Vietnam Climbs Garment Supply Chain

Sadie Keljikian, Express Trade Capital

After a prolonged malaise, Vietnam’s manufacturing industry has re-emerged as a significant player in the global clothing supply chain. For years, the Vietnamese garment industry has suffered a shortage of local raw materials stymieing opportunities for growth. For instance, its garment economy requires 400,000 tons of cotton for production per annum yet only 3,000 of it is supplied by the local market. As such, the industry has had to rely costly imports.

Previously, Vietnamese manufacturers focused on developing and showcasing their specific strengths in the field, rather than devoting to develop a competitive advantage in the field. As a result, a combination of a lack of raw materials and minimal systematic assistance led to underwhelming profits and very little business growth.

No more. Industry analysts have proclaimed that Vietnam’s manufacturers have entered the “cutting and sewing  stages of the global supply chain, meaning that the need to import raw materials will no longer limit the growth of the local garment industry. Supply chain integration will allow Vietnam to join other countries in the process of turning raw cotton, wool, etc. into finished garments while diminishing costs.

Several new factories and sewing plants will be built to accommodate the newly expanding industry, but it will be quite costly. The plan will, in all likelihood be easier to accomplish if the Trans-Pacific Partnership is fully passed, as the deal promises to eliminate or dramatically diminish tariffs and other trade-barriers among members.

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A Warm Start to Winter Leaves Apparel Retailers Out in the Cold

Sadie Keljikian, Express Trade Capital

This past weekend marks the highest December temperatures in 142 years, so naturally, consumers are not overly eager to buy winter coats, boots and gloves. As a result, many clothing retailers are suffering massive drops in cold weather apparel sales.  Among them is Stuart Greenberg’s Corniche Furs in Manhattan, which has seen a 30% drop in sales this month. In a recent New York Times article Greenberg said, “For the first 10 years of our business, we never even paid attention to the weather. It always just got cold.”

The warm weather is even impacting businesses like Macy’s, the Gap, and Nordstrom. All predict the need to offer winter wear at steep discounts to move surplus merchandise as the season goes on, but a company like Corniche Furs relies on the winter and, specifically, the holiday season to bolster its profits for the entire year. Many of the suffering businesses stocked particularly large quantities of boots, coats, and winter accessories at the start of the season, expecting a long and cold winter like last year, but weather analysis company Planalytics says that the volatile temperatures of the last few years cannot be expected to repeat themselves.

Companies like Zara and H&M have done reasonably well so far this season, largely due to their ”fast-fashion” approach. Fast-fashion retailers, or those which receive small shipments at a time and have a higher rate of turnover, have a much easier time adjusting when circumstances are less than favorable.

If temperatures drop dramatically in the next week, fortune may smile on retailers who rely on cold weather apparel. Otherwise, they may need to adjust their merchandise to accommodate the ever-changing weather patterns.

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East Africa Gains Traction in the Garment Industry

Sadie Keljikian, Express Trade Capital

East Africa is slowly becoming a popular location for apparel sourcing. Two years ago, European companies including H&M, Primark, and Tesco began sourcing some of their casual wear from Ethiopia. Others in the industry quickly followed suit. East Africa recently gained additional attention due to the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which granted some sub-Saharan countries duty-free access to the US market. While East Africa’s growth as a destination for manufacturing is still nascent, the availability of land for development and access to low-cost labor force are promising for the region’s potential for growth as a competitor in the international textile and apparel industry, provided that governments, buyers, and manufacturers work together to improve business conditions in transportation, labor skill, and technological development.

Although Bangladesh leads the race to take over the apparel industry from China, the massive quantities of cheap and available labor in Ethiopia and Kenya are particularly drawing attention from global buyers. According to projections from the UN, the sub-Saharan region will have the highest growth in working-age population globally in the next 20 years. By 2035, that number will equal China’s working population today, with more than 900 million people. However, the relative lack of manufacturing experience (as opposed to seasoned veterans in apparel manufacture in Southeast Asia and Central/South America), is a major difficulty that requires further time and attention to address. Naturally, as investment and interest in the region grows, competency and manufacturing capabilities are sure to increase.

