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US Apparel Imports: China Leads First-Quarter Surge

Mirroring the rebound underway in the American economy and in the retail sector as well, apparel imports bounced back in the first quarter with an 11.63 percent gain to 6.7 million square meter equivalents (SME), according to the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel (OTEXA).

Apparel imports in March also jumped 48 percent to 2.5 billion SME compared to a year earlier at the onset of the coronavirus-caused factory shutdowns in major sourcing countries and store closures in the United States.

The first quarter surge was led by a 34.83 percent bump to 2.27 billion SME from top supplier China, which also suffered among the biggest declines in 2020. Imports from Vietnam, the No. 2 producing nation for U.S. brands and retailers, posted a 9.34 percent volume gain in the period to 1.15 billion SME.

There were clear winners and losers among the Top 10 suppliers in the three months through March, according to OTEXA. Imports from Pakistan increased 28.74 percent to 210 million SME, Cambodia’s shipments were up 11.64 percent to 323 million SME and incoming goods from Mexico rose 3.66 percent to 191 million SME, while Bangladesh’s shipments were basically flat at 609 million SME.

Losing ground were Asian production powers Indonesia, with imports down 14.51 percent in the period to 256 million SME, and India, dipping 3.91 percent to 309 million SME but likely to see a larger decline in coming months as the country battles a Covid surge. Western Hemisphere producers Honduras and El Salvador posted imports losses of 6.74 percent to 194 million SME and 0.54 percent to 153 million SME, respectively.

For the month, imports from China skyrocketed 174 percent to 752.81 million SME, compared to March 2020. Significant gains were seen from nearly every major supplier country and many second and third tier producers, as well, as companies restocked inventories for spring and summer, and as compared to the opposite reaction a year earlier.

For instance, imports were up 44.5 percent to 468.95 million from Vietnam, 49.4 percent to 136.83 million SME from Cambodia, 44.6 percent to 79.03 million SME from Pakistan, 24.9 percent to 57.51 million SME from Nicaragua and 28.8 percent to 33.02 million SME from Thailand. Notable import gains among first and second-tier suppliers included Bangladesh, India, Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Kenya.