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US Men’s Wear Imports Reflect Trade Shifts and Country Specialties

Given the U.S.-China trade war and other disruptions, from labor woes in Cambodia to political unrest in Central America, sourcing patterns are clearly in flux.

An analysis of U.S. men’s wear imports and shifting production proclivities reflects those issues, while also indicating longer-term tendencies created by manufacturing specialties formed over the years by certain countries or regions for certain products.

Jeans

Mexico’s standing as the top supplier of men’s and boys’ blue jeans to the U.S. continued in the first quarter of 2019, according to data from the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel (OTEXA). Mexico held a 36.81 percent share of U.S. imports of the category for the year through March, rising 7.73 percent from a year earlier.

In the January to March period, jeans imports from Mexico increased 16.64 percent to a value of $172.19 million, despite some uncertainty over the fate of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) pending in Congress. Mexico owes much of its dominance in the sector to the 25-year-old duty-free North American Free Trade Agreement that was renegotiated into USMCA last year.

Interestingly, Mexico only holds 5.73 percent share of the women’s and girls’ blue jeans import market, where China, Bangladesh and Vietnam dominate. This is generally due to brand choice and the more trendy nature of women’s wear.

Bangladesh and China are the next two biggest suppliers of men’s and boys’ jeans, but Bangladesh’s shipments were up just 0.93 percent to $51.24 million in the first quarter and imports from China were down 3.39 percent in the period to $39.9 million. Second-tier countries showing gains were Pakistan, Egypt and Nicaragua.

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Pants and shorts

The other key bottoms category–men’s and boys’ cotton trousers, breeches and shorts–is led by Bangladesh, with a 24.58 percent imports share, followed by Mexico with 16.62 percent and China at 15.04 percent.

Imports of the category in the first quarter from Bangladesh rose 13.59 percent to a value of $442.31 million, while Mexico’s shipments were up 9.57 percent in the period to $234.63 million. Sector imports from China were down 14.06 percent to $203.36 million.

Shirts

Asian suppliers control the vast portion of the import market for men’s and boy’s cotton woven shirts, although there are some major changes going on. Bangladesh holds the top spot here, too, with a 21.67 percent share, followed by an 18.94 percent share for China and an 11.86 percent share for Vietnam.

Imports from Bangladesh were up 23.38 percent in the first quarter to a value of $146.97 million, while China’s shipments fell 22.27 percent to $109.91 million. Imports from Vietnam rose 5.66 percent to $76.81 million. Among their neighbors, imports from Indonesia increased 17.94 percent in the period and Sri Lanka’s were up 6.39 percent to $28.68 million, but India’s shipments declined 12.05 percent to $57.13 million.

The import market for men’s and boys’ knit shirts is more diverse that other sectors. Cotton knit imports are led by China with a 14.06 percent share for the year through March, with Vietnam holding 11.8 percent of the market and Honduras 9.87 percent.

Vietnam’s shipments jumped 24.76 percent in the first quarter to a value of $200.92 million, while imports from China rose 4.6 percent to $180.55 million and Honduras’ shipments were up 1.38 percent to $146.25 million. Countries holding smaller market share but on the upswing were India, Nicaragua and Pakistan.

Honduras is the top supplier of synthetic knit shirts with a 15.07 percent import share, followed by Vietnam and China. Category imports from Honduras jumped 35.51 percent in the quarter to a value of $158.51 million and Vietnam’s shipments rose 2.66 percent to $134.6 million. But imports from China fell 4.99 percent to $103.46 million, with Jordan and El Salvador both posting solid gains and nipping at its heels.

Suits and coats

China still holds a 44.4 percent and top spot for import share in men’s and boys’ outerwear, with Vietnam a solid second at 25.6 percent an no other country even close. However, China’s imports of the category fell 1.47 percent in the first quarter to $123.89 million worth of merchandise, while Vietnam’s shipments climbed 31.56 percent in the period to a value of $107.02 million.

The wool suit import market is controlled by three main suppliers–Italy, China and Canada–which combine for more than 60 percent share of the category, but is one of the few categories that showed an overall decline in the first three months of the year. Imports from Italy were up 6.52 percent in the period to $23.81 million, while China’s shipments were basically flat at $18.74 million and imports from Canada declined 9.96 percent to $16.07 million.