US apparel imports continue to rise in September - Just Style
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US apparel imports continue to rise in September

By Michelle Russell 05 Nov 2020

The volume of US apparel imports continued to climb in September on the month prior as business picked up for retailers following the pandemic lockdown. Year-on-year was a different picture, however, with shipments continuing to fall. Indonesia and China recorded the largest declines.

US apparel imports continue to rise in September

The volume of US apparel imports continued to climb in September on the month prior as business picked up for retailers following the pandemic lockdown. Year-on-year was a different picture, however, with shipments continuing to fall. Indonesia and China recorded the largest declines.

The latest figures from the Department of Commerce’s Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA) show the volume of US apparel imports from all sources were up 1.23% month-on-month in September to 2.46bn million square meters (MM2). This compares to 2.43bn MM2 the month before and comes amid a year-on-year decline in both volume and value of shipments.

The figures for September show a 4.65% drop in volume against the same month last year and a 15% drop in value to $6.64bn. In terms of individual supplier countries, six of the top-ten saw their exports to the US increase on a year-on-year basis, the largest of which coming from Pakistan at 16.6% to 59m MM2.

China, by far the largest supplier of textiles and apparel to the US, booked the second largest fall in shipment volumes at 10.9% to 1.04bn MM2. Volumes, however, were relatively flat on last month.

Apparel volumes - 12-month overview

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Source:The Department of Commerce's Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA)

The largest decline was from Indonesia, where volumes were down 22.7% to 72m MM2. Honduras saw shipments fall 12.7% to 78m MM2, and El Salvador by 4.5% to 59m MM2.

Increases, meanwhile, were recorded by Cambodia and Bangladesh, whose shipments were up 8.6% and 2.8%, to 137m MM2 and 161m MM2, respectively. Vietnam saw its shipments increase 4.8% to 362m MM2.

Growth was also recorded by Mexico and India, where volumes increased by 1.3% and 0.9% to 60m MM2 and 79m MM2, respectively.

Combined textile and apparel imports from all sources in September, meanwhile, were up 10.9% year-on-year to 6.94bn MM2, and in value terms dropped 9.7% to $9.09bn. Textiles alone recorded import growth of 21.8% to 4.48bn MM2, and in value terms were up 6.5% to $2.45bn.

All but two of the top-ten suppliers of textiles and apparel to the US saw shipment volumes improve on the year prior, with Turkey and India among the top – up 36% and 19% respectively. China’s were up 10.4%.


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 the value of total US apparel and textile imports dropped 24.5% to $64.79bn year-to-date, from $85.79bn in the same period a year ago.

Drilling down, apparel imports fell 27.7% to $47.03bn in the nine months from January to September, while textiles slipped 14.3% to $17.76bn.

Only Cambodia saw apparel shipment volumes grow at 3.8% to 824m MM2. El Salvador and Honduras booked the biggest falls at 42.6% to 327m MM2, and 35.9% to 480m MM2, respectively. China saw volumes fall 32% to 5.99bn MM2.

Facts behind the Figures

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused massive disruption to global supply chains. China, the world’s largest producer of apparel and footwear and raw material inputs, was hit by factory closures in the early part of the year, which inevitably had a knock-on effect at garment suppliers in other major sourcing countries. But as the virus then spread across the globe, the next and biggest hit came when US demand slumped as retailers closed shops and cancelled or postponed orders.

For decades, China has been the go-to destination for high-quality, low-cost manufacturing, and has established itself as a key source of supply for almost all major industries.

However, the annual ‘2020 Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study‘ published by the United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA) notes Covid-19 and the US-China trade war are pushing more US fashion companies to reduce their China exposure. While ‘China plus Vietnam plus Many’ remains the most popular sourcing model among respondents, around 29% indicate they are sourcing more from Vietnam than from China in 2020, up further from 25% in 2019.

As US fashion companies source less from China, they are moving orders mostly to China’s competitors in Asia. Vietnam and Bangladesh are expected to play a more significant role as primary apparel suppliers for the US market – figures that are borne out by the latest OTEXA numbers.

In September, the US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to take comprehensive action against the import of apparel and other goods from China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) – a move US apparel industry executives have warned could cause massive upheaval and supply chain disruption.

It is estimated that 80% of China’s cotton is produced in the Uyghur region, representing around 22% of the global market in 2018-19, much of which is made into yarn used in textile and apparel produced in the region, and other factories globally.

Indonesia, meanwhile, is Southeast Asia’s largest economy, with a growing GDP and growing exports. The country has instituted an aggressive programme to move its position in textile and apparel exports, which are projected to grow significantly through 2021. 

Imported cotton remained high in Indonesia (3.05m bales in 2019), mainly from the US, Brazil and India.

Last month, Indonesia’s parliament passed into law a controversial bill to reform the country’s labour market and regulations – prompting concern from apparel brands, labour rights groups and unions who have warned that many of the provisions in the proposed Omnibus Bill’s Labour Cluster “raise serious concerns regarding the continued protection of worker rights”.