Blog: Leonie BarrieSpeed needed on safety renovations

Leonie Barrie | 9 February 2016

Just days after international representatives expressed concerns that many "priority areas" still need to be tackled to improve safety in Bangladesh’s ready-made garment sector, a fire broke out at a factory deemed to be on track with remedial action.

The Matrix Sweaters factory in Gazipur supplies retailers including H&M and JC Penney. The fact the fire broke out early in the morning meant no lives were lost – but it underscores the need to speed up progress on safety renovation once the initial inspection has taken place.

H&M was also among fashion retailers who have admitted to finding Syrian refugee children working at their supplier factories in Turkey. The discovery has prompted calls for other brands to take a closer look at their supply chains to ensure minors are not being exploited.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, involving 12 nations and covering 40% of the world economy, was finally signed last week in New Zealand. The move takes the trade pact another step towards becoming a reality.

TPP member Vietnam continues to attract huge interest as an apparel supply base – along with Southeast Asia neighbours Cambodia and Myanmar. And a new report from just-style aims to make it easier for retailers, brands and importers to evaluate the key advantages and challenges of sourcing and manufacturing in each country.

Vietnam is also poised to overtake China as the largest importer of cotton in the current year, with the ongoing drop in polyester prices given as one reason for the fall in cotton consumption there.

And other data released during the week suggests the downturn in manufacturing activity in China has extended into 2016, with operating conditions continuing to deteriorate in January for the eleventh month in a row.

Hurt by adverse weather conditions, a continued shift by consumers to invest in high-value items such as cars, and a general slump after the holiday period, it's no surprise US apparel retailers suffered in January, with the majority reporting comparable store sales declines.

And hot on the heels of its best quarterly growth of the year, US sportswear giant Under Armour has defended questions over the competitive positioning of the group's footwear and women's wear categories, and the potential maturity of its domestic business.

Meanwhile, price competition between fast fashion retailers Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) and Primark has now reached an equilibrium in the UK, according to an analyst evaluation, with Primark's prices consistently around 60% lower than that of its rival.

And in other news, US apparel giant PVH Corp is to take full control of its Tommy Hilfiger China joint venture; a special advisor to Ethiopia's Prime Minster will provide a keynote address at this year's Prime Source Forum in Hong Kong; while separate figures suggest Ethiopia’s apparel export performance is lagging behind plan.

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