Bangladeshs garment industry is losing business in womens wear

Bangladesh's garment industry is losing business in women's wear

Bangladesh's share of the US apparel market has been in decline since February this year. But a closer look at the figures shows that while it is holding up in basic men's wear, women's wear fashion is on a downward trajectory.

We are all aware that Bangladesh's garment industry is in trouble. While the totals do not look too bad, the trend lines look pretty poor. The US data appears to be somewhat conflicted.

The year-on-year data shows ever-increasing market share, with the rate of increase accelerating from 2012 to March 2014.

But the month-to-month market shares shows a somewhat more depressing picture. 

Everything looked fine until November 2013 when market share first stagnated then, as of February 2014, went into decline.

Bangladesh has always been a very special case. It has been the world's number one commodity commodity garment exporter. There are four great commodity products: Cotton T-shirts, cotton trousers, cotton woven shirts and underwear.

For the past 20 years these four products accounted for 41% of all US garment imports. In the case of Bangladesh, exports for these four products have been rising almost every year to reach over 67% in 2013. As of YTD March 2014 they accounted for 71% of all Bangladesh exports.

However, while Bangladesh's market share for the period January-March 2014 declined by -3.4%, market share for cotton T-shirts rose by 8.9%, underwear rose by 5%, with cotton trousers and cotton woven shirts showing only marginal declines of 1.2%.

If indeed these four products account for 71% of total Bangladesh garments, and declines have been at worst marginal - then where are the missing garments?

The answer lies in gender:

Woven Cotton Pants PCT of Total Exports
  YTD 03-13 YTD 03-14 PCT Change
Men/Boy 30.3% 30.8% +1.60%
Women/Girls 16.4% 14.2% -13.0%
Woven Cotton Shirts/Blouses PCT of Total Exports
  YTD 03-13 YTD 03-14 PCT Change
Men/Boy 11.9% 12.8% +7.1%
Women/Girls 2.0% 1.7% -13.0%
Cotton T-shirts PCT of Total Exports
  YTD 03-13 YTD 03-14 PCT Change
Men/Boy 4.4% 5.2% +18.4%
Women/Girls 3.1% 2.9% -4.5%
Woven MMF Pants PCT of Total Exports
  YTD 03-13 YTD 03-14 PCT Change
Men/Boy 4.1% 4.7% +15.0%
Women/Girls 1.5% 1.2% -21.9%
Woven MMF Shirts/Blouses PCT of Total Exports
  YTD 03-13 YTD 03-14 PCT Change
Men/Boys 1.4% 2.3% +10.1%
Women/Girls 0.6% 0.4% -25.6%
Brassieres PCT of Total Exports
  YTD 03-13 YTD 03-14 PCT Change
Cotton 0.8% 0.4% -42.1%
MMF 1.0% 0.5% -52.4%

The Bangladesh garment industry has always favoured men's wear, so the loss of women's wear business is not in itself cause for alarm. At the same time, we should not rush to provide explanations for this loss.

However, three points are clear:

  1. The loss of women's wear business is real. We cannot write it off as some statistical anomaly. The problem will not solve itself.
  2. There must be underlying reasons, which Bangladesh's industry leaders must make an effort to understand and if possible remedy. 
  3. Relying on men's wear is a very tenuous strategy.

This last point should be a matter of serious concern. Men's wear is very much a commodity. Women's wear is relatively more about fashion.

If customers plan to reduce their orders in Bangladesh, finding new suppliers for men's wear commodities will much easier than finding suppliers for women's wear fashion.

For more insight into the latest US apparel import data, click on the following link: Bangladesh lags as Vietnam leads US April apparel imports