Overall, a total of 1,742 MM2 of apparel was imported into the US in November 2023, down 5.5% compared to November 2022. Imports were also down 19% in value.

Of the top 10 apparel suppliers to the US, seven saw a decline in shipment volumes according to the US Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA).

However, the two largest suppliers of apparel to the US, experienced a healthy increase.

China recorded shipment volume increase of 8.1% year-on-year to 596MM2 while Vietnam saw shipment volumes increase by 7.3% to 266MM2.

Cambodia was the only other of the 10 to see shipment volumes grow in November, by 6.6% to 64MM2.

It is interesting to note Bangladesh, the third largest clothing supplier to the US continues on its downward spiral, with shipment volumes falling 14% to 144MM2 as concerns continue to mount over instability in the country following protests over minimum wages in its apparel sector.

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In October 2023, shipment volumes from Bangladesh to the US sank to 30% to 182 MM2

In November 2023, it was revealed US-bound apparel exports in September fell 29.4% to 176bn MM2 over a nine-month period, and stood at 181MM2 for the month of September alone.

In August 2023, OTEXA data revealed Bangladesh had experienced a significant decline in its apparel exports to the US, with a far greater drop than either China or Vietnam.

This is in stark contrast to earlier in 2023, when Bangladesh was one of the only top ten apparel suppliers to the US to have recorded a rise in shipments in July 2023.

Bangladesh downward spiral continues

The University of Delaware’s associate professor of fashion and apparel studies Dr Sheng Lu says that Bangladesh’s share of US apparel imports is “dwindling,” as its market share has dropped sharply from 12% in January 2023 to around 8% in November.

“These results once again highlight the disproportionately negative impact of weakened US import demand on Bangladesh, as it primarily provides large-volume basic apparel items,” Lu explains.

Lu says with 37% decline in value and 14% decline in quantity in November, Bangladesh’s performance is “significantly worse than the world average”.

“The new instability in Bangladesh, triggered by its controversial new minimum wage negotiation, could further complicate US fashion companies’ decision to source from the country.

US apparel imports remain weak – numbers in brief

Lu says US imports have been negatively impacted by the macro economy as demand remains weak overall.

Indonesia booked the largest decline in shipment volumes to the US at negative 35% year-on-year to 51MM2.

While Honduras saw shipment volumes fall 34% to 53MM2.

Others that experienced a decline, were Pakistan whose shipment volumes fell 20% to 52MM2, Mexico whose apparel exports to the US were 18% lower at 45MM2 and Nicaragua whose shipments fell 15% to 43MM2.

India booked a 9% decline in apparel exports to the US at 69MM2

What the numbers tell us

Lu says the latest OTEXA figures could signal a number of trends in US apparel imports.

Firstly, apparel imports remain weak in the US overall. He explains: “ Specifically, US apparel imports in November 2023 were about 5% lower in quantity and 19% lower in value than a year ago.

However, Lu adds that when adjusting for seasonal factors, US apparel imports in November 2023 have now consistently declined for four consecutive months – down about 1.5% from October. Lu says US apparel imports hit “a record new low in the most recent six months”.

Lu adds: “As December to March is the traditionally light season for US apparel imports, the trade volume may stagnate or fall further for another few months.”

Vietnam is the new “flavour of the month”

The second trend is that “Vietnam is coming back”. “Despite its relatively weak performance earlier in the year, US apparel imports from Vietnam in November 2023 enjoyed a robust 7.4% year-over-year growth in quantity, one of the highest among the top suppliers,” Lu says. “Vietnam’s market shares in November 2023 also reached 18.5% in value and 16.2% in quantity, both about two percentage points higher than a year ago.”

After the continued fall out from the Covid-19 pandemic, Lu says that Vietnam could benefit from US companies looking to broaden their sourcing base. He explains: “As revealed in the 2023 Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study released by the US Fashion Industry Association, US  fashion companies commonly regard Vietnam as their top choice of “China alternative.”

“Particularly, Vietnam stands out in the competition due to its relatively mature and sophisticated textile and apparel manufacturing capabilities, enabling its factories to offer more flexible and agile production than those in other countries. Also, in the context of the US-China decoupling, the economic relationship between the US and Vietnam could strengthen further,” Lu adds.