Blog: Leonie BarrieSourcing trends show fluctuating fortunes

Leonie Barrie | 14 July 2014

Despite forecasts suggesting US imports would continue to rise in May - in part to offset the threat of possible industrial action and disruption at major West Coast container ports this summer - the latest data in fact shows apparel imports were down year-on-year.

And while Vietnam was one of the few countries bucking the overall decline, shipments from China and Bangladesh showed fluctuating fortunes.

Rising wages in China have not, as many feared, forced garment buyers to look elsewhere - thanks to the country's garment makers managing to keep their prices competitive.

But other potential problems are emerging from The China Dream adopted by Xi Jinping as the theme of his presidency. Combining "economic prosperity" with "national rejuvenation", the second part of this vision is starting to look troubling.

While the tide on US imports appears to be turning for Bangladesh, the country's overall ready-made garment exports soared by nearly 14% in the just-finished fiscal year as political stability returned to the South Asian country.

Keeping an eye on its retail supply chain has prompted Spanish retail giant Inditex, operator of the Zara fast fashion stores, to renew a "ground-breaking" agreement designed to monitor and track issues including labour standards and sub-contracting.

And an improving employment picture, favourable weather for purchases of summer clothing, and heavy promotions fuelled better-than-expected sales for US apparel retailers in June - but analysts have warned that headwinds remain.

The first quarter at UK retailer Marks & Spencer marked the twelfth consecutive decline in general merchandise sales - although clothing edged up 0.1% during the period. Some analysts describe the performance as "lacklustre" and "disappointing", while others believe it is "encouraging" and "provides some relief".

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