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January Apparel Import Data Show Increased Diversity of US Sourcing Strategies

If January apparel import data are any indication, it’s not just about China and Vietnam anymore.

Though U.S. apparel imports fell by 4.6% in January compared to the same month last year, hurt by the nine-month-long West Coast port slowdown, imports from China declined by a steeper 10.3% year-over-year to $2.35 billion, representing a share loss of 2.3 percentage points, according to data released last week by OTEXA, the International Trade Administration’s Office of Textiles and Apparel, while China continued to lose share.

Although apparel imports from Vietnam increased 1.3% to $795 million in the month, giving the country a .7-percentage-point share gain in the month to 12.2% of total dollar imports, Vietnam wasn’t the only country to gain share from China. Imports from India also continued their upward trend. After increasing by almost 6 percent in 2014, to $3.4 billion, they enjoyed a 5.5% year-over-year increase in January to $307 million, resulting in a .4-point share gain.

Other countries among the top ten to enjoy share gains include El Salvador and Honduras, whose gains also helped propel imports from CAFTA and the Western Hemisphere region during the month.

Non-top-ten trading partners are also appearing on U.S. brands’ radar as smaller developing nations begin to build apparel manufacturing capabilities. The share of these countries, labeled as “rest of world” in the chart below, gained over a percentage point of share in January. Imports from Sri Lanka and Guatemala increased by 25% to $179 million and $ 103 million, respectively, while those from Kenya increased by 20 percent to $31 million.

Imports from CBI (Haiti) rose by 9 percent to $45 million. Though a nice growth rate, it’s from a very small base. It’s been three years since the earthquake that devastated Port au Prince, and the apparel industry there has so far not been developed to the level that many had hoped.

Imports from Burma grew by almost 300 percent to $562K. Concerns over wage disputes and safety compliance are keeping many U.S. brands away.

The partial work stoppage at the West Coast ports, which was the result of stalled negotiations between dock management and workers, was resolved in February. However, it may take months before all the freight is unloaded and moved to its ultimate destination. By that time, Spring merchandise may be well past its prime.