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% of respondents rank this issue among their top five business challenges, with more than one-third 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% of executives rank cost among their top five business challenges in 2018, a notable increase from 34% 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, writes 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% of respondents say they plan to hire more employees in the next five years, compared with 80-85% 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% of respondents have more than 1,000 employees, including 64% 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.