US Apparel Imports Reach New May Record

Despite the rumors that “Made in USA” is a big industry trend, apparel imports rose to a new May record.

According to Commerce Department data released last week, apparel imports increased by 4.9% in May compared to the same month last year, to over $7 billion, capping three consecutive months of year-over-year growth. Given that retail apparel is growing at less than 2 percent, then, one could reasonably conclude that imports are gaining share from domestically-produced goods.

The increase greatly outpaced that of overall imports, which fell by 7.2% in the month to $188 billion, pressured by big declines in oil prices and a steep drop in the value of manufactured and consumer goods, including machinery and industrial supplies.

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On a 12-month smoothed basis, which corrects for volatility of data in a particular month, apparel import growth was 3.4% in May, ahead of April’s increase and the biggest jump in more than a year.

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China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Indonesia and India are the top five sources of U.S. imported apparel so far this year, though Indonesia has seen its apparel exports to the U.S. drop in the first five months of the year compared to 2014.

Apparel exports continued to outperform the total export market as well, increasing by almost 1 percent compared to last May, to $496 million, despite a 7.5% plunge in overall exports of goods and services. On a 12-month smoothed basis, however, apparel exports were down by almost 1 percent.

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Canada is the biggest importer of U.S. apparel so far this year, comprising almost one-third of exports, followed by Mexico, the U.K., Japan and El Salvador. U.S. apparel exports to Mexico have increased by almost 39 percent so far in 2015, to a year-to-date total of $519 million, or 21 percent of total U.S. apparel exports.

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