The clothing industry is facing a long-term structural decline. Consumers are cutting back on the number of new outfits they buy. They were buying clothes in bigger quantities over the past 20 years as fast fashion retailers such as H&M and Zara and budget retailers including Primark and Walmart cut prices after shifting production to Asia.
But now, apparel markets in many developed countries may be entering a lengthy period of structural decline. Increasing consumer awareness about the negative impact of the clothing and textile industry on the environment is only one of the reasons volumes have started to decline. Consumers are buying so many pieces of clothing they are gaining little marginal utility or pleasure from buying more. Consumers would rather spend their money on going out for a meal than on buying a 60th item of clothing in a year.
If clothing volumes are plateauing in developed countries, the only way the apparel markets there can grow is if prices go up. But prices are falling. US clothing prices have fallen by 0.8 per cent a year since 2001, while UK prices fell for 13 consecutive years until 2010. And prices are expected to continue falling as production continues to shift from China to lower-cost countries in the region such as Vietnam and Bangladesh.