Men's and Boys' Shirts, Except Work Shirts

SIC 2321

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This category includes establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing men's and boys' shirts (including polo and sport shirts) from purchased woven or knit fabrics. Establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing work shirts are classified in SIC 2326. Knitting mills primarily engaged in manufacturing outerwear are classified in SIC 2253.

Industry Snapshot

Like many sectors of the apparel industry in the United States, domestic shirt makers experienced increasing competition from less expensive imports in the mid- to late 2000s. In 2005, long-standing quotas on imports were lifted, bringing a glut of inexpensive Asian products into the U.S. market, further affecting price and sales of products manufactured and marketed in the United States. In 2007, China supplied more than a quarter of the U.S. apparel market. Countries that were a part of the U.S./Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) supplied another one-fifth (19.3 percent). By November 2008, China claimed a record 54 percent of the U.S. apparel market. Indeed, by the late 2000s, a great majority of the clothing worn by Americans was not made in the United States.

Although knit shirts continued their dominance of the sector, woven dress shirts made slow increases as the trend back toward a dressier, more tailored appearance began in the mid-2000s. Although casual dress was still prevalent in corporate America, economic uncertainty and widespread layoffs were key in bringing back a more polished look to U.S. offices and service industries, and by 2004, more than 60 percent of men chose to wear tailored clothes to the office. Management no longer had to entice workers with casual dress policies and workers believed projecting a more professional image would be a wise decision in the increasingly competitive market for jobs in the 2000s.

One important issue affecting the industry was cost. Shirt manufacturers had greater competition for consumers' dollars because of less disposable income as the U.S. economy slowed in the late 2000s. Manufacturing costs, however, continued to rise, with shirt makers forced to find ways to save in other areas to keep costs low. Continuing an important trend of the 1990s, shirt manufacturers moved production to more affordable factories overseas.

Organization and Structure

Approximately 136 establishments operated in men's and boys' cut and sew shirt (except work shirt) manufacturing in 2007. Industry-wide employment was approximately 6,583 workers, 76 percent of whom were production workers. Total payroll was $173 million. Companies in this industry tended to be small, with 71 percent employing fewer than 20 workers. The value of industry shipments totaled approximately $754 million.

The two most important supplies for the men's and boys' shirt industry are knit fabrics and broadwoven cloths. For most of the twentieth century, knit and woven shirts were assembled from cut pieces of fabric according to the "bundle system." Sewing a dress shirt requires anywhere from 20 to 40 operations under this system. Each operation is the specialty of a certain sewing-machine operator, who performs his or her single task on a large bundle of cut pieces, reties the pieces in the bundle, then sends them along to the next operator.

At any moment there are thousands of garment-pieces lying on the factory floor, a huge "work-in-process" that represents the manufacturer's inventory. It takes less than 20 minutes of actual labor to assemble a shirt in this system. However, those 20 minutes are spread over a production cycle that can last up to six weeks, from the time separate pieces are cut to the time they are packaged for distribution. The bundle system maximizes the productivity of individual operators but results in a costly build-up of in-process inventory and hinders manufacturers' flexibility to respond to changing consumer demand. The industry's largest manufacturers report that department stores and mass merchandisers are the biggest consumers of their products. In addition, a number of firms are expanding sales through their own retail divisions, especially factory stores at outlet malls.

Background and Development

The historical development of the men's and boys' shirt industry can be divided into two basic periods before and after the 1918 introduction of the soft-collar-attached shirt. The state of the men's and boys' shirt industry in the early twenty-first century is the result of a range of influences, including wars; political, industrial, and technological revolutions; government policies; apparel construction and design changes; introductions of new natural and synthetic fibers and/or improvements in their resiliency; and the fleeting nature of fashion preferences.

The American Revolution in 1776 gave birth to the U.S. apparel industry. It created a climate in which the activities of urban-based industrialists, bankers, merchants, and other professions and crafts could flourish. Progressing in step with this newly emergent and triumphant political and economic class of white men were styles of dress reflective of their own particular preferences. These tastes were largely utilitarian in design and style. Early uniformity in fashion tastes facilitated mass production of ready-made shirts.

From its infancy at the end of the American Revolution to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the U.S. apparel industry was nurtured by a highly protectionist trade policy. Between 1816 and 1829 tariffs on imported clothing rose from 25 to 50 percent, where they remained until 1860. Additional duties were imposed if the imported clothing arrived in the United States on board a ship of foreign origin.

