Saturday, October 15, 2016

Textiles: The Spear of Globalization and a World Divided

Protestors were arrested in Brussels recently for pelting trade officials with confetti, upset over the latest round of Transatlantic Trade and Investment (TTIP) negotiations between the European Union and the United States. There was a time when such a protest over a global trade agreement would have seemed comical, but in today’s hyper-charged political and economic environment it’s not a laughing matter.

In countries around the world, there’s a reaction underway rejecting globalization. TTIP is just the latest target for those opposed to further integration of the global economy. Needless to say, with headlines filled with reports of terror attacks, attempted coups, and social strife, we live in difficult, contentious times. Protestations over trade agreements are symptomatic of something more onerous.

Why is this the case? Part of the problem lies with politicians who have poorly described the benefits of free trade and globalization to the broad population. Their poor communication has resulted in a backlash from large swaths of the electorate in the United States, European Union, and elsewhere. For many workers in the developed world, globalization seems more like some Wall Street con job than an economic panacea. However, when we consider the financial crash of 2008, and the aftermath of government bailouts of so many financial institutions, it’s not difficult to wonder if globalization and the rush to cash in on a growing world economy was symptomatic of something wrong with the theories supporting free trade.

Friday, July 29, 2016

‘Fixing Fashion’ One Stitch at a Time

In the opening chapter of “Fixing Fashion: Rethinking the Way We Make, Market and Buy Our Clothes,” author Michael Lavergne describes the current state of the global fashion business. He laments: “The fashion supply chain is fractured, and the people who make our clothes have become faceless.” Lavergne, a long-time sourcing executive with various apparel companies, should know as he worked in the vanguard of global sourcing beginning in the 1990s and the genesis of the fast fashion phenomenon. 

A spate of books published over the past few years explores various aspects of the global garment business. Examples include "Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy," a perspective of global supply chains; "Fugitive Denim," an examination of the ugly aspects of global denim production; and, "Over-Dressed," an exploration into the morass of the global sourcing business. All good books, but all written by industry outsiders (an academic and two journalists).

However, it is Lavergne’s experience as an industry executive that sets his account apart from the others.  Well-written and insightful, “Fixing Fashion” should be required reading for any new hire in the industry. Part industrial history, part personal memoir, and part call-to-action, “Fixing Fashion” is an insider’s look at the global garment business.

As Lavergne explains, with supply chains spanning the globe, today’s apparel business is typified by hyperactive global sourcing, quick turn inventories, and rapid product replenishment -- all supported by a seemingly insatiable consumer demand for ever-changing, inexpensive apparel. Greasing the pathways of global sourcing is a series of regional and multilateral free trade agreements to expedite trade in the name of lower costs and higher margins.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Beyond Globalization: A Changing Textile and Apparel Industry

There are two distinct tiers of today’s textile and apparel industry to approach consumers. One tier embraces intricate far-flung global supply chains, a behemoth pumping endless quantities of mass-produced textiles and clothes onto the shelves of retail stores everywhere. Many of the companies operating in this tier are famous as purveyors of fashion as a commodity to the consuming masses throughout the world. 

The other tier is far smaller, comprised of local supply chains and high-value-added production. Typically produced close to consuming markets, products of this industry tier are often seen as a stylish alternative to the mass-market offerings of many fast fashion retailers. Such local industries exist in the United States and Europe; although perhaps supported by large mills, garment production is often conducted by small, specialized companies, many of which are not known beyond the confines of a regional or city market.

Indeed, the majority of consumers buy their clothes from large, integrated retailers, while a growing subset of the consuming public favors small-batch, locally produced apparel. Moreover, the appeal of local over global, small over large, reflects a shifting paradigm of consumerism.

When the forces of globalization were unleashed beginning in the 1970s -- more formally supported with the advent of the World Trade Organization in the 1990s -- the United States, the victor of the Cold War, the unchallenged leader of the global economy, enjoyed the benefits of a unipolar world. In the past, the American consumer was often seen as a buyer of last resort. Whenever the global economy tanked, American consumers were always there to take up the slack. Global manufacturers were always assured that a market existed for their products.