WASHINGTON — Nine of the top 10 apparel suppliers to the U.S. posted declines in imports in September, the Commerce Department’s monthly trade report showed Friday.
Overall textile and apparel imports to the U.S. from the world fell 5.9 percent to 5.48 billion square meter equivalents in September compared with a year earlier. Apparel imports fell 5.8 percent to 2.5 billion SME and textile imports slid 5.9 percent to 2.95 billion SME.
China, the top supplier of apparel to the U.S., posted the largest decline in September, with a 9.3 percent drop in imports to 1.97 billion SME.
“China is losing share. That has been predicted for a while,” said Julia K. Hughes, president at the U.S. Fashion Industry Association. “There are issues related to rising costs and doing business in China, as well as the fact that if companies are limiting their inventories, that likely hits the largest supplier harder than it hits anybody else.”
Hughes said the import data showing most of the top 10 suppliers down is a reflection of companies trying to keep their inventories low to avoid being caught with too much merchandise after the holidays.
Nate Herman, senior vice president of supply chain at the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said the disruptions caused by the bankruptcy of South Korean shipping giant Hanjin Shipping Co. at the end of August also likely impacted the imports from Asian suppliers.
Brands and retailers were hit hard by the crisis, which stranded millions of dollars’ worth of merchandise on ships and at ports in September until the parent company raised money to help ease the crisis and ports started clearing Hanjin containers and ships.
“I think people are still seeing the effects of Hanjin and I also think companies are worried about holding too much inventory,” Herman said.
Cambodia, the seventh-largest apparel supplier to the U.S., saw imports drop again by 2.3 percent. For the year-to-date, imports from Cambodia were down 14.4 percent.
“I don’t think anyone is leaving because wages are going up in Cambodia,” Hughes said. “But companies may be putting less of their business into Cambodia because of protests and the uncertainty about whether or not there is going to be a good working relationship between labor, companies and the government.”
Herman said the Hanjin crisis could also be a factor in Cambodia’s import decline, but noted he expects the country is turning the corner after a new wage deal was reached several weeks ago.
The one bright spot among the top 10 apparel suppliers for the month was India, which posted a 2 percent increase in apparel imports to 815 million SME.
“India being the only country out of the top 10 only for the month is telling,” Herman said. “People are definitely looking at it as a viable alternative to China. It is putting itself into the mix.”
The other top 10 suppliers posting declines were Vietnam, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Honduras, Mexico, El Salvador and Pakistan, according to the data.
The overall trade deficit narrowed to $36.4 billion in September from $40.5 billion in August.