Four of the top-ten apparel supplier countries to the US saw double-digit growth in June

Four of the top-ten apparel supplier countries to the US saw double-digit growth in June

Apparel imports into the US continued to rise in June, as retailers stocked up in anticipation of a busy spring and summer. While China remained top of the table, with growth accelerating from the month before, strong double-digit gains were booked by three of the top-ten supplier counties: Vietnam, Bangladesh and Indonesia.

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 increased 7.7% year-on-year in June, up from a 6.8% rise in May. Imports reached 2.33bn square metre equivalents (SME), up from 2.17bn SME in June last year.

In terms of individual supplier countries, the three leaders all saw growth. Shipments from China - the largest supplier of apparel to the US – were up 6.4% to 996m SME. Nearest rival Vietnam continued to build momentum, growing 18.1% to 269m SME, compared to the same month a year ago. And Bangladesh, ranked number three in the top-ten league table, saw apparel shipments jump 23.3% 162m SME.

Indonesia delivered impressive growth of 12.2% to reach 105m SME. Year-on-year import growth was also reported by other top-ten suppliers, including Cambodia (up 7.8% to 82m SME); India (up 4.9% to 84m SME); El Salvador (up 6.7% to 75m SME); and Pakistan (up 4.7% to 51m SME).

However, Honduras and Mexico suffered in June, reporting respective falls of 0.1% to 100m SME and 0.7% to 80m SME.

Facts behind the figures

While there are concerns that increasing wages are undermining the competitiveness of China’s garment production on the world stage, the country continues to lead the way when it comes to efficiency and infrastructure.

China remains a compelling source for apparel buyers as rising prices are largely being offset by productivity gains. With its 10,916 garment manufacturers (with annual sales above CNY20m) churning out 29.6bn pieces in 2014, up 1.6% year-on-year, no country can match China in terms of the size of its supply base, its range of skills, its quality levels, its product variety and the completeness of its supply chain.

And China is expected remain the apparel production powerhouse for the foreseeable future. According to a report published by McKinsey & Company earlier this year, this is due to the country's "dominance of the global apparel sourcing market, the mix change toward Chinese consumers, and the substantial size of its growing middle class".

Vietnam, meanwhile, has benefited as both producers and buyers diversify their supply chains. The country's apparel business is also being buoyed by the expected benefits of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade treaty with countries including Canada and the US.

After the latest round of TPP talks failed to clinch a deal earlier this month, the race is now on to secure an agreement before the US presidential elections halt progress.

And Bangladesh's clothing industry continues to build on its momentum as a low-cost sourcing destination despite factory safety issues. Since the collapse of the Rana Plaza building collapse in April 2013, two major remedial plans together with the government have worked to resolve issues over safety and worker rights, including the closure of some garment factories.

Year-to-date

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 total US apparel and textile imports rose 8.6% between January and June to 30.38bn SME from 27.98bn SME last year. Within this, textiles grew 10.8% to 17.81bn SME, while apparel shipments were up 5.7% to 12.57bn SME.

Movement within the top three apparel supplier countries during the six months shows China rose 5.4% to 4.73bn SME, Vietnam increased 15.9% to 1.53bn SME, and Bangladesh was up 11.7% to 933m SME.

Among the other winners were Honduras (up 3.9% to 527m SME), India (up 7.5% to 564m SME), and Mexico (up 2% to 472m SME).

But at the other end of the scale, declines were reported by Indonesia (down 1.8% to 656m SME), Cambodia (broadly flat at 508m SME), El Salvador (down 0.9% to 380m SME), and Pakistan (broadly flat at 294m SME).