WASHINGTON — Retailers and brands appear to be standing behind their commitment to stay in Bangladesh, as they move to improve fire and building safety standards in the wake of two apparel factory tragedies there.
Apparel imports to the U.S. from Bangladesh spiraled up 42.5 percent in October to 152 million square meter equivalents compared with a year earlier, according to U.S. data released Wednesday, an indication that companies are continuing to place apparel production in the country. It has been a year since the Tazreen Fashions fire claimed the lives of 112 workers last November and seven months since the Rana Plaza building collapse, which killed 1,132 people at the end of April. Since that time, the international fashion industry has launched two safety initiatives in Bangladesh to bring reform to fire and building safety standards in garment factories.
Combined U.S. apparel and textile imports from Bangladesh jumped 43.3 percent in October to 168 million SME, according to the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles and Apparel. For the year to date through October, apparel imports from Bangladesh rose 13.1 percent to 171 million SME, nearly matching the 13.3 percent increase in apparel imports from Vietnam, the U.S.’ number-two supplier.
“That is an incredible number,” said Julia Hughes, president of the U.S. Fashion Industry Association, referring to the increase in Bangladesh apparel shipments. “It comports with what we’ve been talking about, which is that even with the problems in Bangladesh, many companies have made commitments to stay there and expand their business with those factories that meet the compliance and safety standards. All of the focus on ethical sourcing and improved working conditions and improved safety translates into more business.”
Stephen Lamar, executive vice president at the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said he expects Bangladesh to be a “strong player for the foreseeable future in apparel.
“I think what you are seeing is both the [Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety and the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh], which encompass some of the largest producers and buyers in Bangladesh, have made a commitment to be in Bangladesh and improve their fire and building safety [standards],” Lamar said. “They are staying there to try to fix the problem and make sure apparel-producing facilities” are safe.
Overall, combined textile and apparel shipments from the world to the U.S. rose 8 percent to 5.1 billion SME in October compared with a year earlier. Apparel imports gained 4.8 percent to 2.3 billion SME, while textile imports increased 10.8 percent to 2.8 billion SME.
Bangladesh posted the largest combined increase in textile and apparel shipments, followed by Pakistan with a 31.2 percent gain to 232 million SME and India with a 30 percent hike to 367 million SME. In just apparel imports, India followed Bangladesh, with an 11.8 percent increase, while Indonesia had an 8 percent gain and Vietnam rose 7.7 percent. Cambodia posted the largest decline, with a 14 percent drop in apparel imports in October. China, the top supplier of apparel and textiles to the U.S., posted a 6.4 percent increase to 2.5 billion SME.
“There have been so many speeches and press reports about business shifting out of China because of high costs and certainly we see that for some companies, but overall China still remains one of the most reliable producers for apparel on the global scale including to the U.S., to the EU and to its own domestic market,” Hughes added.