Blog: Leonie BarrieUS-China trade spat spurs sourcing shifts

Leonie Barrie | 22 November 2018

The coming change of control of the House of Representatives following the US mid-term elections will probably do little to stop the escalating tariff disputes between the US and China, the American fashion industry has been warned by speakers at this year’s Apparel Importers Trade & Transportation Conference.

The same event also heard how the ongoing trade spat between the US and China could accelerate the trend for American apparel brands to shift their sourcing away from Chinese suppliers – but any such moves will pose challenges.

Separately, China's total exports to the US were up by more than 15% in October – which analysts believe is a result of American businesses rushing to import goods ahead of the implementation of an increased tariff rate in January.

A 65-year strategy to force US consumers to buy made-in-US garments has been an all-time disaster, asserts David Birnbaum. While the technology to create smart factories means reshoring has the potential to revolutionise the industry, the key question is: Will reshoring benefit the US garment industry?

Digital technologies, robotics and artificial intelligence are starting to bring more speed, efficiency and transparency to apparel supply chains – but less well documented is their potential impact on job losses and social unrest, especially in Asia. It's a balancing act that Pamela Mar weighs up in her roles as director of sustainability at the Fung Group and EVP of Supply Chain Futures for the Fung Academy, as she tells just-style.

A probe by Britain's lawmakers into the environmental sustainability of the UK clothing industry has heard how increasingly high volumes of so-called fast fashion items are magnifying the issues. Industry experts suggest solutions may lie in educating designers and consumers on the impacts of their choices, extended producer responsibility, and even new policy recommendations.

Five leading UK online fast fashion retailers including Asos and Boohoo have been invited to appear at the next hearing.

However, efforts are starting to get underway to try to combat the exploitation of workers by UK fashion and textile manufacturers, with M&S and Next Plc among a raft of British fashion retail giants to have signed a joint agreement with enforcement bodies.

The UK's fashion, textile and retail sectors have also voiced their concerns over continuing Brexit uncertainty, following the signing of a draft withdrawal agreement between Britain and the European Union (EU).

Meanwhile, the European Parliament has passed a resolution urging the Bangladesh government to allow the work of the Transition Accord on Fire and Building Safety to continue beyond the end of this month.

Vietnam has become the seventh country to ratify the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – or TPP-11 – which is set to come into force later this year.

Honduras has raised over $1bn or about one-third of the $3bn needed to transform its textiles industry as part of the Honduras 2020 development plan, a top executive has told just-style, admitting the initiative is facing heavy delays.

And apparel retailers, brands and manufacturers have been urged to respond to consumer demand for "comfort" clothing that fits their changing lifestyles and is driving the growth of the GBP$2.5bn athleisure industry.

In other news, the latest third-quarter filings from US apparel and footwear brands and retailers are coming through; H&M, Adidas, Gap Inc and Nike are among the top five users of Better Cotton; and VF Corp is moving some functions of its jeanswear organisation to the historic Revolution Mill in North Carolina.

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