NEW YORK — The message from officials was clear: The federal government has got the fashion industry’s back.
Key members of the Obama administration’s trade team told an industry conference here last week that they are making concerted efforts to promote U.S. apparel and textile exports, help create jobs and streamline the importing process.
Executives attending the Textile & Apparel Importer Trade & Transportation Conference at the Chelsea Piers also heard about the volatility of cargo shipping — oversupply of ships, roller-coaster freight rates, labor woes at major ports — the down side of existing free-trade agreements and the complexities of negotiating new pacts such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Francisco Sanchez, undersecretary of international trade at the Commerce Department, in a keynote speech and an interview on the sidelines of the conference, said the industry is a priority sector for him.
Appointed in 2010, Sanchez said he’s spent a lot of time learning about the industry — the conference hosted by the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel and the American Import Shippers Association marking his 12th such event.
“I’ve listened and I’ve learned, and I’m firmly committed to expanding sourcing opportunities for Made in USA products, increasing markets for U.S. exports and reducing barriers to trade,” he said. “Not only is there a renewed interest in manufacturing, but there is a renewed interest in the textile and apparel industry.”
Sanchez noted that under President Obama’s National Export Initiative, announced in 2010 with a goal of doubling U.S. exports by 2015, the sector is playing a key role. He said U.S. exports hit a high of $2.1 trillion in 2011, with $22.4 billion from textiles and apparel, a 35 percent rise from when Obama took office in 2009, and for 2012 are on track to surpass the previous year.
“As part of the NEI, when we think about trying to achieve the President’s goal of doubling exports, we view textiles and apparel as an important sector to help us get there — the awareness and attention is at the highest level in many years,” he said. “Specifically, one of the things we’ve done is encouraging supply chain growth in the Western Hemisphere. Textiles and apparel, along with cotton production, supports over 600,000 American jobs.”
Sanchez noted that 66 percent of exports were shipped to Western Hemisphere countries in 2011. Exports to Central American Free Trade Agreement countries increased 25 percent in 2011 from 2010. In the first 10 months of 2012, $2.8 billion in textiles and apparel shipped to the region.
He said there are three main actions the industry can take to help Made in America products and exports grow. “The first is to be engaged with us, and they’re doing that, but I would say keep it up,” he said. The second is to “continue to invest in research and development,” upgrading plants and equipment and product innovation. The third is for “the sourcing community to continue to look at the Western Hemisphere as they make their choices of where things are going to be sourced.”
Building on Commerce’s export.gov Web site, an enhanced “Made in USA” site will be launched in the next couple of months that will include a searchable registry of American producers to connect them to potential customers abroad.
As for TPP, Sanchez said the administration is committed to completing negotiations by the end of the year. The U.S. already ships $13.8 billion in textiles to TPP countries, while Vietnam exports $13.2 billion in apparel.
Addressing one of the consistent complaints of importers, that customs regulations and processes are overly burdensome, Al Gina, assistant commissioner of U.S. Customs & Border Protection, said help is on the way. One of the key aspects of this improvement will be the planned opening in April of the Apparel, Footwear and Textiles Center for Excellence and Expertise in San Francisco. The 11th industry-specific CEE to open since 2011, Gina said it will eliminate a regional and often repetitive customs approach for documentation and servicing the industry, which he said represents $131 billion in import value and $14 billion in duties collected annually.
With a goal this year of “trade transformation” at CBP, he said there is a “sense of urgency” for changing the way the agency addresses trade. Gina said, “We really need to focus on our enabling part of the equation between regulations — we don’t want to regulate anybody out of business — and CBP’s contribution to ensuring that the community at large is flourishing, that people want to come and conduct business in the U.S., that people want to establish manufacturing in the U.S.”
Meanwhile, it’s been choppy seas for the ocean freight operators that ship the imports and exports.
Gene Seroka, president for the Americas at American President Lines, said, “Container trade continues to move along sluggishly. [There’s been] five straight months of double-digit declination with respect to Asia-Europe trade. Transatlantic trade has also seen declines. Some bright spots have been Latin America and trade within Asia has been going up.”
Seroka said the shipping industry has been unprofitable for many major carriers, with new-build orders generally down, although new, larger vessels are being built.
“But there is a dilemma — 60 percent of imports are coming from China, but exports are moving to Southeast Asia, the Asian Subcontinent and the Middle East,” he said. “How to get those containers back to the point of origin has been a topic of consideration for some time.”
Seroka noted that the shipping industry and port operators are dealing with the issue of larger ships now able to come through the reengineered Panama Canal. He said APL has instituted a $500 million Efficiency Leadership Program to achieve goals such as reducing its carbon footprint and becoming more fuel efficient.
EXCLUSIVE: @tomford is opening its first-ever beauty store. The boutique, which opens November 20 in London’s Covent Gardens, was designed with the over the top glam Ford is known for. Read the full story on WWD.com, link in bio. #wwdbeauty #wwdnews (📷: Simon Wagner) #TomFordBeauty
New York-based DJ @harleyvnewton threw a party to celebrate the holiday collection of her dress and pajama line @hvn at the Ladurée Beverly Hills. It Girls @katebosworth, @rashidajones and more joined in on the fun, which included cocktails, croque monsieur sandwiches and a photo booth. #wwdfashion (📷: Owen Kolasinski/BFA.com)
For the holidays, @Burberry partnered with 20-year-old artist @blondeymccoy on a series of three outdoor murals in downtown Manhattan. The murals are McCoy’s interpretation of a Christmas eve party, the idea of charity and the spirit of family. His third mural, pictured here, is the most personal. The image depicts McCoy’s grandparents and father in London’s Trafalgar Square in the Seventies. “My work often features lots of sentimental objects.” #wwdeye
For spring 2018, designers applied bold colors and cartoonish motifs on everything from sneakers and belts to key chains. See all the top men’s accessories trends on WWD.com. #wwdtrends (📷: George Chinsee; Prop Styling by @rnasti; Market Editor: @luiscampuzano)
The @dior-sponsored @guggenheim international gala pre-party has a history of drawing cool-girl musical acts to serenade the crowd –– and last night was no exception. @haimtheband performed songs both new and old, and lured a star-studded audience with the likes of Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara, Mamoudou Athie and more. #wwdeye (📷: @lexieblacklock)
In a partnership between the @metopera and the @englishnationalopera, “Marnie” was born. The opera, with costumes sponsored by @mrporterlive, is an adaptation of the 1961 thriller by Winston Graham. Arianne Phillips, who created the costumes, is no rookie: She’s styled Madonna for her tours and created costumes for a myriad of films in the past. Read WWD’s interview with Phillips, where she talks about her inspiration for the opera’s costumes on WWD.com #wwdfashion
@barneysnyc took a different approach to their holiday windows this year. Instead of Christmas decor, Barneys tapped @thehaasbrothers to tell a story of positivity, gratitude and inclusivity via heartwarming silliness and humor. “It’s about kids and it’s about coming together and being family and loving each other,” said Simon Haas. #wwdfashion (📷: @joshuascottphoto)
Beauty influencer @kandeejohnson makes her foray into hair care with a collaboration with @ogx_beauty — making it the first time that OGX has teamed up for a product creation. The collab includes shampoos and conditioners in three scents. At 39 and a mom, Johnson is a different profile than the emerging social media stars, but is considered one of the pioneers of the digital beauty influencer world. Read WWD’s interview with her on wwd.com, including the strangest beauty product she’s ever tried #wwdbeauty