Findings show U.S. industry executives remain most concerned about the impact of trade protectionism, but overall optimism, hiring plans up

The United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA) has released the fifth annual Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study, a survey of executives from nearly 30 leading fashion brands, retailers, importers, and wholesalers, including some of the largest brands and retailers in the country.

Conducted in conjunction with Dr. Sheng Lu, Associate Professor in the 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.

For the second year in a row, “protectionist trade policy agenda in the United States” is ranked the top challenge for the U.S. fashion industry. More than 60 percent of respondents rank this issue among their top five business challenges, with more than onethird ranking it either #1 or #2, far exceeding concerns about other issues on the list. From 2014-2016, respondents consistently ranked trade protectionism between #8 and #11.

Related, the pressure of “increasing production or sourcing cost” is returning this year; 54 percent of executives rank cost among their top five business challenges in 2018, a notable increase from 34 percent in 2017. There are two possible explanations: cost could be rising in absolute terms, and the intensified trade tensions caused by the protectionist trade policy agenda may force companies to switch to more expensive sourcing destinations, reported Dr. Lu.

Despite concerns about trade policy and cost, executives are more confident about the five-year outlook for the U.S. fashion industry in 2018 than they were a year ago, although confidence has not fully recovered to the level seen in 2015 and 2016. In addition, 100 percent of respondents say they plan to hire more employees in the next five years, compared with 80-85 percent in previous studies; market analysts, data scientists, sustainability/compliance related specialists or managers, and supply chain specialists are expected to be the most in-demand.

The survey was conducted between April 2018 and May 2018. In terms of business size, 76 percent of respondents have more than 1,000 employees, including 64 percent with more than 3,000 employees; this suggests the findings well reflect the views of the most influential players in the U.S. fashion industry.

Dr. Sheng Lu is an Associate Professor in the Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies at the University of Delaware. With over 60 publications in academic and trade journals, Dr. Lu’s research focuses on the economic and business aspects of the textile and apparel industry, including international trade, trade policy and the governance of global apparel value chain. The United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA) is dedicated to fashion made possible by global trade. USFIA represents brands, retailers, importers, and wholesalers based in the United States and doing business globally. Founded in 1989, USFIA works to eliminate tariff and non-tariff barriers that impede the fashion industry’s ability to trade freely and create jobs in the United States. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., USFIA is the voice of the fashion industry in front of the U.S. government as well as international governments and stakeholders. With constant, two-way communication, USFIA staff and counsel serve as the eyes and ears of our members in Washington and around the world, enabling them to stay ahead of the regulatory challenges of today and tomorrow. Through our publications, educational events, and networking opportunities, USFIA also connects with key stakeholders across the value chain including U.S. and international service providers, suppliers, and industry groups.

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