Apparel Belts

SIC 2387

Industry report:

This category includes establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing apparel belts. Companies that produce all types of belts for clothing are grouped in this industry, regardless of the material from which the belts are made.

The overall accessories business, like other sectors of the apparel industry, struggled with waning sales as the U.S. economy slowed in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Along with the sluggish economic conditions, U.S. accessories manufacturers were also forced to contend with increased imports, the result of free trade agreements and China's entrance into the World Trade Organization in December 2001.

According to Dun and Bradstreet's 2009 Industry Reports, 166 establishments employed 2,858 workers in the manufacture of apparel belts. About 80 percent of the firms employed fewer than 25 people. New York accounted for 738 employees in this category, Texas for 637, and California for 530. California led the nation in terms of revenue, accounting for 41 percent of the $146.5 million in total sales. Other key states, such as New York, with $24.7 million, and Florida, with $12.7 million, contributed significantly less in sales.

Industry leaders in the late 2000s included St. John Knits International Inc. of Irvine, California, with $396 million in annual sales in the mid-2000s. The family-run company, which had gone public in 1993 only to retreat back into private ownership in 1999, operated about 25 retail stores and counted Hillary Rodham Clinton and Diane Sawyer as two of its ultra-loyal customers. Tandy Brands Accessories Inc. of Arlington, Texas, which generated $129 million in sales for its 2009 fiscal year, was also a key player. Most of Tandy's products were private label items sold to large retailers such as J.C. Penney and Wal-Mart. In fact, in the first half of the decade, Wal-Mart accounted for 40 percent of Tandy's sales. Finally, Swank Inc. of New York, which focused on men's belts and accessories and produced such brands as Kenneth Cole, Nautica, Tommy Hilfiger, and Guess?, had 2008 sales of $114 million.

Leather is by far the most important material for apparel belts, making up nearly two-thirds of total shipments. Since the beginning of the 1990s, Nubuck leather has become an important material in the manufacture of apparel belts. Nubuck is a softened leather that is available in a variety of colors and textures. Nubuck first appeared as a footwear material and soon began to show up in women's accessories. Men's belts, which have traditionally been closely linked to footwear in terms of leather trends, followed soon thereafter. Although Nubuck is often confused with suede, and both are sanded to create that velvety feel, Nubuck is created by sanding the outer layer of the skin, whereas suede is made by sanding the inner layer. This difference makes Nubuck more durable than suede.

An important factor in the belt industry's success throughout the 1990s and early 2000s was an increasing emphasis on casual styles, as epitomized by the workday casual movement adopted by many American businesses by the mid-1990s. The glossy look of 1980s accessories had given way to a more down-to-earth and practical flavor in belts. With the comeback of jeans, belt manufacturers were producing "jean friendly" belts--braided belts, wider-width belts, and brushed-texture belts --to work with the wider legs and roomier fit featured in many of the modern styles. Furthermore, the crossover market in men's belts continued to grow. What had until recently been mainly a replacement business had been spurred on by increasing attention paid to men by designers and manufacturers and ever-changing fashion trends such as textured belts and updated buckles.

On the women's side, the reappearance of the fitted look and a renewed emphasis on the waistline contributed to the health of the belt industry in the mid-2000s. The popularity of the grunge look and natural soft-flowing fabrics in the late 1990s had created a slump in sales for makers of belts. New fashion trends in the first decade of the twenty-first century helped counteract this decline, despite generally poor showings throughout much of the apparel industry.

Since the early 1980s, the number of U.S. jobs in this category has been on a steady decline. In 1982, the industry employed 11,700 U.S. workers; by the late 1990s, that number was down to roughly 5,000. A decade later, the figure had fallen to under 3,000. Additionally, imports from abroad, especially China, provided stiff competition within the apparel industry as a whole. For example, imports from China totaled $885 million in 2005, up from $765 million in 2004. In 2007, China saw its biggest export year in history in apparel, and in November 2008, that country took a record 54 percent of the U.S. apparel import market.

© COPYRIGHT 2018 The Gale Group, Inc. This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group. For permission to reuse this article, contact the Copyright Clearance Center.

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