217.1 million square meter equivalents for the period between January and November 2009 compared with a year earlier.

Haiti has substantial trade preferences in the U.S. through the Haitian Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act, or HOPE, which was passed by Congress in 2006. Provisions were added to the agreement two years later to simplify trade preference programs and encourage more development. Haiti’s benefits include duty-free status, lower labor costs and reduced shipping times.

In response to the earthquake, U.S. officials said they were sending humanitarian aid. President Obama said efforts were focused on accounting for U.S. citizens and embassy personnel, mobilizing resources to help in rescue efforts and working to take unified steps with other countries to further aid the impoverished country.

Calls for donations came from nongovernmental organizations and government agencies alike. Haitian musician Wyclef Jean posted a call for aid on Twitter.

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