Fashion Industry Trends

Changing trade regulations are the single most important factor influencing future employment patterns in the Fashion Industry. Because the apparel industry is labor-intensive, it is especially vulnerable to import competition from nations in which workers receive lower wages. The protection provided to the domestic apparel industry over the past two decades will be significantly reduced in coming years, permitting more apparel imports. For example, since 2004, all quotas for apparel and textile products are lifted among members of the World Trade Organization, which includes most U.S. trading partners, and, in particular, China. Because many U.S. and European firms continue to move their assembly operations to low-wage countries, this trend is likely to affect the jobs of lower skilled machine operators most severely. It will not, however, have as adverse an effect on the demand for some of the presewing functions, such as designing and cutting, because much of the apparel are still designed and cut in the United States and Europe.

New technology will increase the apparel industry’s productivity, but, unlike other industries, the apparel industry is likely to remain labor intensive. The variability of cloth and the intricacy of the cuts and seams of the assembly process have been difficult to automate. Machine operators, therefore, will continue to perform most sewing tasks, and automated sewing will be limited to simple functions. In some cases, however, computerized sewing machines will increase the productivity of operators and reduce required training time.

Technology also is increasing the productivity of workers who perform other functions, such as designing, marking, cutting, and pressing. Computers and automated machinery will continue to raise productivity and reduce the demand for workers in these areas, but the decline will be moderated by growth in demand for the services of these workers generated by offshore assembly sites.

The trend today is for apparel firms to merge or consolidate to remain competitive. In the future, the apparel industry will be dominated by highly efficient, profitable organizations that have developed their dominance through well-recognized strategies that enable them to be among the lowest cost producers of apparel.