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Jeans Imports Rose 7.8 Percent in 2018, as Denim Sourcing Widens

The American thirst for blue jeans was strong in 2018, as companies imported $3.86 billion worth of goods, marking a 7.83 percent increase over the previous year, according to a new report from the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel (OTEXA).

Mirroring sourcing shifts in the overall apparel market, top suppliers China and Mexico eked out small gains for the year, while countries like Bangladesh, Vietnam, Pakistan, Cambodia and Nicaragua posted double-digit percentage gains.

Blue denim apparel imports–the bulk of which are jeans–from China rose just 1.51 percent in 2018 to a value of $937 million and giving the country a 24.29 percent market share. The volatility of the U.S.-China tariff-fueled trade war saw companies reduce their exposure to Chinese manufacturing last year, even though denim apparel wasn’t included in the punitive measures, and experts expect that trepidation to continue in 2019.

Mexico’s shipments of blue jeans to the U.S. rose a tepid 3.11 percent in the year to $817.82 million and a 21.2 percent market share. Sourcing managers also had their concerns in 2018 over Mexico’s continued duty-free status as the U.S., Mexico and Canada went through a contentious renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. In November they signed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which largely maintained duty-free levels for most goods. The new pact is pending ratification.

Jeans imports from Bangladesh rose 11.73 percent to $566.39 million, giving the country a 14.68 percent market share, while Vietnam’s shipments jumped 43.02 percent to $296.47 million and a 7.68 percent market share. Among other Asian suppliers, imports from Pakistan were up 15.26 percent to $246.4 million and a 6.39 percent market share, and Cambodia’s shipments rose 20.5 percent to $112.87 million and a market share of 2.93 percent.

Elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere, where goods generally land in the U.S. duty free under free trade agreements, imports from Nicaragua increased 14.19 percent to $112.06 million, Colombia’s shipments rose 33.92 percent to $62.62 million and imports from Guatemala were up 15.87 percent to $32.35 million.

African countries are slowly establishing themselves as a low-cost sourcing alternative. Egypt’s blue jeans shipments rose 6.06 percent to $154.44 million for the year and a 4 percent market share, while imports from Lesotho increased 5.57 percent to $80.12 million, Madagascar’s shipments were up 10.46 percent to $23.86 million and imports from Kenya jumped 50.57 percent to $17.63 million.