The impact of trade wars and uncertainty about trade policies (especially the threat of additional tariffs on imports from China) weighs heavily on the apparel industry.
A new study from the United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA) Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study, sourcing executives are more cautious today and less optimistic about the five-year outlook for the U.S. fashion industry.
One year ago 84% of survey respondents were “optimistic” or “somewhat optimistic” about the outlook for the next five years. This year that number dropped to 64%. And one-quarter of the respondents said they are “neutral.”
Conducted in conjunction with Dr. Sheng Lu, Associate Professor in the University of Delaware Department of Fashion & Apparel Studies, the survey asked respondents about the business outlook, sourcing practices, utilization of Free Trade Agreements and preference programs, and views on trade policy.
Another key finding this year is that the biggest challenge today for the fashion industry is the impact of increasing production and sourcing costs, with 84% of respondents saying it is a challenge this year. Some of these cost increases are linked to the 301 action against China.
A majority of the respondents to the survey said that the 301 tariffs have increased sourcing costs. USFIA President Julia K. Hughes highlights in the Introduction that this is not a surprising finding. “But as we look at the data, we see some other insights that are very troubling. Not just costs in China are increasing, but the costs to source in the main alternatives to China – especially Vietnam, Bangladesh and India -- also are soaring. And the uncertainty seems to also affect logistics and transportation costs.” While sourcing executives are moving production out of China in response to the threat of new tariffs, the main beneficiaries are Asian suppliers. There is no evidence that reshoring for Made-in-USA production or near-shoring for Western Hemisphere production is significantly increasing.
The survey was conducted between April 2019 and May 2019. In terms of business size, 71% of respondents have more than 1,000 employees, including 50% with more than 5,000 employees. Another 29% of respondents represent medium-sized companies with 101-999 employees.
All respondents represent companies with headquarters or major management offices in the United States. This year, in addition to 100% selling products in the United States, over half of respondents also sell products in Canada, Western Europe, Mexico, and Asia. These patterns reflect the global nature of the fashion business today and the ever-closer connection of the U.S. fashion industry with markets and supply chain partners around the world.