Even though it’s perceived as a positive step, US apparel manufacturers are skeptical about increasing calls for nearingshoring supply chains. They believe, textile and apparel production in the US is unlikely to return to its former glory as it does not have the required scale and quality of raw materials. One prominent example of this is the lack of hemp raw material in the country. Philadelphia-based designer Mary Alice Duff, who began sourcing hemp domestically, found the fiber fabric available in the US is not scaled, nor skilled enough. Additionally, the 2019 tariff hike has also increased hemp prices in the country by around 25 per cent. Hence, Duff is compelled to source hemp-cotton blend from China.
Upgrading its manufacturing skills
Another factor that holds back nearshoring of apparel manufacturing is the lack of latest technology. Fatima Anwar, CEO, Ethical and Sustainable Apparel Sourcing, says the convenience of co-locating the entire garment manufacturing process should not be overlooked. According to her, the US is unlikely to see resurgence in apparel production unless the cut-and-sew capabilities of manufacturers are upgraded.
Though automation could fix these problems it hasn’t yet done so as the cut-and-sew process is incredibly labor-intensive. Bangladesh manufacturers don't have the technology as yet to make fully-automated facilities. Hence, Anwar is forced to keep one foot in New York and one in Bangladesh. Though her clients are based in the US, the manufacturers she connects with are in Bangladesh. US sourcing of textiles does not make business sense for most of her large-scale clients.
And Anwar says buyers are mainly attracted drawn to three factors: convenience, price and experience. Experience translates to high quality and high productivity rates. According US production resources might make sense for small quantities at a luxury price point. The country does not have a lot of people specialized in textile and textile formulation.
Filling supply chain gaps with dead stock
However, the US has plenty of dead stock that can help brands fill the gap in their supply chains, says Stephanie Benedetto, Founder, Queen of Raw, an online marketplace for dead stock. Benedetto estimates the US produces more dead stock than it does virgin fabric. In addition to luxury materials like leather and silk, Queen of Raw offers popular synthetic textiles produced in Asia. Its user base has grown exponentially since the beginning of the pandemic as most US-based brands cancelled orders from suppliers to hold onto cash and, are to yet decide on their future collections. These brands are utilizing the current available time to plan a less wasteful system based on nearshoring. However, it’s quite early to know if they can truly create more localized on-demand, sustainable, efficient supply chains.