In July 2017, the United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA) released the fourth annual Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study, a survey of executives from leading textile, apparel, and fashion brands, retailers, importers, and wholesalers.
The survey was conducted in conjunction with Dr. Sheng Lu, Assistant Professor at the University of Delaware's Department of Fashion & Apparel Studies. The survey asked respondents about the business outlook, sourcing practices, utilization of Free Trade Agreements and preference programs, and views on trade policy.
While the majority of executives are optimistic about the five-year outlook for the fashion industry, the percentage fell from 92.3 percent in 2016 to 71.0 percent in 2017—a record low since we began conducting the study in 2014. This decline could be explained by the rise of new challenges for the industry—specifically, the “protectionist trade policy agenda in the United States,” which executives rank as their top challenge this year, up from being ranked the #10 challenge last year.
Conducted in conjunction with Dr. Sheng Lu, Assistant Professor at University of Delaware Department of Fashion & Apparel Studies, the survey asked respondents about the business outlook, sourcing practices, utilization of Free Trade Agreements and preference programs, and views on trade policy.
Other key findings include:
- Executives are more concerned about trade protectionism, market competition from e-commerce, and supply chain risk than they are about cost; “increasing production or sourcing cost” dropped from the #2 concern in 2016 to the #7 concern in 2017.
- Only 36 percent of executives expect to increase sourcing from Vietnam, compared to 56 percent last year; this is likely due to the United States’ withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
- Among all sourcing destinations examined this year, Bangladesh is considered the most competitive in terms of price—but also the riskiest in terms of trade compliance.
- Free trade agreements remain underutilized; only the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is utilized by more than 50 percent of companies surveyed.
- Ethical sourcing and sustainability are given more weight in sourcing decisions, with 87.5 percent saying these issues have become more important in sourcing decisions today versus five years ago; 100 percent of companies surveyed audit their suppliers.
- It’s unanimous: 100 percent of respondents oppose the U.S. border adjustment tax (BAT) proposal.
The survey was conducted between April 2017 and May 2017. In terms of business size, 68 percent have more than 1,000 employees, including 58 percent with more than 3,000 employees; an additional 19 percent have 101-500 employees. This suggests the findings well reflect the views of the most influential players in the U.S. fashion industry.