WASHINGTON — The U.S. fashion industry is planning to source more from Asian strongholds Vietnam, India, Bangladesh and Indonesia, as well as a resurgent U.S. in the next two years, according to a new U.S. Fashion Industry Association survey.
The survey included 30 of the largest U.S. retailers, apparel brands, importers and wholesalers, encompassing fashion firms, department stores and lifestyle brands selling a range of products from apparel and accessories to footwear and home goods.
Forty-three percent ranked rising production and sourcing costs as their “greatest or second-greatest business challenge” this year, compared with 81 percent in last year’s survey. Overall cost pressures appeared to ease this year, with 62 percent expecting either a modest or slight cost increase, down from 78 percent last year.
Vietnam received the highest score for expected sourcing growth in the period, according to the survey prepared by Sheng Lu, assistant professor in the department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design at the University of Rhode Island, in collaboration with USFIA.
Some 96 percent of respondents said they plan to maintain, or slightly or strongly increase sourcing from Vietnam.
“Vietnam is the obvious success story for sourcing,” said Julia Hughes, president of USFIA. “It has been successful and is a growing sourcing destination today based on the opportunities that are available, but clearly it is on everyone’s minds that there is future potential for duty-free access.”
Vietnam, already the second-largest supplier of apparel to the U.S., is one of 11 countries involved with the U.S. in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact negotiations and U.S. companies are closely watching the negotiations, which have been slowed by political wrangling over trade legislation in the U.S. during the past week. Seventy-two percent of respondents said they expect to source more textiles and apparel from the TPP countries, while 48 percent expect to “strategically adjust or redesign their supply chain based on TPP, implying TPP could be a game changer and has the potential to shape new patterns of textile and apparel trade in the Asia-Pacific region in the long term,” the survey said.
U.S. sourcing has been on the rise the past few years and the study suggested it is continuing to gain momentum. The U.S. ranked fifth among the respondents’ sourcing destinations, with 53 percent sourcing from home. Nearly 39 percent of the respondents said they plan to increase sourcing by value or volume in the U.S. in the next two years, and 80 percent of the companies said they already source in the U.S.
Lu said in an interview that the data do not suggest the respondents are planning to open more manufacturing facilities in the U.S., but rather that they are planning to purchase more Made in America products. He said the majority of respondents engage in the retail business.
China is expected to remain the dominant supplier to the U.S. for years and the survey found that companies are not moving away from the country, although more respondents said they plan to slightly decrease sourcing there than those who said they would increase their sourcing there.
The survey found that 47 percent of the companies said they plan to decrease the value or volume of their sourcing from China in the next two years. As many as 43 percent said they expect no change or a slight increase from the country, and another 7 percent said they expect to significantly decrease sourcing from China.
Bangladesh, which has taken strides to implement safety and structural reforms in its garment industry in the wake of two factory tragedies there that claimed more than 1,240 people two years ago, is expected to continue to grow as a sourcing destination. But a smaller percentage of respondents, about 42 percent, said they would increase sourcing in Bangladesh in the time period, “a sharp decline” from 65 percent of the respondents in last year’s survey.
It also found mixed results for the utilization of U.S. free-trade agreements, under which companies that meet the rules of origin can receive duty-free benefits. The top free-trade agreements and preference programs among respondents were the Central American Free Trade Agreement, utilized by 70 percent of the respondents; the North American Free Trade Agreement, used by 67 percent; and the United States-Jordan Free Trade Agreement, utilized by 52 percent. The fourth-ranked program — the African Growth and Opportunity Act — is used by 37 percent of respondents, but all other trade agreements and programs have utilization rates of 30 percent or lower, the study found.
The survey, taken in March and April, was confidential and included USFIA members and nonmembers. About 80 percent of the respondents are retailers, while 57 percent are brands and 57 percent are engaged in the import and wholesale business, while 11 percent represent manufacturers and suppliers. About 90 percent of the respondents employ more than 100 employees.