WASHINGTON — Facing staggering increases in raw materials, labor and transportation costs, a coalition of U.S. and international apparel and textile trade associations, brands and retailers is collaborating on an initiative with the federal government to promote and attract new business to the Western Hemisphere.

This story first appeared in the April 26, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Inflationary pressures throughout the supply chain are reconfiguring the way companies source apparel and footwear globally and prodding many to take a fresh look at a region that offers speed-to-market and fast-fashion deliveries. It’s a scenario the U.S. textile industry hopes will bring more business and investment to Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico — its biggest export markets, as well as four Andean countries, and one that vendors and merchants see as having the potential to offset rising price pressures.

“It’s timely because there are more concerns about rising costs in China and availability in Asia, and our members are getting increased interest in the region,” said Cass Johnson president of the National Council of Textile Organizations. “But we also realize that a lot people are not familiar with the region. This is a group effort by these importing and domestic companies and regional trade groups to focus attention on what the region can provide.”

The grand stage for the launch of the collaboration is being billed as the “Sourcing in the Americas Summit” at the MAGIC show in Las Vegas, Aug. 21 to 24.

“It is the first time those of us in the industry have seen this level of commitment from the administration and business,” said Julia Hughes, president of the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel. “We’re sharing ideas and talking about success stories in the region and throughout the supply chain. Our goal here is to take a fresh look.”

Suppliers and importers, as well as government trade officials, including Francisco Sanchez, undersecretary for international trade at the Commerce Department, will participate in an invitation-only summit, seminars and a sourcing forum. Other trade groups endorsing the event include the American Apparel & Footwear Association; National Retail Federation; Retail Industry Leaders Association; American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, CANAINTEX, the main Mexican textile trade association, and CECATEC-RD, the Central American/Dominican Republic apparel and textile council.

The sourcing event at MAGIC also coincides with President Obama’s National Export Initiative, which the Commerce Department has been promoting aggressively. Obama has said in two State of the Union speeches that he has a goal of doubling exports in the next five years, which would mean exports would need to grow to $3.14 trillion by 2015 from $1.57 trillion in 2009, when it was launched.

One area of significant growth has been apparel and textile exports, which increased 18 percent to $3.8 billion in 2010 from 2009. Of that total, apparel exports were up 9 percent and fabric and yarn exports were up 21 percent in 2010.

“For a long time, the domestic industry has tried to get various sourcing agents to look at the Western Hemisphere and not the Eastern Hemisphere,” said Kim Glas, deputy assistant secretary for textiles and apparel for the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration, who is helping to spearhead the collaboration. “This has become a wonderful collaboration to feature the supply chain in the Western Hemisphere and highlight it for sourcing agents to consider it a very viable option. It couldn’t have come at a better time.”

Another key component of the sourcing show at MAGIC will be the launch of a database linking supplier with buyers. It will be managed and funded by the Inter-American Development Bank.

“Not only will it bring buyers and sellers together, it will bring sellers and sellers together,” said Gail Strickler, assistant U.S. Trade Representative for textiles, who is working closely with Glas to lead the initiative for the government. “The database will be launched in two phases — one is for apparel production and the other is for both buyers and producers who are sourcing inputs themselves that they need to meet specifications.”

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