US retailers seeking clothing made from recycled materials are relying more heavily on countries closer to home to meet their sourcing needs, rather than Asia, a new study has revealed.
The latest issue of Sustainability features a new study which explores US retailers’ sourcing strategies for clothing made from recycled textile materials and suggests that while the vast majority (over 90%) of US regular new clothing came from developing countries as of 2022, as many as 43% of the sampled clothing items made from recycled textile materials were sourced from developed countries.
Likewise, US retailers seemed to be less dependent on Asia when sourcing clothing made from recycled materials (41.9%) and instead used nearsourcing from America (30.1%) more often, particularly domestic sourcing from the US (14.8%).
The study’s author, Dr Sheng Lu, associate professor of fashion and apparel studies from the University of Delaware, examined over 3,000 clothing items for sale in the US retail market between January 2019 and August 2022 which explicitly mentioned “100% made from recycled textile materials” in their product description.
He explained that as textile recycling techniques continue to advance, potentially enriching the product offer of clothing made from recycled textile materials, US retailers’ sourcing needs and supply base for such products could expand further.
“Sourcing clothing made from recycled textile materials may help US retailers achieve business benefits beyond the positive environmental impacts,” Lu told Just Style.
“For example, given the unique supply chain composition and production requirements, China appeared to play a less dominant role as a supplier of clothing made from recycled textile materials for US retailers. Instead, a substantial portion of such products were “Made in the USA” or came from emerging sourcing destinations in America, such as El Salvador, Nicaragua; and Africa such as Tunisia and Morocco). In other words, sourcing clothing made from recycled textile materials could help US retailers with several goals they have been trying to achieve, such as reducing dependence on sourcing from China, expanding nearsourcing, and diversifying their sourcing base.
“As trade policy could significantly affect fashion companies’ sourcing patterns, we need to be having more dialogues regarding how trade policy tools, such as preferential tariffs, may support US retailers’ efforts to source more clothing using recycled or other eco-friendly textile materials.”
1. Reflecting the unique supply chain composition of clothing made from recycled textile materials, US retailers’ sourcing patterns for such products turned out to be quite different from regular new clothing.
Notably, whereas the vast majority (over 90%) of US regular new clothing came from developing countries as of 2022, as many as 43% of the sampled clothing items made from recycled textile materials were sourced from developed countries. Likewise, US retailers seemed to be less dependent on Asia when sourcing clothing made from recycled materials (41.9%) and instead used nearsourcing from America (30.1%) more often, particularly domestic sourcing from the United States (14.8%).
2. US retailers appeared to set differentiated assortments for products imported from developed and developing countries when sourcing clothing made from recycled textile materials.
Specifically, among the sampled clothing items made from recycled textile materials, those imported from developing countries, on average, included a broader assortment than developed economies. Likewise, imports from developing countries also concentrated on products relatively more complex to make as opposed to developed countries. Developing countries’ more extensive clothing production capability, including the available production facilities and skilled labour force, than developed economies could have contributed to the pattern.
Further, likely caused by developed countries’ overall higher production costs, the average retail price of sampled clothing items sourced from developed countries was notably higher than those from developing ones.
3. An exporting country’s geographic location matters for US sourcing patterns concerning recycled textiles.
· Imports from Asia had the most diverse product assortment (such as sizing options) and focused on complex product categories (such as outerwear) that targeted mass and value markets.
· Imports from America (North, South, and Central America) concentrated on simple product categories (such as T-shirts and hosiery) with moderate assortment diversity and mainly targeted the mass and value market.
· Imports from the EU were mainly higher-priced luxury items in medium-sophisticated or sophisticated product categories with diverse assortment.
· Imports from Africa concentrated on relatively higher-priced premium or luxury items in simple product categories (such as swim shorts) with a limited assortment diversity.