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A new way to mitigate buyer risk in apparel

Mark Jones's picture
Bangladesh's share of the apparel market is increasing
The Alliance and Accord have been working over the past three years with more than 1,500 factories to help them meet new fire and building safety standards

The China sourcing conundrum
In conversations with U.S. and European retailers and brands, ELEVATE – a company formed in 2013 to support corporate social responsibility – finds that apparel buyers rate diversifying away from China as one of their top three sourcing goals.

This is not to suggest that there is a desire to exit China – which currently holds by far the largest share of global apparel trade, at 41 percent – but rather a need to significantly reduce dependence on product from China, owing to rising costs, factory closures, unenthusiastic second generation family ownership, new attitudes about working in factories, and a perception that China wants to move to higher-value manufacturing. Sourcing and procurement organizations feel uncertain, and uncertainty is not a friend of supply chains.

The problem is that for all its uncertainty, China still has a huge base of factories, a well-developed transport infrastructure, and a comprehensive eco-system that supplies cut-and-sew operations, and management that has matured with years of experience. Even if a buyer would like to give another country an opportunity, many corporate risk managers view certain countries or regions as quite challenging for doing business.

Stitches to Riches? The Potential of Apparel Manufacturing in South Asia


South Asia could seize this opportunity by better meeting requirements – besides competitive costs – that are vital to global buyers. These include: (i) quality, which is influenced by the raw materials used, skill level of the sewing machine operator, and thoroughness of the quality control team; (ii) lead time and reliability, which are greatly affected by the efficiency and availability of transportation networks and customs procedures; and (iii) social compliance and sustainability, which has become central to buyers’ sourcing decisions in response to pressure from corporate social responsibility campaigns by non-governmental organizations, compliance-conscious consumers, and, more recently, the increased number of safety incidents in apparel factories.

Surveys of global buyers show that East Asian apparel manufacturers rank well above South Asian firms along these key dimensions, as noted in a new World Bank report on apparel, jobs, trade, and economic development in South Asia, Stitches to Riches (see table). So, what can South Asia, which now accounts for only 12 percent of global apparel trade, do to become a bigger player? An encouraging recent development is that buyers have started collaborating to facilitate new sourcing possibilities – as the case of Bangladesh illustrates.

Harnessing Stitches for Riches in South Asia

Gladys Lopez-Acevedo's picture
Stitches to Riches? The Potential of Apparel Manufacturing in South Asia

In the coming years and decades, China is expected to slowly relinquish its lead position in the global apparel market, opening the door to other competitors. This is a huge opportunity for South Asia to create at least 1.5 million jobs that are “good for development” – of which half a million would be for women – according to a new World Bank report Stitches to Riches?  But those numbers could be much higher if the region moves quickly to tackle existing impediments and foster growth in apparel, which will also yield dividends for other light manufacturers (like footwear and toys).
 
How South Asia fits in the global apparel market
Currently, China holds by far the largest share of global apparel trade – at 41 percent, up from 25 percent in 2000, with about 10 million workers. But as China continues to develop, it is likely to move up the global value chain into higher-value goods (like electronics, and out of apparel) or switch production among sectors in response to rising wages. A 2013 survey of leading global buyers in the United States and European Union (EU) found that 72 percent of respondents planned to decrease their share of sourcing from China over the next five years (2012-2016).
 
Already, the top four apparel producers in South Asia – Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka – have made big investments in world apparel trade, now accounting for 12 percent of global apparel exports (see figure). In terms of apparel export value, Bangladesh leads the pack (at $22.8 billion), followed by India ($12.5 billion), Sri Lanka ($4.4 billion), and Pakistan ($4.2 billion).
 
China dominates global apparel trade
(Country share of global apparel exports)


Source: Stitches to Riches?
 
Why apparel jobs are “good for development”
When we think of jobs that are “good for development,” the main yardstick is whether they will help translate growth into long-lasting poverty reduction and broad-based economic opportunities. Apparel fits the bill for numerous reasons. 

Campaign art: Is slavery woven into your clothing?

Roxanne Bauer's picture

People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

The textile industry, in particular the manufacturing of apparel, has long been a key industry in South Asia.  It provides those with relatively low skills with job opportunities. It also has a unique ability to attract female workers; women’s share of total apparel employment is much higher than in other industries in nearly every country in the region. In recent years, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka have made substantial investments in world apparel trade. In 2012, for example, apparel represented 83% of Bangladeshi exports and 45% of Sri Lankan exports.

Nevertheless, the apparel industry in many locations is burdened with poor working conditions and hazardous, degrading policies that damage the environment.  The harsh conditions that many workers in the developing countries must face have been qualified as “slave labour” by The European Parliament.

The Behind the Seams initiative is a new campaign dedicated to improving the conditions of workers in the international fashion industry and to raising awareness about the environmental impact of the industry. Because bad conditions throughout the production of clothing has a greater impact than just the factory. They started with a clear idea: transparency is the first step to transform the industry. There should be no mystery as to who is making your clothes, and all aspects and impacts of a brand’s supply chain should be known and regulated.
 
There should be no mystery
Source: Behind the Seams

Higher education for the 21st century in action

Joe Qian's picture
The graduating class of the University of Moratuwa’s Department of Textile and Clothing Technology. Photo Credit: Isuru Udara

Imagine a school that teaches knowledge and provides hands-on training. A place where students express confidence in their skills, and are excited to make a difference in their future jobs. A bastion of confidence and optimism, where 100% of graduating students have jobs lined up before graduation.
 
Sounds too good to be true? I found this haven at the University of Moratuwa’s Department of Textile and Clothing Technology, supported by the Higher Education for the 21st Century Project (HETC), which is designed to modernize education by its increasing its quality and relevance. 24-year-old Malaka Perera, who is graduating next month, told me how the program has helped him build a foundation for his career. “The program taught me how to deal with people, along with communications and problem solving skills that I used during my internship. As a result, finding a job was quite easy.”
 
Sri Lankans have enjoyed the benefits of broad education access for decades, which has allowed the country to build human capital to rise and become a middle income country. However, as a country with rising aspirations in an increasingly globalized world and competitive region, the quality and relevance of its education system is key for the country to maintain its edge and reach new heights.

Better Human Resource Policies in Apparel

Gladys Lopez-Acevedo's picture

"Made in Cambodia" by @ndres1, 2010.

Traditionally, policy makers have focused on creating jobs to reduce poverty, but jobs alone may not be sufficient. Job quality also matters, although creating "good" jobs is a huge challenge given the advent of global supply chains, which link thousands of firms extending across cultural and political boundaries.  As it turns out, we are learning that good human resource policies may tip the scales.

Globalization and the Gender Earnings Gap in the Apparel Industry

Gladys Lopez-Acevedo's picture

The 2012 World Development Report, Gender Equality and Development, argues that gender equality “contributes to economic efficiency and the achievement of other key development outcomes.”  U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated at the APEC Women and the Economy Summit that “the increase in employment of women in developed countries during the past decade has added more to global growth than China has, ” and argued that incorporating women into the formal workforce is critical for economic progress.  Understanding how major policy changes affect women’s employment and the gender wage gap is therefore critical for implementing future policies that may affect women’s status and opportunities.