2016 Retrospective: U.S. Clothing Production in China Is Slipping

Fewer clothes were imported from China this year than last year as manufacturers headed to lower-wage countries such as Vietnam, India and Bangladesh to do more of their production.

Still, China accounted for 35 percent of the apparel imported into the United States for the 12-month period ending Oct. 31. In past years, China has accounted for as much as 40 percent of all clothing brought into the country.

The U.S. Commerce Dept. reported that apparel goods coming from China were down nearly 7 percent in the one-year period to $28.35 billion.

As salaries are rising in Chinese factories, U.S. clothing companies are moving production to countries with lower wages. The most favored country for apparel making after China is now Vietnam, which has grown steadily over the years with more apparel factories coming online.

Apparel imports from Vietnam grew 3.7 percent in the one-year period ending Oct. 31, totaling $10.75 billion. That accounted for 13 percent of all apparel imported into the United States.

Vietnam is expected to continue to be a popular apparel-manufacturing center despite the fact that its goods won’t be subject to duty-free consideration now that the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade agreement that included Vietnam and the United States, is dead.

Still, Vietnam is popular among several U.S. clothing companies such as Columbia Sportswear.

Bangladesh is also growing in importance when it comes to apparel manufacturing. Big retailers such as H&M and Zara have consistently headed to this extremely low-wage country to have goods produced in big factories.

For the one-year period ending in October, Bangladesh sent $5.3 billion worth of clothing to the United States, making up about 6.5 percent of total apparel imports. That was about the same as the previous year.

India only exported $3.65 billion in apparel to the United States, but when factoring in fabric and other textiles the total jumped to $7.2 billion in goods.

Mexico, which for years was the second most popular source for apparel making for U.S. labels, has seen its share of production decline. For the 12 months ending Oct. 31, it sent $3.3 billion in apparel, a 7 percent drop over the previous year, making up 4 percent of all U.S. apparel imports.