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US Apparel Imports Continue Slide Entering 2021

U.S. apparel imports got off to a slow start in January, a likely testament to ongoing sluggish demand as Covid spikes persisted.

Overall apparel imports declined 18.34 percent to $5.52 billion worth of goods in the month compared to January 2020, according to the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel (OTEXA). All of the Top 10 suppliers posted year-over-year import declines except Pakistan, with the No. 9 producer for the U.S. market shipping 11.99 percent more goods for a value of $147 million.

Imports from still-top supplier China, which has seen rapid drop-offs the past two years mainly due to tariff risks, fell 19.9 percent to a value of $1.3 billion. No. 2 producer Vietnam’s imports to the U.S. decreased 18.62 percent to $1.07 billion.

Among other Asian suppliers, shipments from Bangladesh were down 16.61 percent to $519 million, while imports from Cambodia, which had been posting consistent gains during 2020, fell 17.32 percent to $230 million. Imports from India dropped 22.28 year over year to $288 million and shipments from Indonesia were down 33.17 percent to $276 million.

Western Hemisphere countries in the Top 10 seemed to slow the rate of decline in the month. Imports from Mexico declined 13.14 percent to a value of $178 million, as shipments from Honduras fell 10.09 percent to $138 million and imports from El Salvador were off 8.12 percent to $108 million.

Discussing sourcing strategy on a conference call with analysts this week, Rustin Welton, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Kontoor Brands, said the maker of Wrangler and Lee has been dealing with port congestion, higher freight rates or labor shortages with “intentional port diversification.”

“We really believe our diversified supply chain benefits us as we manage through this time with approximately a third of our production in this hemisphere and two-thirds of our source production coming from 225 facilities and over 20 countries around the world, we can be a little more creative…in navigating some of the challenges,” Welton said.

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While nearly all manufacturers of apparel for the U.S. market tracked by OTEXA posted declines in imports for the month, notable exceptions were all countries that ship their apparel to the U.S. under free trade agreement. Imports from Guatemala, which operates under the Central America Free Trade Agreement, as do Honduras and El Salvador, ticked up 0.9 percent in the month to $115.85 million.

Out of Africa, imports from Egypt increased 3.4 percent year over year to $92.55 million, and shipments from Ethiopia jumped 17.1 percent to $21.63 million, despite political unrest that has curtailed its steady rise of late.