The apparel and textile business blog from Leonie Barrie
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Have your say on the year ahead...
05 Mar 2014 12:15
It's one thing for us here at just-style to tell you about what's happening in the global apparel industry - but there's another, equally important source of information about key issues facing the sector. And that's you, our readers.
We're currently seeking feedback and comment for the second just-style Confidence Survey, and are keen to hear how you gauge the industry mood for 2014.
What do you feel are the big opportunities and challenges facing you, your company and the apparel industry in the year ahead?
If you have a few minutes to spare, we'd love to invite you to take part in the survey. And if you do take the time to participate, we'll send you the full 2014 Confidence Survey report free of charge.
Click on this link to share your views.
The last few years have seen significant changes
03 Mar 2014 17:57
The last few years have brought significant changes to the apparel sourcing landscape in Asia. The era of Chinese low-cost apparel manufacturing is a trend from the past, and several countries have stepped up to claim their part of the manufacturing pie. Apparel industry analysts say that although China's dominance continues, a clear segmentation is now taking place in Asia.
In Africa, British retailer Tesco is making efforts to raise working conditions and ethical standards in Ethiopia's textile industry before it begins sourcing garments there. The country is also hoping to become a hub for Chinese textile investment.
But a survey has found garment workers in Bangladesh not only lack basic knowledge on fire and building safety but also feel drills and training take too much time and increase pressure on them to reach production targets. The research by the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety came as it revealed Jeff Krilla is to step down as president and CEO as the group shifts its focus to Dhaka.
Denim giant Levi Strauss has developed a technology that uses 100% recycled water in the finishing process - and has so far produced 100,000 pairs of women's jeans using the new system, which it also plans to roll out at its supplier factories worldwide.
Meanwhile, ailing US department store retailer JC Penney has set out its strategy for the final phase of its turnaround, which will include the discontinuation of some underperforming brands. The plans were revealed as the company posted its first quarterly profit since July 2011.
The names to watch in the future include Belle, Tata, Metersbonwe and Anta, new research suggests. They're among the top ten Chinese apparel brands, which are together worth US$3.87bn, according to a new report.
Growing momentum on wages and safety
25 Feb 2014 16:17
As safety inspections on more than 1,500 Bangladeshi garment factories supplying a group of mainly European retailers got underway last week, just-style spoke with Brad Loewen, the top safety official overseeing the effort.
Initial inspections have shown poor building construction and inadequate fire safety are still putting workers at risk - but the country's apparel exports continue to soar, climbing nearly 18% in the first seven months of the current fiscal year.
Cambodian labour unions are calling for a nationwide strike in mid-March, as disputes over garment industry wages and government crackdowns on protesters continue.
The calls come as global unions and brands - including H&M and Puma - met with the Cambodian government to discuss ongoing concerns about the country's garment industry following police violence earlier this year that left four workers dead.
But the secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) has told just-style exports are set to continue to grow, despite the industrial unrest currently threatening production.
Meanwhile, hazardous chemicals have been found in children's clothing and footwear produced by luxury fashion brands including Versace, Louis Vuitton and Dolce & Gabbana, according to a new investigation.
It certainly seems that pressure for higher wages and better working conditions is becoming unstoppable. But will new initiatives aimed at making it easier for factories to compete while undergoing these changes actually make a difference?
Another trend is an acceleration of investment in the US spinning and weaving sector. While this appears to be driven by a number of factors including falling US energy costs, local subsidies and "yarn forward" rules of origin, just-style asks if the tide really is starting to turn?
Organic cotton production in the US is on the rise, but its future growth hinges on three key building blocks, a new survey suggests, including seed improvement, the GOTS label, and popularity of 'Made in the USA'.
But what's in it for brands and retailers looking to "reshore" or "nearshore" some of their sourcing to the western hemisphere? A new position statement from the Americas Apparel Producers' Network (AAPN) contends it can be "easier, faster, safer and better."
Despite delivering a disappointing fourth-quarter and full-year performance, German sporting goods firm Puma believes it has laid down the foundations to return the company to its sportswear focus, with a new brand campaign dubbed 'Forever Faster' designed to put it back on track.
