By  on February 14, 2005

Vendors in the Casual Lifestyle area of WWDMAGIC often run budding businesses, but they share many of the same concerns as fashion giants such as Polo Ralph Lauren or Jones Apparel Group.

Among those concerns are the elimination of trade quotas earlier this year and the impact of China’s place of prominence in an increasingly global production network.

Vendors also are keeping a close eye on the effectiveness of new marketing and branding campaigns, which are necessary to reach untapped customers and expand their retail presence.

TRADING UP

The apparel sourcing landscape changed Jan. 1 when the 148 nations of the World Trade Organization set aside the quota system that regulated world trade in a number of product categories, including apparel and textiles, for decades.

Excepting the likelihood of temporary safeguard quotas, which could continue to regulate the market in the near term, the elimination of quotas has opened up an opportunity for China to dramatically increase its market share.

Already, the fashions from China account for 13.9 percent of the apparel imported into the U.S. for the year ended in November. That’s $8.88 billion worth of apparel, a 23.7 percent increase over the year before.

In the post-quota world, “China will look to bully everyone around,” said Martin Klein, executive vice president of sales at New York-based Kaktus Inc., which produces sportswear, activewear and dresses.

“It’s going to hurt a lot of the smaller manufacturers because they won’t be able to compete with the ones that are in China and India,” he added.

Most of Kaktus’ production is already in Asia. However, apparel firms that manufacture their wares in the U.S. have found that, in order to remain competitive, they will need to follow suit and move their production overseas.

“We were 100 percent domestic up until a couple of years ago,” said Jerry Stone, vice president of sales at Lawrence, Mass.-based sweater producer Alps Sportswear, which sells to specialty stores, boutiques and catalogues. “At this point, 70 percent of our line is import. We’ve been forced to go overseas for a number of reasons, not only price but also tailoring.”

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