If there’s one thing we constantly hear from U.S. textile and apparel importers, it’s that they’re always on the lookout for new sourcing opportunities.   Along with quality and price, sourcing executives also look at other factors when considering suppliers, like the supplier’s work on sustainability and labor rights, and how well prepared the supplier is to mitigate unanticipated risks like weather issues.

“We strive for continuous improvement in all that we do, seeking innovative approaches to processes, tools, and communication both internally and with our suppliers,” says Kris Arabia, Director of Softlines Sourcing & Technical Design for Disney Theme Parks & Resorts, a USA-ITA member.  Arabia leads a global sourcing team for Disney’s worldwide operations, and seeks to “cultivate meaningful partnerships with best-in-class suppliers to support the creative vision, while ensuring all business goals are met or exceeded,” she says. (She will be speaking on a SOURCING at MAGIC panel about issues in sourcing on February 13th.)

It’s more important than ever that textile and apparel importers find new sourcing opportunities. As Arabia explained, “Diversifying production to mitigate risk is central to our strategic plans.”

At the Textile & Apparel Importer Conference hosted by USA-ITA and the American Import Shippers Association (AISA) in November, speakers discussed a number of sourcing issues, from high costs of shipping to the economy. In addition to the recently passed Free Trade Agreements with Korea, Panama, and Colombia, we see promising new opportunities to find the best product at the best price.

Jeff Streader, Operating Partner with Marlin Equity Partners, advises the Source ASEAN Full-Service Alliance (SAFSA), an alliance of the leading textile and apparel manufacturers in Southeast Asia. At the conference, he explained that sourcing executives face pressure to “reduce costs and to continue to increase speed to market” while managing “disappointing economic recovery” and “market instability.” Yet, looking to emerging markets—such as Southeast Asia, for example—can help sourcing executives deal with some of these risks.

Other countries are expanding their supply. As Luis de la Calle, President of Mexico Fits, explained at the conference, many U.S. companies that source denim from Mexico may not know that the country is rapidly opening trade and producing many more products with rapid speed-to-market, including knit shirts, hosiery, and cotton-woven apparel, to name a few.

“Without a doubt, there are many issues for sourcing executives to manage these days,” says Julia K. Hughes, President of USA-ITA. “However, we see many promising opportunities to expand trade and as a result, offer the American consumer better products, at better prices, with fewer risk factors.”