Bangladesh safety progress painfully slow
17 Feb 2014 15:47
Close to a year after the Rana Plaza disaster, progress on improving worker safety and labour rights in Bangladesh has been painfully slow - but who is responsible for the delays?
The US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations last week heard that progress has been insufficient to justify a reinstatement of the Generalised System of Preference (GSP) benefits. And the testimonies show that much more needs to be done to comply with an action plan laid out by the US last year.
In a separate interview with just-style, Jeff Krilla, president and CEO of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, talks about the group's work so far to improve safety for the country's garment workers.
For all the talk about the impact of safety issues on Bangladesh's garment exports, official figures show the state of play when it came to US apparel sourcing last year. And the picture they paint shows supply options continue to be dominated by China, Vietnam and yes, Bangladesh.
Turkey's clothing industry, meanwhile, is anticipating stronger export growth in 2014, despite growing concerns within the sector about increasing pressure on price from European retailers.
But with international expansion, improved customer service and multi-channel among the top three investment areas for UK retailers, there is going to be increased pressure on supply chains to deliver in all these areas.
More than 50 UK retailers, suppliers, charities and recyclers are supporting a new government-backed sustainability drive to cut the environmental impact of clothing throughout its life cycle. Tesco, Marks & Spencer and Next are among the signatories, who between them represent 40% of the UK clothing market.
In good company
14 Feb 2014 11:26
What do Nike and Levi Strauss have in common with the likes of Google, Netflix, General Electrics and other technology and science heavyweights? Well, they've all made it onto the list of the World's 50 Most Innovative Companies by Fast Company magazine in its "annual guide to the businesses that matter most."
Nike, ranked number 7, is hailed "for setting a sustainable example" with products like its 'Making' app, which helps companies measure the environmental impact of using different materials; and its Launch programme, created with NASA and the State Department to accelerate companies developing innovative materials.
Levi Strauss & Co, meanwhile, comes 30th on the list and is singled out for its "reducing, reusing, and recycling" efforts. Its Waste<Less blue jeans are each made with a minimum of 20% post-consumer recycled content, and its Water<Less products use significantly less water to produce. In the autumn, Levi's Dockers brand debuted Wellthread, designed to recycle old material into new clothing and make sustainable apparel cheaper to produce.
But that's not all.
The publication has also rated what it considers to be the companies moving the fashion industry forward in another list covering the World's Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Style.
Leaders here are led by the Council Of Fashion Designers Of America (CFDA) for giving the fashion industry a conscience with initiatives to help young designers; fashion publication Refinery29; and Editd, the London-based software company that uses big data to analyse the whims of fashion trends.
Also making the list are Farfetch, the retail portal that brings together high-end boutiques from around the globe; and fast-fashion retailer H&M for branching out with new lines and initiatives including upcycled denim.
And it's good news for Gap, which is (finally) getting back in the fashion game with its hiring of Rebekka Bay, the former creative director at Cos, who's influence is starting to show through in products hitting the stores this spring.
Other firms to watch are online wholesale marketplace Joor, and maternity clothing brand Hatch Collection, which "disrupts the dowdy maternity fashion space" with designs women will want to wear.
US apparel retailers buffeted by winter storms
10 Feb 2014 10:23
Winter storms played havoc with US apparel retailers in January. While some consumers were forced to stay at home, others simply lost the will, with holiday shopping fatigue, static wages, and a lack of inspiring new ranges all hitting comparable store sales.
Of the apparel retailers reporting quarterly sales updates, just L Brands (formerly Limited Brands) and Gap Inc reported comparable store sales growth during the month.
But a separate and optimistic forecast suggests US retail sales are poised to increase 4.1% this year, helped by higher economic growth, as well as an improved labour market and housing sector.
Another forecast, this time for global cotton inventories at the end of the 2013/14 crop year, has been lifted again - despite an expected decline in production and a slight rise in consumption. This is partly due to cotton stockpiling by China, which has removed much of the excess raw material from the world market.
But as reported on just-style, plans by the Chinese government to replace the national cotton reserve programme with a system of subsidies have been welcomed by local cotton producers.
