Blog: Leonie BarrieWhat's new for back-to-school?

Leonie Barrie | 25 July 2011

As the end of the school year approaches, first forecasts are starting to come through for US back-to-school spending patterns - with retailers across the country preparing for the second biggest shopping event behind the winter holidays.

What's the outlook? Well, a new survey from the National Retail Federation suggests back-to-school spending is likely to be virtually unchanged from last year as customers shop around for discounts and focus on buying only what they need. It expects families to spend around $603.63 on apparel and other supplies, within a few dollars of last year's $606.40.

Market research company The NPD Group agrees the 'value-centric' mindset will prevail, with those retailers who can offer value, trusted brands and versatile products being the winners in the rush for consumer dollars.

Efforts to advance a bill that would provide fashion designs with three years of copyright protection have also stepped up, with industry executives speaking in favour of what they call "a targeted fix" to the problem. The reintroduced 'Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act' is the latest attempt at intellectual property protection for fashion designs, and offers a clear and easy framework to enforce original creations.

But the plight of workers in Bangladesh's garment factories has come under the spotlight again, with a new report claiming thousands of women are working 14 hours a day producing clothes for poverty pay. The accusation from War on Want comes after the charity interviewed 1,000 female employees from 41 factories supplying western retailers. Its findings suggest workers are struggling to survive amid poor pay and conditions.

Also making the headlines again last week was cotton. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has lowered its forecasts for US cotton production by 1m bales as a result of drought conditions in Texas - but says this year's world crop is still set to be a record and will lead to a rise in global stocks for the first time in four years.

The Indian government, meanwhile, has pledged to tackle the country's cotton crisis through a series of measures, including reinstating duty drawback on cotton yarn exports. The action coincides with another wave of protests at India's spinning mills, with nearly 600 stopping production for ten days in a bid to reduce stockpiles.

And any doubts about China's ability to stay competitive could be dispelled by the fact that it accounted for more than three-quarters of the world's textile machinery investments during 2010 - and now accounts for between 65% and 80% of the world's spinning and weaving capacity. So while buyers can shift garment production to cheaper locations, it's more than likely they'll still be sourcing their fabric and yarn from Chinese factories.


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