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U.S. Apparel Imports Reach Record $79.8 Billion in 2013

Total apparel imports grew 3.9% to 79.8 billion in 2013, according to data released last week by the US Department of Commerce’s Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA). Total unit volume, measured on a square meter equivalent basis, increased 4.9% in the year-to-date period, driving the average cost per SME down by almost 1%, confirmation that the average cost of imported apparel dropped in the year.

Vietnam enjoyed the biggest share gain of U.S. apparel imports in the past year, growing from 9.2% of the dollar total in 2012 to 10.2% in 2013. China suffered the biggest share loss, dropping from 37.8% to 37.3% last year.

Apparel imports from Vietnam totaled $8.1 billion, growing 14 percent for the year, almost six times faster than those from China, whose apparel shipments to the U.S. increased by only 2.5% on a dollar basis. Vietnam’s total volume is still less than a quarter the size of China’s, however.

Vietnam gained almost one percentage point of market share of U.S. apparel last year. The cost per SME of apparel imported from Vietnam increased 1 percent, indicating that its goal of shipping pricier goods to the U.S. is being met. Key growth categories for Vietnam in 2013 were: men’s and women’s cotton knit and women’s cotton woven tops, women’s cotton pants, men’s and women’s manmade fiber knit shirts and blouses, women’s woven manmade fiber blouses, and men’s and women’s manmade fiber pants. There were decreases in some categories of inner wear like bras and nightgowns, but increases in others like underwear and pajamas.

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Indonesia’s position as the third largest source of apparel has been challenged by Bangladesh, whose shipments to the U.S. grew by double digits, totaling $4.9 billion and 1.2 billion SME, with average cost per SME dropping slightly. Indonesia has lately been beset by infrastructural problems such as electricity shortages, which threaten to halt its manufacturing growth.

The favorite of fast fashion retailers, Bangladesh is on track to become a major player in the U.S. market, given its growth record. The biggest category in 2013 was men’s and boy’s cotton pants, followed by men’s woven cotton shirts, men’s and women’s manmade fiber pants, and women’s cotton pants. However, Bangladesh’s recent significant increase in minimum wage might considerably alter the country’s cost advantage vis-à-vis China and Vietnam, and could slow its growth.

U.S. apparel imports from China totaled $29.7 billion in 2013, up only 2.5% over 2012. Year-to-date units (on a square meter equivalent basis) rose 4.9%, driving the cost per unit lower by 2.3%, more than twice the overall average.

Product categories from China that saw the biggest increases last year include men’s manmade fiber knit tops, women’s cotton woven shirts, hosiery, manmade fiber bras, and other intimate apparel. These increases were offset by declines in many other categories, including outerwear and both cotton and manmade fiber skirts and dresses. Women’s and men’s cotton knit tops and pants remain among the largest categories, and saw above-average growth on a dollar basis.

Sri Lanka, once a mere blip on the radar of U.S. apparel sourcing executives, moved into the group of top ten apparel sourcing countries last year, bumping Pakistan from the spot it held since 2008.

Sri Lanka has accelerated its apparel exports to the U.S. So far this year, it has shipped over $1.2 billion worth of apparel, 10.3% ahead of last year, and the third fastest growth rate after Vietnam and Bangladesh, putting it ahead of Pakistan as one of the top U.S. trading partners on both a dollar and SME basis for 2013. One reason for this is a decline in the value of the Sri Lankan rupee compared to the U.S. dollar. Key product categories where Sri Lankan clothiers have developed specific capabilities include women’s knit and woven cotton tops, women’s bras and men’s and women’s cotton pants.

Mexico and Honduras have suffered significant share losses in U.S. apparel as well, resulting in a decline in CAFTA compared to South Asia and ASEAN. CBI imports, which are up by double digits on both a dollar and unit basis but only slightly on a share basis, are almost exclusively cotton tee shirts and underwear from Haiti.ApparelPie