Beyond labor and available land, Ethiopia has cost advantages like cheap hydroelectric power and labor, and a rich supply of natural resources, but it still lags in production efficiency. In contrast, Kenya has high production efficiencies such as sources for bulk quantities of apparel basics like t-shirts and trousers, but has comparatively high labor costs and lacks a local upstream industry for raw materials, requiring the import or fabrics. While initial outlooks and projections for East Africa’s potential for progress are encouraging, countries in the region have a number of hurdles to conquer before closing the gap enough to challenge countries like China, India, Bangladesh, and Vietnam.

At present, East African apparel manufacturing is still a niche market and does not yet have the stability that many of its competitors have established over years and decades of trial and error and government investment. While East Africa still contributes only a small portion of apparel manufacturing, if businesses and governments confront the deficiencies aggressively, Ethiopia, Kenya, and other surrounding countries have the potential to grow into a major players in apparel sourcing and to forge a new standard for the garment industry.

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Bangladesh Exports to U.S. Surge in September

Mark Bienstock, Managing Director

Bangladesh showed a significant turnaround in the level of exports to the USA in September.  Financial pressures regarding labor increases in China have forced many importers and retailers to focus on increasing their Bangladesh expansion. There is also higher confidence in Bangladeshi manufacturing since a number of enhancements have been made to the major factories over the last six months.



Wage Increase Riles LA Garmentos

Sadie Keljikian, Express Trade Capital

Los Angeles, one of the country’s primary garment manufacturing centers, is bracing for the impending hike in the city’s minimum wage. The new law, which will increase the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020, will be enacted in stages, beginning with an increase in the lowest pay rate from the current $9 an hour to $10.50, next July.

LA garment factory workers’ base salaries are varied. Companies like 5 Thread, pay employees a relatively low base salary, but give incentive pay based on productivity. As a result, some of its employees already make $15 an hour or more.

5 Thread CEO Brian Zuckerman laments that he will have to move his operations out of the city once the wage increase goes into effect.  In the interim, he plans to place a hiring freeze on low-skilled workers who require on-the-job training.

Other companies plan to say put and, instead, tweak their economic model to accommodate the increased labor costs.  Tianello, Inc., for instance, plans to move into high-margin, labor-intensive luxury products, which are profitable, even when produced in lower volumes.

Despite strong opposition from many in the industry, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D), who fought for the increase, maintains that “there is no question there is going to be some job displacement, but there is going to be net job growth and, most importantly, poverty alleviation.”  A study conducted this March by University of California-Berkeley economists concur with the Mayor’s assignment, finding that 600,000 workers will benefit from new law and less than 3,500 jobs lost.

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Sri Lanka to Host South Asian Textile Trade Fair

Sadie Keljikian, Express Trade Capital

South Asia’s one and only International Textiles Trade Fair, Intex South Asia, will be held at Sri Lanka Exhibition & Convention Center (SLECC) in Colombo this November.

In recent years, the garment industry has begun to shift its focus from China to South Asia. Sri Lanka is known as the producer of “Garments without Guilt,” for its reputation of producing high quality and eco-friendly products. As a result, Sri Lanka has become one of the premier garment and apparel outsourcing hubs and continues to grow, with increasing imports of fabric, clothing accessories and yarn from around the world.

Sri Lankan exhibitors will have the opportunity to strengthen relationships with local buyers in Sri Lanka, as well as interact with and access buyers from India, Bangladesh and the rest of the world.

Sri Lanka was chosen to host the fair not only due to its recent success in the garment industry, but because of its politically neutral status in the region.

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RGT Italia Holds Clothing Sustainability Workshop

Sadie Keljikian, Express Trade Capital, Inc.

