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US Jeans Imports Up 32% in First Half Amid Sourcing Shifts

Blue denim apparel imports–the vast majority of which is jeans–saw a major comeback in the first half of the year as retailers and brands restocked shelves and scrambled to fill online orders.

U.S. jeans imports increased 32.87 percent in the January-to-June period, reaching a value of $1.44 billion, according to the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel (OTEXA). The increase was driven by a combination of Asian production powerhouses and emerging players, as well as significant contributions from key Western Hemisphere suppliers.

Robert Antoshak, CEO of consultancy Textile Projects, said some denim production is definitely moving back to the Western Hemisphere. Factors behind the Western Hemisphere growth include a desire for more localized supply and the problems and concerns over bottlenecks and production in the Asia supply chain.

“A just-in-time model doesn’t do well when there are logistical problems in the supply chain,” Antoshak said.

That was evidenced by substantial increases from key Central American countries and strong first half performance by Mexico. Jeans imports from Mexico jumped 54.8 percent in the first half of 2021 to a value of $286.28 million and an 18.06 percent market share, according to OTEXA.

Imports from Nicaragua increased 48.59 percent in the period to $53.97 million. The two countries contributed, along with such regional players as Guatemala and Colombia, to a 48.78 percent gain in the first half for the Western Hemisphere to a value of $362.58 million, according to OTEXA data.

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“Denim import data reflects a clear shift by many companies to diversify their sourcing base and moving away from China to other key suppliers,” Julia K. Hughes, president of the United States Fashion Industry Association, said.

Sourcing executives have said with importers moving away from China due to its labor, tariff and geopolitical woes, opportunities have arisen for countries in Asia.

Imports from China were up 23.14 percent to $148.91 million in the six months through June, but were down 19.38 percent to $359.91 million for the year ending June 30. China’s imports to the U.S. were also well below its Asian rivals, including top supplier Bangladesh, with saw a 49.25 percent hike in the half to reach $283.65 million and a year ending with 20.74 percent market share.

Imports from Pakistan soared 49.96 percent to $150.97 million, giving it a 25.85 percent market share, and shipments from Sri Lanka jumped 46.89 percent to $29.59 million. India has also gained ground in the sector and its shipments increased 36.91 percent in the period to $18.64 million.

Not faring quite as well was No. 3 supplier Vietnam, which saw its imports to the U.S. increase 5.22 percent in the first half to $151.06 million and an 11.9 percent market share.

Sourcing experts also pointed to Africa as fertile ground for jeans production growth, and the first half OTEXA data backs that up.

Among the Top 10 suppliers, imports from Egypt rose 11.32 percent to $54.43 million and shipments from Lesotho gained 59.98 percent to $24.74 million. Notable gains from second tier producers came from Madagascar, with imports up 54.88 percent to 22.33 million, contributing to a 23.2 percent gain for Sub-Saharan Africa countries to a value of $69.12 million.

Several European countries have revived their denim production of late. This included Turkey, which posted an 86.34 percent increase in the first half to $28.62 million, and Italy, with a 109.23 percent jump in the period to $11.26 million. The high-end Japanese denim market also spiked with a 39.7 percent increase in the six months to $9.74 million.