U.S. Apparel Purchases on a Flat Course in 2012

U.S. consumers played it cautious last year when it came to clothing purchases, leading to a slight dip in apparel imports in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Even though the U.S. economy grew at 2.2 percent in 2012, the United States saw garment and textile imports shrink 0.81 percent to $100.5 billion for the 12 months ending Nov. 30. When measured by clothing units, apparel and textile imports dropped 0.45 percent to 53.8 billion-square-meter equivalents. Clothing imports is an accurate indicator of how apparel is selling at stores because 98 percent of all garments sold in the United States are imported from overseas factories, according to the American Apparel & Footwear Association.

Even though many sourcing managers complained that labor rates were rising in China, that country of 1.3 billion people was still the No. 1 provider of apparel and textiles to U.S. stores last year. When measured by clothing units, it accounted for 47 percent of garments and fabric sold in the United States.

China sent $40.4 billion in apparel and textiles goods to the United States for the 12-month period ending Nov. 30, compared with $40.5 billion during the same period in 2011. Vietnam, the No. 2 source of apparel to the United States when measured in dollars, had been on a rapid-growth plan when it came to exporting. But that tapered off in 2012. Vietnam’s exports to the United States inched up only 0.13 percent to 3.13 billion-square-meter equivalents. When measured in dollars, exports jumped 5.8 percent to $7.6 billion.

In terms of clothing units shipped, India is the second-largest exporter to the United States. India shipped 3.4 billion-square-meter equivalents in clothing and textiles, up 3.6 percent from the previous year and more than Vietnam’s unit total. But India was behind Vietnam in the dollar value of its exports. In the 12 months ending Nov. 30, India exported $5.9 billion in apparel and textiles, a 0.82 percent decrease over the previous year. Other major apparel and textile shippers to the United States in 2012 included Indonesia, Mexico, Bangladesh and Honduras.