Vietnam saw its apparel shipments to the US increase 23.4% in September

Vietnam saw its apparel shipments to the US increase 23.4% in September

US apparel imports surged in September as retailers continued to stock up on holiday merchandise amid fears of possible disruption to shipments due to the ongoing dockworkers dispute at major West Coast container ports. Four of the top-ten supplier countries - China, Vietnam, Indonesia and India - saw strong double-digit gains, but Bangladesh sank for the seventh month in a row.

While the top two suppliers, China and Vietnam, held their own - with Vietnam recording massive double-digit gains - shipments from Bangladesh continued to fall. Both Indonesia and Cambodia, which posted declines in August, bounced back in September.

According to the latest figures from the Department of Commerce's Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA), apparel imports from all sources were up 9.72% in September to 2.57bn square metre equivalents (SME). This compares with 2.34bn SME in the same month of last year. It also represents an increase of 2% on August's 2.52bn SME.

Drilling down to individual supplier countries, shipments from China grew 12.4% to 1.30bn SME on year, and were 7.4% higher than August.

Vietnam's upward performance accelerated even further in September - jumping 23.4% to 254m SME compared to a year ago, and 1.2% higher than August.

While the two largest apparel suppliers to the US continue on their upward trajectory, the picture remains worrying for Bangladesh, which sits at number three in the top-ten league table. Imports from the country, which has been hit by issues around worker and factory safety in the last year, fell 11% to 111m SME in September.

This is the seventh consecutive month of decline this year for Bangladesh, having started its fall in February - dropping 10.2% to 136m SME. 

Indonesia, meanwhile, rebounded from its 4.4% decline in August to post a 17.1% year-on-year gain in September, reaching 86m SME. Cambodia remained flat at 113bn SME, an improved performance from its 9.6% year-on-year drop in August.

When it comes to imports from the US's other largest suppliers, year-on-year gains were posted during September by Honduras (up 8.8% to 105m SME), India (up 10.9% to 67m SME) and Mexico (up 1.1% to 74m SME).

But the remaining two saw declines, with El Salvador dropping 4.7% to 67m SME and Pakistan falling 5.1% to 45m SME.

Facts behind the figures
Some of the reasons for these shifts have already been well documented on just-style, and include the fact that buyers are continuing to source from China where rising prices are largely being offset by productivity gains.

There is also the fact that no country can match China in terms of the size of its supply base, its range of skills, its quality levels, its product variety and the completeness of its supply chain.

Meanwhile, Vietnam continues to benefit as both producers and buyers diversify their supply chains. The country's apparel business is also being buoyed by the expected benefits of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade treaty with countries including Canada and the US.

That said, it is too early to tell whether anti-China protests earlier in the year, which forced many foreign-owned garment and footwear plants in Vietnam to temporarily halt production, will affect buyers' confidence in the country.

This has certainly been the case in Bangladesh, where some buyers are relocating orders elsewhere following last year's factory safety issues and subsequent strikes and disruption as a pay rise was negotiated for apparel workers.

Likewise, widespread strikes in Cambodia in January, and the resulting government crackdown that led to the deaths of four garment workers, are now being seen in changes to sourcing patterns.

Jeans giant Levi Strauss and US retailer Target have both cut back their orders from Cambodia, and other brands and retailers, including H&M, Gap, Puma and Inditex have warned the Cambodian government that due to the disruption to production and shipping caused by continued unrest, the country is at risk of losing its status as a strategic sourcing market.

Like Vietnam, India may also have benefited from orders diverted from China and Bangladesh according to some analysts, as well as the recovering American economy.

While monthly trade data is often volatile, with big swings from one month to the next, a broader view of the year so far shows total US apparel and textile imports rose 4.3% in the nine months from January to September, reaching 44.46bn SME, up from 42.62bn SME in the same period a year ago.

Within this, textiles grew 5.3% to 25.03bn SME, and apparel shipments were up 3.1% to 19.43bn SME on the prior year.

Movement within the top three apparel supplier counties during the seven-month period shows imports from China have risen 4% to 8.11bn SME, while Vietnam has booked a 13.1% increase to 2.07bn SME. However, the volume of imports from Bangladesh in the year so far has declined 4.6% to 1.26bn SME.

Other changes include a 2.1% drop in apparel imports from Indonesia to 964m SME, and a fall of 3.8% for Cambodia to 783m SME. Apparel shipments from India to the US, meanwhile, have so far this year grown 7.6% to 745 SME.