US consumers havent let the pandemic stop them from shopping

US consumers haven't let the pandemic stop them from shopping

US apparel imports remained at high levels into the start of 2021, bucking the usual trend for a slowdown after the holiday season. Import volumes climbed more than 13% on the month before as retailers continued to import huge amounts of merchandise to meet ongoing consumer demand.

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 was up 13.4% month-on-month in January to 2,135 million square metres (MM2), climbing from 1,883 MM2 in December.

Year-over-year comparisons, however, point to declines in both shipment volume and value, with a 7.65% drop in volume against last January and an 18% drop in value to US$5.52bn. However, such comparisons are difficult because of the pandemic, with last January marking the post-holiday season lull in imports. This, year, in contrast, retailers are importing merchandise faster than ever in a bid to capitalise on higher consumer spending and to try to work around ongoing congestion at US ports.

In terms of individual supplier countries, just one of the top-ten recorded a year-on-year increase in apparel import volumes in January. This was Pakistan, which recorded a 17.1% jump in shipments to 69 MM2.

China – the largest supplier of apparel to the US – recorded the smallest decline in shipments at 3.83% year-on-year in January to 795 MM2, down slightly on the 827 MM2 recorded the year prior.

The second-largest US apparel supplier, Vietnam, booked a year-on-year decline of 11.32% to 348 MM2. Bangladesh, meanwhile, which ranks number three in the top-ten US apparel supplier league table, recorded a drop of 9.32% to 199 MM2.

Of the remaining countries, Indonesia reported the largest fall at 26.98% to 77 MM2, followed by Honduras which saw shipments decline by 18.83% year-on-year to 47 MM2. Cambodia booked an 11.24% tumble to 91 MM2, while India reported its own decrease in shipments to 95 MM2, down 9.73% on last year.

El Salvador and Mexico also saw declines at 5.87% to 40 MM2 and 4.83% to 54 MM2, respectively. 

Combined textile and apparel imports from all sources, meanwhile, climbed 9.31% year-on-year to 6,216 MM2, but dropped 11% in value terms to $7.96bn. Textiles from all sources jumped 20.92% in volume terms to 4,082 MM2 and were up 11.1% in value terms to $2.44bn.

Apparel volumes - 12-month overview

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

Facts behind the figures

Pakistan was the only county to record a year-on-year increase in apparel import volumes in January. The South Asian country also booked the highest growth in shipment volumes on a year-on-year basis in December, the second-highest in November, and the highest in October and September. Going further back, Pakistan was also one of just two countries to record year-on-year growth in August, alongside Vietnam.

On a month-on-month basis, since May last year the country has seen growth in US apparel import volumes every month except November, despite the global garment industry crumbling under the destructive weight of Covid-19. 

Even so, while the country continues to gain ground as a supplier of apparel to the US, its shipment volumes pale in comparison to the top three suppliers – China, Vietnam, and Bangladesh – which posted shipments of 795 MM2, 348 MM2, and 199 MM2 respectively in January. These compare to Pakistan's 69 MM2.

According to an analysis by just-style of full-year US import data for 2020, Pakistan is the second-cheapest supplier of apparel to the US, with its per-unit cost for clothing sitting at $2.22. This is still some 21% higher than the cheapest supplier China, which saw its per-unit cost for clothing fall 20% in 2020 to a ten-year low.

Last year just-style was told that the virus had depressed Pakistan's annual clothing export receipts by as much as US$1.5bn, with several garment industry associations pressing for government action to help the industry emerge from the pandemic.

Three industry associations representing Pakistan's textile and apparel industry are also among the founding members of a new initiative aimed at securing better purchasing practices for the sector. The 'Manufacturers Payment and Delivery Terms' initiative from the STAR Network, an inter-Asia Network of Producer Associations, aims to establish a common position on payment and delivery terms. This includes certain red lines and core principles essential for fair legitimate business.

A further four industry associations from Turkey, Indonesia and Morocco joined the initiative last month.