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US Jeans Imports Buckle Up in November, but China’s Still Losing its Pants

The dramatic decline in U.S. jeans imports caused by the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic eased back a bit in November, as companies brought in merchandise for the holiday push.

In the year to date through November, denim apparel imports declined 26.01 percent to a value of $2.57 billion compared to the same 11-month period in 2019, according to new data from the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel (OTEXA). The falloff was a slight improvement from the 27.42 percent year-to-date decrease in October.

Top jeans supplier Bangladesh saw its shipments dip 3.73 percent for the 11 months through November to $522.78 million, on par with the previous month’s data from OTEXA. Imports of denim apparel from No. 2 producer Mexico plummeted 43.6 percent to $424.74 million.

Third-place Vietnam lost some of its gains from the prior two months, with a year-to-date increase of 0.68 percent to $342.09 million in November. This followed 1.08 percent and 1.77 percent year-to-date increase in October and September, respectively.

China continued to lose ground as a jeans production hub in the month. For the year to date through November, imports from China nosedived 53.75 percent to $304.82 million. Chinese manufacturers have been dealing with fallout from the pandemic much like the rest of the world, while also suffering from the strategic sourcing shifts by importers looking to reduce risk and costs from tariffs derived from the trade war with the U.S. This shows no sign of abating as President-elect Joe Biden has said he will use the tariffs as “leverage” in negotiations on trade policy between the two countries.

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Morris Goldfarb, chairman and CEO of G-III Apparel Group, said on a conference call with analysts last month that “our development of product and production in China…[has] come down significantly.”

“We’ve done a masterful job of bringing down our China production from possibly 85 percent of this company’s production several years ago down to… around 30 percent today,” Goldfarb said. “We’re in the business of providing products at an appropriate price with appropriate quality, and China has always been a good partner as it relates to that. There are areas that we have figured out that are more competitive [and] equal in quality and less in duty, and we’ve gone to those areas. But I’m not on a mission to stay clear of China.

“I’ll stay clear of cotton mills that aren’t compliant with what the world expects.”

Among second-tier countries with a smaller market share, imports from Cambodia continued to show strength, with a year-to-date gain of 13.62 percent to $130.77 million. Pakistan flattened its decline to 3.25 percent to $227.81 million in the period.

Among third-tier suppliers with notable gains were Madagascar, up 5.45 percent to $30.60 million, and Ethiopia, gaining 21.59 percent to $21.29 million.