Global by Design
When you think haute couture, you think of the fashion capitals of the world – Milan, Paris, New York, London, and Tokyo. But whether we’re talking about runway gowns or graphic tees, the fashion industry is global. To keep up with the fast pace of fashion — from the mini to the maxi dress — companies build agile global supply chains that often procure materials and assemble garments overseas. In a survey of the U.S. fashion industry, companies reported sourcing from as many as 56 different countries or regions. All respondents said they source textile and apparel products that contain inputs from multiple countries – exactly none said they sourced products made wholly in any one country.
In the same survey, over half of the respondents source from the United States, even though less than 10 percent of a company’s sourcing portfolio will end up with a “Made in USA” label. What’s more typical if you walk into a department store, is that a rack of trousers will include more styles that were made in Bangladesh, China, Nicaragua, or other countries. Given that the garment reflects value added in multiple countries, that “Made in” label offers just a small snapshot of the garment’s journey and a relatively small fracture of its value.
A Bargain for U.S. Workers
Another study of U.S. industry practices found that the activities performed by U.S. workers contribute an average of 70 percent of the value of the final retail price. That far exceeds the value added by manufacturing overseas. For example, an average of 71.2 percent of the value of men’s cotton trousers is derived in the United States, even if the materials were purchased and the trousers cut and sewn outside the United States.
How is the value added so high? Because there’s American talent behind the creation, distribution, and marketing of the clothes we wear. Market researchers continually forecast fashion trends, providing ideas to American fashion designers who interpret them into designs for apparel that can be produced. Managers for apparel companies make decisions about transportation, storage and distribution to assure that trendy clothes make it to your favorite retail store in time to stock inventory. (Fashion moves so fast now that the concept of seasons are even “last season.”)
American fashion marketing managers make sure we know what’s in style by creating advertising and branding campaigns. Those campaigns require art directors to oversee the work of graphic designers, illustrators, photographers, and others who design artwork and layouts. These are all well-paying middle class jobs that drive global fashion forward.
The industry is expanding through trade, which has a direct impact on the availability, price, and speed of turnover of fashion products in the market. Asia is among the top regions for market expansion, but so are Canada and the United States. In fact, “Market competition in the United States” was ranked by U.S. executives as the top business challenge in 2016. Executives’ optimism about market growth is driving expanded employment in the industry.
When asked about the demand for human talent over the next five years, the U.S. fashion industry is poised to add jobs: 83 percent said they expect to hire more employees. Fashion designers, buyers and merchandisers, sourcing specialists, and social compliance specialists are in the highest demand. These are among the millions of well paying American jobs you may not have linked to trade but which rely on or directly contribute to global value chains in the fashion industry.
Note: The survey referenced is a Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study by Dr. Sheng Lu, Department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design, University of Rhode Island in collaboration with the United States Fashion Industry Association. Study results are based on responses by executives at leading U.S. fashion companies representing the fashion retail businesses, import/wholesale businesses, manufacturers/suppliers, and providers of related services.
Andrea Durkin is the Editor-in-Chief of TradeVistas and Founder of Sparkplug, LLC. She is a nonresident Senior Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and an adjunct fellow with CSIS. Ms. Durkin previously served as a U.S. Government trade negotiator and has proudly taught International Trade for the last fourteen years as an Adjunct Associate Professor at Georgetown University’s Master of Science in Foreign Service program.