US apparel imports continued to surge in March as retailers worked to meet increased consumer demand fuelled by federal stimulus checks and money saved by staying home for the best part of a year. Import data is also skewed by comparisons with last March, when the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic began to take hold. China recorded by far the largest year-on-year growth, with apparel shipments to the US almost tripling.
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 rose 20.7% month-on-month in March to 2,498 million square metres (MM2), up from 2,070 MM2 in February.
The figures for March are also up 48.1% compared with the same month last year, but such comparisons are difficult because of the pandemic. During March 2020, many Asian factories that should have reopened after February’s Lunar New Year holiday – especially those in China – were still closed, and US businesses were starting to lock down to avoid spreading the virus.
In terms of individual supplier countries, all of the top-ten recorded a year-on-year increase in apparel import volumes in March.
China – the largest supplier of apparel to the US – recorded the largest increase in shipments, which soared 174.4% year-on-year in March to 753 MM2, up from 274 MM2 the year prior.
The second-largest US apparel supplier, Vietnam, booked a year-on-year increase of 44.5% to 469 MM2. Bangladesh, meanwhile, which ranks number three in the top-ten US apparel supplier league table, recorded growth of 11.5% to 217 MM2.
Of the remaining countries, Cambodia recorded the second-largest rise in shipments to the US, increasing 49.4% to 137 MM2. While Pakistan recorded growth of 44.6% to 79 MM2.
The Latin American countries of El Salvador, Mexico and Honduras booked increases of 17.6%, 17.5% and 14.4% respectively, to 65 MM2, 74 MM2, and 80 MM2.
India, meanwhile, saw shipments grow 13.4% to 120 MM2. Indonesia booked the lowest growth at 5.1% to 104 MM2.
Combined textile and apparel imports from all sources, meanwhile, climbed 61.15% year-on-year to 6,746 MM2, and were up 31.8% in value terms to $9.07bn. Textiles from all sources jumped 70% in volume terms to 4,248 MM2 and were up 51.6% in value terms to $2.57bn.
Facts behind the figures
China was the first country to be hit by Covid-19, and factory closures commenced early last year as it attempted to curb the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. This caused a knock-on effect, with suppliers around the world – including those in India, Vietnam and Cambodia – having to close due to raw material shortages.
Makers in Central America also saw delays of up to a month in essential Chinese fabric supplies as a result of the outbreak.
So its no real surprise that apparel shipment volumes to the US this March were much higher than the same month last year.
China continues to remain the leading source for apparel supply. As well as one of the world’s most complete textile and apparel supply chains, it also has a skilled worker base and has been able to maintain low prices. According to data analysis by just-style, China’s per-unit cost for clothing fell 20% in 2020 to a ten-year low.
Vietnam, meanwhile, continues to attract buyers who are looking to diversify away from China. A new report by supply chain compliance solutions provider Qima shows alternative sourcing locations such as Vietnam, India and Turkey are experiencing sustained levels of growth. One-third of buyers globally, and 38% of US-based buyers surveyed, named Vietnam among the countries from where they plan to buy more in 2021.
For an in-depth look at how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted China, Vietnam and Bangladesh, click on the following link: Sourcing’s new order – Covid’s impact on world’s top three apparel exporters.