Honduras posted the largest decline in apparel shipments to the US in April, with shipment volume tumbling 93.68% year-on-year to 5m SME

Honduras posted the largest decline in apparel shipments to the US in April, with shipment volume tumbling 93.68% year-on-year to 5m SME

As the global garment industry continued to collapse under the weight of the Covid-19 pandemic throughout April, US apparel imports tumbled by more than a quarter on the previous month – with Central American suppliers Honduras and El Salvador recording the sharpest declines in shipments at more than 90% each. 

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 down 28.4% month-on-month in April to 1.21bn square metre equivalents (SME).

The figures for April also show a 40.53% drop in volume against the same month last year and a 45% drop in value terms year-on-year to US$3.41bn.

In terms of individual supplier countries, all but one of the top-ten recorded a year-on-year decrease in April. Honduras and El Salvador booked the largest volume declines of 93.68% and 93.05% to 5m SME and 4m SME, respectively. On a month-on-month basis, shipment volumes from Honduras fell 92.86%, while those from El Salvador were down by 92.73%.

The third-largest fall was recorded by Mexico where shipments fell 66.16% to 25m SME compared with April last year.

China, the largest supplier of apparel to the US, booked the fourth largest fall with shipment volumes down 48.44% to 340m SME. However, on a month-on-month basis, shipment volumes were up 24% from March's 274m SME, as factories in China continued to reopen after lockdowns imposed in February to try to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The second-largest supplier, Vietnam, saw shipments tumble 24.18% year-on-year to 245m SME. This compares to a 12.2% rise last month to 325m SME.

Of the remaining top-ten, Cambodia booked a 7.54% fall in shipment volumes to 64m SME, while Bangladesh, the third-largest supplier of clothing to the US, saw shipments slide 8.27% on last year to 145m SME. 

India posted a 41.91% decline to 66m SME, while Indonesia posted the final drop, with shipments down 23.08% on last year to 78m SME. 

Pakistan, meanwhile, was the only country to record a rise, with year-on-year growth up 2.36% to 47m SME.

Combined textile and apparel imports, meanwhile, fell 23.57% year-on-year to 4.01bn SME, and by 38% in value terms to $5.14bn. Textiles alone recorded a fall of 12.81% to 2.8bn SME, and in value terms were down 21% to $1.73bn.

Apparel volumes - 12-month overview

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

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, saw 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.

The most pronounced fall in apparel imports to the US during April came from Central American countries Honduras and El Salvador, where shipments from both countries tumbled by more than 93%. The third-largest fall was recorded by Mexico, whose shipments dropped by 66.16%.

Garment factories across Mexico and Central America, shuttered or reduced their output towards the end of March as regional governments responded to the coronavirus outbreak and US demand slumped as retailers faced widespread shutdowns to contain the global health emergency. Many manufacturers announced 90 to 120-day closures, with thousands of workers idled or operating on reduced hours. 

According to trade union officials last month, nearly 50,000 garment workers in El Salvador, 26,000 in Honduras, and 6,000 in Nicaragua were laid off without pay – prompting officials to step up calls for governments and fashion brands to provide support until the crisis recedes. 

El Salvador's quarantine, which is said to be among the strictest lockdown measures in the Americas and was due to end on 21 May, was extended last month to 6 June, according to Reuters.

Mexico, meanwhile, started to lift its lockdown on 1 June. This compares to efforts to begin lifting social isolation measures in Vietnam at the end of April. 

Observers expect Central America's apparel exports to likely hover at $4bn to $5bn this year as the pandemic slashes shipments by half.

However, the upside is that US clothing brands and suppliers could potentially shift parts of their production to the US, Central America and Mexico as they explore ways to make their supply chains faster and more responsive.

The first wave of US retailers began to tentatively outline their store reopening plans at the end of April.