Why Apparel Sourcing in the Americas Is Important for the U.S. Market
Apparel factories and mills in the Western Hemisphere are still a significant supplier to U.S. retailers that are whittling down their lead times and looking for more just-in-time delivery.
“There is a staggering number of brands that never left this industry,” said Mike Todaro, managing director of the Americas Apparel Producers’ Network, an international trade association whose members manufacture in the Americas and promote maintaining and building up the industry. “The general feeling that we had was there has been so much investment in yarn, fiber and fabric, and finishing in this hemisphere like Honduras but also in the Carolinas.”
The AAPN, now in its 37th year, held its Los Angeles regional meeting on Feb. 8 at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in downtown Los Angeles. The event was attended by a number of Americas-based textile and apparel manufacturers as well as technology companies that support the apparel industry.
Members discussed product development and manufacturing in the Americas—a conversation that focused on banding together to support the industry in the region.
Despite China still being the main supplier of clothing to the United States, making up 42 percent of all U.S. apparel imports when calculated using square-meter equivalents (SME), conference organizers sought to shift attention to the 16 percent of Western Hemisphere countries that are included on this list.
Laura Guthrie, senior production manager at the menswear company Haggar Clothing, led a “Connecting the Dots” presentation during which she helped attendees understand the current share of imports to the United States from different countries around the globe.
“China is still on top at 42 percent of total U.S. apparel imports. Vietnam is No. 2, and they are actually the country that had the largest percentage of growth over the last year. Even though most—not all—of the Western Hemisphere did have negative growth over 2016–2017, it’s still a very major player in U.S. apparel imports.”
During the presentation, Guthrie also noted that Bangladesh, India and Indonesia comprise 16 percent of U.S. apparel imports.
The top 10 countries within the Western Hemisphere whose goods are imported into the United States are Honduras, Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Canada and Colombia.
The top five categories of goods imported to the United States from the Western Hemisphere are men’s and boys’ man-made fiber knit shirts, men’s and boys’ cotton knit shirts, cotton hosiery, men’s and boys’ man-made fiber non-knit shirts, and cotton underwear (which includes men’s and boys’ and women’s and girls’).
Technology’s new role in apparel manufacturing
The AAPN’s goal is to promote the work of members in these countries, which will keep business in the region.
In addition to discussing support between AAPN members, the discussion also shifted toward comprehensive education within the industry. It is now important to ensure that manufacturers consider retailer behavior, technological advancements within manufacturing and how certain events in different parts of the world can affect business.
Roni Miller Start, the department chair of Apparel Industry Management at FIDM, said the school’s mission is to provide the industry with the best possible candidates.
The school is researching new ideas to prepare students for the future by adding greater opportunities in technology to help graduates prepare for the future with a strong foundation in fashion-industry basics.
“We created a bachelor’s degree in apparel technical design,” Miller Start said. “So, once you have your degree in apparel industry or fashion design, you can do two years in apparel technical design and you’re ready for the industry at a full technical designer level.”
The school is also exploring methods to design a curriculum that includes wearable technology to prepare students for the next advancements in fashion. To maintain a presence in manufacturing, suppliers in the Americas must invest in education for their employees to understand new tools within the industry that will change the course of apparel.
By examining data, remaining aware of a nation’s position as a source of imports to the United States and knowing what quantities of products a certain country sends to the United States, domestic apparel-industry professionals will clearly see how the market works.
“Why is this important?” asked Tony Anzovino, who is the AAPN’s vice president and vice president of global sourcing at Haggar. “Because as a supply chain we’re all making decisions every day, every season, as to where we place products. If you look at these numbers and the growth in this hemisphere, it blows me away at times. The fact that little Honduras and little El Salvador can be such a major player in what is going on in U.S. retail today is amazing.”