Blog: Leonie BarrieUS apparel retailers buffeted by winter storms

Leonie Barrie | 10 February 2014

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.

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