Indeed, Chinese textile and clothing industry exports are expected to grow by at least 8% year-on-year in 2014 thanks to the recovering US and EU markets.
There was good and bad news from Bangladesh during the week. On the positive front, the US-based group working to improve safety conditions for garment workers in the country says it has inspected nearly one-third of the 700 factories used by its members - and is on track to have the process finished by July.
But a TV documentary claims to have evidence of ongoing worker and safety concerns at factories making clothes for UK retailers N Brown and Arcadia. An investigation alleged garment workers, including young girls, were verbally and physically abused in Dhaka.
And the University of Pennsylvania has implemented a policy requiring companies wishing to sell branded merchandise made in Bangladesh under a Penn State license to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.
While it may be too early to state with any degree of certainty that the Bangladesh bubble has burst, most sourcing professionals now accept that the bubble has developed sizeable leaks. The question: where to move the Bangladesh business?
Meanwhile, performance sportswear brand Adidas says it has almost completely eliminated fabric waste in the production of its Running and Adidas by Stella McCartney ranges by changing the way it makes patterns.
And Swedish fashion retailer Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) appears forthright in its ambitions to make 2014 an equally, if not more successful, year for the group - including a conscious move away from its 'disposable fast fashion' image.
Unrest presents a serious challenge
03 Feb 2014 12:46
Ongoing political unrest in Thailand has not yet impacted the country's garment industry - but the unstable environment presents a serious challenge moving forward, just-style has been told.
While large-scale manufacturers are fulfilling existing export orders without a notable drop-off, there is concern over declining orders moving forward as buyers from importing countries are staying away from Thailand.
And in Cambodia, hundreds of garment workers have been on strike at the Vattanac II Industrial Park demanding the reinstatement of two union officials. The unrest is the latest in a month of fierce demonstrations and an escalating crackdown on protesting workers - and forms a backdrop to the second United Nations Universal Periodical Review (UPR) of the country's human rights record.
Despite a raft of measures introduced last year to protect workers in Bangladesh after a series of factory deaths, human rights "tumbled backwards" and "fell far short of international standards," labour activists have said.
A second piece of research follows up on promises made in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza tragedy nine months ago. It points to slow progress in carrying out plans to compensate victims and conduct follow-up factory inspections.
Successful garment exporters are increasingly taking a more academic approach to sourcing product. Instead of moving to the latest cheap labour country, their strategy is to reduce overhead by increasing worker productivity, training, and capital investment in cutting edge machinery.
Meanwhile, fashion retailer Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) has not ruled out the possibility of expanding its sourcing capacity to Africa as it moves into new major markets in fiscal 2014. The plans were outlined as the retailer revealed an 11% rise in fourth-quarter earnings.
US-based performance apparel, footwear and accessories brand Under Armour has also reiterated its focus on international expansion and says its long-term aim is for global markets to account for more than half of sales.
Teen retail troubles continue
27 Jan 2014 16:09
The troubled teen retail space saw more upheaval last week with the surprise departure of the chief executive of American Eagle Outfitters after less than two years in the role. Robert Hanson's exit follows a run of poor results for the firm - but even so, the move has stunned and disappointed many industry observers.
Reports also surfaced that UK retail giant Tesco may have been considering a potential bid for struggling baby goods group Mothercare. The claims relate to events around six months ago, but have also taken industry watchers by surprise. Some believe any potential tie-up is more likely to see the supermarket chain strike a deal to sell Mothercare products in its stores.
China-based shirt manufacturer and yarn supplier Luthai Textile Co has its sights firmly set on growing its global business. After the company earlier this month revealed plans to open an office in New York, Luthai general manager Liu Zibin spoke with just-style about the rationale behind the move.
Pressure from environmental groups to reduce the vast volumes of water used in textile and garment dyeing has led to a number of developments in waterless dyeing technology.
With Nike and Adidas among the first to adopt this new process, we ask whether waterless dyeing is the solution the textile industry has been waiting for - and talk about some of the key issues with high-tech equipment supplier DyeCoo.