RGT Italia recently organized a workshop entitled, “Sustainability and Product Development,” in an effort to encourage environmentally conscious practices in garment manufacturing. RGT, a Padua-based subsidiary of the German manufacturing group Bock & Partner, hosted approximately 70 representatives from Italian and German fashion and sportswear makers including Hugo Boss, Marc’O Polo, and René Lezard.

The workshop touched on all aspects of the garment manufacturing process with discussions on topics ranging from fashion schools to fabric manufacturers, chemical substance producers and sewing yarn makers.

The event was particularly well-timed given European manufacturers scramble to updated their eco-policies in light of the recent Volkswagen scandal.

Dietrich Bock, CEO of Bock & Partner, was satisfied with the response to the workshop, saying “I’m sure that product managers and designers who participated in the event could get a wider perspective about what sustainability, renewability and eco-friendly production processes mean. And we are ready to face all future challenges.”

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Chinese Manufacturers Attend New York Fashion Week

Sadie Keljikian, Express Trade Capital
WGSN, a global analytics firm specializing in forecasting fashion and design trends, hosted a delegation of over 20 representatives from China’s textile and fashion industry during New York Fashion Week 2015.

The delegation was led by China Textile Information Center, or CTIC, which serves China’s massive fashion and textile industry of over 20,000 companies. The gathering presented an opportunity for Chinese manufacturers to gain deeper insights into the US fashion industry as well as investment opportunities from the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC).

The delegation also attended informational sessions at King & Partners and Parsons The New School for Design.

Sun Ruizhe, vice president of CNTAC (the National Textile Apparel Council of China) and chairman of CTIC, said “This is a unique occasion for leaders of the Chinese apparel and textile industry to immerse themselves in the U.S. fashion industry, and a mutually beneficial opportunity to discuss the enormous potential for growth and investment.”

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Garment Manufacturers Indicted in Bangladesh Factory Fire

Sadie Keljikian, Express Trade Capital

Thirteen people, including two garment factory owners, have been charged with culpable homicide in Bangladesh in the aftermath of an industrial factory fire that killed 112 workers back in 2012.  An investigation, spurred by the public outcry after the fire, found that there were no fire exits in the building. Owners Delwar Hossain and his wife, Mahmuda Akter, of Dhaka’s Tazreen Fashions were among the group indicted.

The case represents a watershed moment in workers’ rights in Bangladesh, as it marks the first time that garment factory owners have been prosecuted related to workers’ deaths.

The local economy’s reliance on garment exports most likely contributed to the government’s delay in filing charges. Only after the collapse of Rana Plaza, which occurred several months later and killed over 1,130 people, did authorities investigate further.

Investigators’ claim, however, that the delay was caused by the need to interview more than 1,000 people, including factory workers who were injured, government officials and experts.

Although the accused plead not guilty, the fire has put Western brands under significant pressure to ensure safer conditions for the four million garment workers in Bangladesh who typically earn less than $50 a month.

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Jordan’s Garment Industry Heats Up

Sadie Keljikian, Express Trade Capital

Jordan in recent years has become an unlikely manufacturing giant in the garment industry.  Despite its political and socioeconomic instability and simmering hostilities with neighboring countries, Jordan’s 75 factories continue to thrive; comprising 95% of the industrial work force and producing exports that make up about 20% of the country’s gross domestic product.

“When you step into Jordan, you never feel the regional tumult,” says Radhakrishnan Putharikkal, President of the Classic Fashion factory, which is located on the Al-Hassan Industrial Estate just outside the city of Irbid. “Jordan’s stability and location made us choose it over Morocco or Tunisia, and our calculations were 100 percent right.”

With the overwhelming success of Jordanian factories, companies like Gap, Victoria’s Secret, Hanes, Eddie Bauer, and Macy’s have begun producing many of their garments there. Jordanian garment exports to the U.S. alone approached $1 billion last year, according to Jordan’s Trade Ministry.

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