In October, Chinese apparel maker Suzhou Tianyuan Garments Co. announced it would invest $20 million in an old, Arkansas metals fabrication plant and convert the facility into a state-of-the-art garments factory. Tianyuan said it would begin to make clothes in the plant in late 2017, marking the first time a Chinese garments manufacturer would be producing its wares in the US.
The announcement was met with great fanfare, especially as Tianyuan, which produces primarily for Adidas, said it would be hiring 400 textile workers. However, don’t expect this to signal an onslaught of foreign producers to American shores.
“Some textile manufacturers have moved back to the US. There’s some resurgence there,” said Vinod Rangarajan, with the fashion and apparel consultancy 703 Advisors. But [labor rates] are still “not that competitive.”
Reshoring, or on-shoring, is a hot button issue these days, with the Trump election and pressure the president-elect has put on individual manufacturers such as Carrier to keep workers in the US.
The textiles and garments industry itself has managed to hold its own and even expand production modestly since the Great Recession. However, the labor force remains a fraction of what it was in years past, a combination of both outsourcing and increased automation. According to the National Council of Textile Organizations, which represents the industry, American-made textile products totaled some $76 billion in 2015, a 14% increase over 2009. Yet, the number of workers last year stood at 390,000. That’s barely half the number of textile workers employed a decade before and just 16% the total textile-related American workforce in 1973.
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