The United States Is Manufacturing More Apparel Than in Recent Years

Apparel production in the United States saw an 8.5 percent jump in 2012 over 2011 as American shoppers focused more on buying domestically made clothing.

Despite the rise in apparel production, employment of U.S. apparel workers dipped 2.4 percent to 148,100 jobs. Rising production numbers with fewer employees only indicates that the average U.S. apparel company has become more efficient and productive—either with better machinery, more technology or harder-working employees.

Graphic: Estimate of Actual Number of Workers Employed in the Apparel Industry in the United States (Source: AAFA)

Graphic: Average U.S. Import Prices of Apparel by Country (Source: AAFA)

Graphic: U.S. Imports of Apparel by Country - by Volume (Source: AAFA)

That was the picture outlined in the annual “ApparelStats 2013” and “ShoeStats 2013” reports compiled by the American Apparel & Footwear Association, a trade group in Arlington, Va.

Even though domestic clothing production was on the upswing, 97.5 percent of all clothing sold in this country in 2012 was imported from overseas, with China being the No. 1 provider of apparel, a spot it has held since 2002.

Domestic gains were also made in the footwear industry. Shoe manufacturing in the United States was up 9 percent in 2012. Still, 98.6 percent of the footwear sold in U.S. stores is imported from other countries. China is the No. 1 supplier of shoes to the United States, accounting for eight out of 10 pairs bought by U.S. consumers.

“While re-shoring efforts are making a measurable impact in the apparel and footwear industry, the vast majority of products are still made outside our borders,” said Kevin Burke, AAFA’s president and chief executive. “The average duty rate paid on all imports hovers at just over 1 percent, yet the average rate for U.S. footwear imports was still more than 10 percent in 2012 and more than 13 percent for U.S. apparel imports.”

Other key facts from the two reports include:

• U.S. apparel consumption dropped in volume by 0.1 percent in 2012 from the previous year, but it still was above the decades-low hit in 2009. U.S. apparel consumption in 2012 decreased to 19.37 billion garments.

• While the number of garments bought declined, the value of those goods grew 4.8 percent to $282 billion. Higher clothing prices were due to rising costs for labor, transportation and materials. Also, shoppers were splurging a bit and buying more expensive items.

• With a U.S. population of 314 million, the average man, woman and child spent about $898 to buy 62 garments in 2012. In footwear, Americans on average spent $230 on seven pairs of shoes.

• Even though the United States has free-trade agreements with 20 countries, only 20.6 percent of apparel brought into this country qualified for free-trade status. Apparel executives said that complicated rules of origin, cumbersome documentation and uncertainty around expiring preference programs deterred them from using free-trade pacts that allow them to pay no duty on imported garments. However, a newly liberalized preference program with Haiti helped that country see a 5 percent gain in apparel exports to the United States.

• U.S. exports of apparel, textile products and fabric all saw gains in 2012. U.S. apparel exports inched up more than 7.6 percent, fueled by double-digit increases to Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom.

• Fabric exports grew 3 percent, helped by more exports to Mexico, El Salvador and Japan. Textile-mill exports rose more than 5 percent, but U.S. yarn exports plummeted 10 percent with double-digit declines in exports to Honduras.

• U.S. cotton exports skidded by more than 26 percent, but China is still the No. 1 export market for U.S. cotton. China now consumes more than half of all U.S. cotton.