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Sourcing from the Americas Versus China: The Score

The world of apparel sourcing, for many years, was divided into two parts—China and not China. One of the Lands of not-China is the Americas. To a sourcing executive, there is no North, Central or South America. To them, the hemisphere is simply the Americas.

According to the Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA) as of June, China alone was the source of 41.54 percent of apparel imports. The 10 apparel producing nations of the Americas were the source of nearly 16 percent of apparel imports, and climbing.

The region is the source of 57 percent of men’s and boy’s man-made fiber knit shirts; 53 percent of the same category in cotton; 38 percent of men’s and boy’s man-made fiber non-knit shirts; 35 percent of cotton hosiery; 33 percent of cotton underwear. Hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in spinning, knitting, energy, infrastructure, cut/sew and embellishment are ongoing now to increase those volumes.

One short cycle business model that is working in the region now is Stantt. By creating 99 sizes of mens woven shirts, Stantt has a size for virtually every customer. Once the customers selects the fabric at Nordstrom or online, the shirt is cut and sewn in Honduras and arrives by package in a week.

High level, how does one evaluate the Americas versus Asia? What are the questions? Who gives the answers? And what does the resulting score mean?

At the 2012 Annual Conference of the Americas Apparel Producers’ Network, 220 of us openly debated how to come up with a score. John Strasburger, then of VF, had the answer: The Asia/Americas Report Card.

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John created 31 questions. He organized them under eight categories: Knowledge of the U.S. Market, verticality, speed, cost, ease of doing business, product development, social/sustainability and risk assessment.

The questionnaire went to those in the industry who had been actively sourcing in both Asia ands the Americas for at least the past three years. Each gave each region a score of 1 to 5 and to explained the reasoning.

Asia dominated 21 of the 31 criteria, scoring 107.3 overall, while the Americas got 95.5. The average scores per criteria were 3.5 for Asia, 3.1 for the Americas. Notes favoring Asia were mostly related to textiles and full package services, as one would expect.

We ran the survey again four years later and reported the results at our 2016 Annual Conference. The average score was to 3.4 to 3.6 favoring Asia, and 102.7 to 107.7, again favoring Asia.

The AAPN opened its membership to the Americas in 2001, focusing on Central America and DR/Haiti. Back then, the region mostly sold labor. They sewed. They did not cut, research, design, develop product, merchandise, source textiles, embellish, package and distribute. Asia did all of that.

Some argue the first call to action was the CAFTA Summit conferences starting in 2003. Others think it was the realization in 2010 that the region had world class sustainability leadership. But most agree it was the 2012 Report Card and the visible scores that showed the gaps—and thus the opportunities.

There’s an old saying, “If you aren’t keeping score, you’re just practicing.” Sourcing is a serious game. In fact, it’s a contact sport. That’s why the Americas team came together, asked the hard questions, listened to the answers, saw the score and suited up to play.

Today, the Americas wins more every day and now we can prove it.

Mike Todaro is managing director of the American Apparel Producers’ Network (AAPN), an international trade network with nearly 200 member organizations.