Indeed, there's no doubt that sustainability in textiles is high on the apparel industry's agenda, and has the potential to benefit a company's bottom line. But the issue is far from clear-cut. A new report from just-style rounds up the challenges and opportunities in sustainable textiles - and suggests that being informed is the first step in the journey.
When it comes to the latest retail technologies, engaging more deeply with customers, and offering a seamless capability no matter where or how they shop, is set to remain one of the biggest challenges in the year ahead according to experts at Retail's 'Big Show,' the National Retail Federation's 103nd Annual Convention & Expo.
Challenges and opportunities in 2014?
21 Jan 2014 09:49
just-style's annual briefing on apparel industry issues to watch in the year ahead has gathered feedback from leading executives on the challenges and opportunities likely to emerge in 2014. Their insight provides a fascinating overview of the state of the sector today.
Responsible sourcing and the need for greater visibility across the supply chain, minimising risks, and social unrest and violence in supplier countries were singled out. And while there is likely to be a growing interest in onshoring or reshoring, China is still seen leading the pack when it comes to apparel sourcing.
Separately, David Birnbaum offers his take on the key apparel industry issues to watch in 2014 - from the rise of the billion dollar transnational factory giants to the bursting of the Bangladesh bubble and the decline of the retail store.
For trends in US apparel imports, new data shows November shipments fell by nearly 20% on the month before as retailers wound down their purchases of key holiday season merchandise. There was also the first drop in imports from Bangladesh since factory safety issues came to the fore in April. And Vietnam has achieved the biggest gains of the year to date.
Yet separate figures suggest Bangladesh's ready-made garment exports are continuing to soar, jumping nearly 20% in the six months from July to December.
However, the industry says it is counting the cost of three months of political turmoil, labour unrest and factory safety issues.
In other news from the country, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh has finalised the fire, electrical, and building inspection standards against which all its member supplier factories will be assessed. Around 1,500 factories are due to be inspected by September 2014.
And for buyers seeking a new source of potentially low-cost apparel, Pakistan's accession to the European Union's GSP+ trade scheme offers new opportunities. A USAID programme is in place to help garment producers in the country to build business with brands and retailers in the EU - and allows buyers to eliminate some of the risks of forging ahead on their own.
And in retail news, struggling US department store chain JC Penney is to axe 2,000 jobs and close 33 underperforming stores, as part of ongoing efforts to turn around its business. While some analysts believe the store closures could prove positive in the long term, others think more may be necessary.
Retailers continue to be challenged over Christmas
13 Jan 2014 12:15
Results on the performance of apparel retailers over the key Christmas shopping season are continuing to trickle through, with figures released last week showing that December proved to be a challenging month for those in the US.
The most promotional retailing environment in five years, a shortened holiday season, sluggish consumer spending, and adverse weather conditions all took their toll on comparable store sales - forcing many firms to cut their profit forecasts.
Over in the UK, there were also fluctuating fortunes for some of the biggest names in British retailing: Tesco, Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury's.
M&S's general merchandise sales continued to fall in the third quarter, despite much-publicised efforts to turn around its women's wear business. Blaming unseasonal weather and high levels of discounting, the company said, however, that it is moving in the right direction.
Tesco, meanwhile, said its online clothing sales had soared over the Christmas period - but booked an overall decline in UK like-for-like sales. While Sainsbury's said it achieved "record" levels of market share for its general merchandise and clothing business over the period.
Global clothing brands are being urged by labour rights groups and trade unions to support a rise in the minimum wage for Cambodian garment workers - and to look at the long-term implications of their purchasing practices.
The groups have spoken out after a dispute over minimum wage increases led to the deaths of at least four people during a two-week long garment worker strike that came to an end last week.
US apparel groups and retailers are calling for swift passage of legislation to help 'fast-track' international trade deals. The so-called Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) is seen as critically important for the US to conclude on-going trade negotiations with Asia and Europe.
And as we start gazing ahead at apparel industry issues likely to come to the fore in 2014, Mike Flanagan looks at why it is so difficult to forecast long-term trends in garment making. The last two weeks of December, he says, threw up three huge issues that overturned most of the current wisdom about the industry.