1st Quarter 2008
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Talking strategy: expert views on US apparel sourcing
published in Issue 1, 1st Quarter 2008
The US clothing industry is going through a period of profound change. The elimination of quotas has led to intense competition from manufacturers in low cost countries. As a result, retail buyers are placing strict demands on apparel manufacturers in terms of product quality and delivery times. To make things more challenging, clothing firms face rising raw material costs, high energy prices and a faltering US economy.
In order to adapt to this situation and remain competitive, US clothing firms have been forced to make some big changes in their sourcing strategies. A popular course of action has been to reconfigure their portfolios of foreign suppliers. Many firms have decided to foster close strategic relationships and partnerships with suppliers in order to minimise costs, maximise quality and optimise lead times.
Another response has been to invest in special manufacturing capabilities to enable firms to offer a better overall customer service. Such capabilities include total quality management systems, modern design facilities, logistics and transportation functionality, and information technology (IT) infrastructures.
That said, the future of the US industry appears to be in the hands of efficient and “well-capitalised” producers who have abandoned conventional buying strategies—such as “country of the month” and “factory of the season”—in favour of long-term partnerships. Those manufacturers who have not kept up with the competition face a tough up-hill struggle over the next few years.