Blog: Leonie Barrie2015 starting to shape up

Leonie Barrie | 12 January 2015

With most holiday merchandise brought into the US early as retailers rushed to beat a possible shutdown of West Coast ports, it is perhaps not surprising that apparel imports fell in November. But with shipments plunging from eight of the top-ten suppliers, Vietnam alone was the stand-out performer during the month.

The data for the 11-month period also puts China on track for another year of market share gains, casting doubt on claims that buyers are moving away from the country.

Meanwhile in Cambodia, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has urged global garment brands to help the industry to absorb the new minimum wage, which jumped 28% to US$128 at the beginning of the year. But a sharp fall in the number of working days lost by strikes in Cambodia's garment industry last year suggests workers have lost their appetite for protests.

European brands and retailers wanting to learn more about importing garments from Burma/Myanmar and make contact with potential suppliers, are being invited to join a trade mission to the country in March. The visit will also provide an opportunity for local manufacturers to learn more about doing business with European firms.

Deep discounts, lower fuel prices and an improved employment market all helped to drive better-than-expected comparable store sales gains for US apparel retailers in the crucial month of December.

But a more promotional stance in "athleisure" wear, store rationalisation, and a boost to second-half gross margins from the falling price of cotton are among the key drivers that analysts believe will shape the US apparel market in 2015.

Indeed, new forecasts suggest that despite expected growth in cotton consumption this season, high global stocks of cotton are likely to keep prices low for several years to come.

For British retailer Marks & Spencer, 2015 got off to a difficult start with results showing a 5.8% drop in like-for-like general merchandise sales over the Christmas period. The company blamed unseasonal weather and disruption at its main distribution centre.

And footwear, handbags and accessories retailer Coach Inc is to buy luxury shoe brand Stuart Weitzman from private equity firm Sycamore Partners in a deal worth up to $574m.

On the technology front, 3D CAD and Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) tools are helping to revolutionise the clothing industry. And vendors of these systems are lining up for this year's Texprocess trade fair to help apparel retailers, brands and manufacturers navigate a range of industry challenges, including faster time-to-market and improved productivity.

And rounding off his trilogy on agents and buying offices, David Birnbaum comes out in defence of the new model buying office. The next challenge, he says, is the need for detailed audits to ensure that buying offices set their commissions fairly.

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