The introduction of sewing machine technology in the 1850s precipitated the downfall of these tariffs and allowed U.S. shirt manufacturers to compete in international markets. The increased productivity generated by sewing machines propelled the U.S. apparel industry to a world-status second to none. The industry's main advantage lay in its ability to reduce the cost of labor per shirt, which led to a sharp decrease in the selling price of its product. The sewing machine had a profound structural impact on the organization of the workplace. It ultimately led to greater divisions of labor based on specialization. Highly paid, skilled tailors were replaced by low-wage, semi-skilled or unskilled laborers who arrived from Europe to work in U.S. factories.

Another milestone in the shirt industry occurred with the outbreak of the Civil War. Prior to the war, manufacturers and retailers of ready-made apparel had been hampered by the absence of standard clothing sizes. To facilitate its clothing orders for private manufacturers, the Union Army's Philadelphia Quartermaster collected body measurements from more than 1 million recruits and conscripts. These measurements were organized into tables of standardized body proportions that could be easily applied to the manufacture of civilian garments.

In the early twentieth century, fashion began to have a greater influence on the direction of the men's and boys' shirt industry. Affluent, well-dressed men eschewed the soft shirts being offered by Sears, Roebuck and Co. in favor of the "stiff-bosom" shirt, a mark of mental rather than manual labor. Cluett, Peabody's "Arrow" line of stiff-bosom shirts came in 20 starch-collar styles of the "poke" type: a plain standing collar without tabs. By 1906, fashion tastes had shifted from the poke type detached collar to the fold or turned-down collar style. Arrow promoted the new collar through the creation of the "Arrow collar man," whose sex appeal over the next dozen or so years managed to drive the sales of Arrow's 400-plus detached-collar styles to the $32 million mark. In 1911, the notched detached-collar shirt was fashionable. Accompanying advertisements told consumers that this collar saved time, money, and temper since it prevented buttonholes from ripping, did not tear fingernails, and bypassed the use of metal collar boutonnieres.

Another fashion wave swept across the United States in 1918: the soft-collar-attached shirt. During their tour of duty in World War I, many U.S. men became accustomed to the relative comfort of the soft-collar-attached khaki army shirt, especially when compared to its more irritating starched, collar-detached civilian counterpart. In fact, just prior to the widespread circulation of the collar-attached shirt in its various civilian guises, the market was booming with sales of military shirts, replete with regulation army cuffs and pocket, collar, and sleeve insignias.

In 1920, John M. Van Heusen introduced a three-ply collar constructed in a one-piece arc. It incorporated the advantage of the starch collar's crisp appearance with the comfort of the soft collar. It also had the advantage of retaining its shape longer than other collars because of its construction. By 1925, the Van Heusen Shirt Company was running advertisements declaring it the "collar of the century," while incorporating the new collar into the design of their entire line of shirts. Van Heusen also pioneered a patented weaving process that introduced the one-piece collar, which would become an industry standard. The collar's novel quality lay in its uniform thickness and its design and construction without any lining so that, even after repeated wearings, it proved to be wrinkle-, blister-, and buckle-resistant.

World War II also spawned important changes in shirt production. First, the war-effort contributed to the economic integration of the southern- and northern-based apparel industries, whose prior operations had been largely conducted on a regional basis. The war also introduced synthetic materials that eventually found their way to the apparel industry. Immediately following World War II, some shirt manufacturers began using nylon and other synthetic fibers. Not all of the major shirt producers were willing to plunge into the nylon shirt fad, in spite of enthusiastic support from the public. Cluett, Peabody announced that no Arrow-label shirts would be produced from nylon. Along with other traditional shirt producers, Cluett, Peabody questioned the propriety of using synthetic fibers as a "shirting fabric."

During the 1950s, three major technological changes occurred that had a great impact on the shirt industry. Concerns about the longevity of synthetic fibers were silenced when DuPont became the first U.S. commercial producer of the man-made fiber polyester, marketed under the brand name Dacron. Consumers valued polyester for its wrinkle resistance and iron-free maintenance, its ability to maintain shape after repeated washing, and its permanent heat-setting treatment process that helped maintain pleats and guard against shrinkage and sagging. The ease with which polyester could be blended with other fibers was also a boon to manufacturers.

Wash-and-wear, all-cotton shirts were introduced in 1956. A special resin treatment allowed apparel made of natural fibers to withstand repeated laundering without losing its original shape or appearance. Three years later, manufacturers began treating apparel with special finishing processes that allowed stains to be washed out with plain cold water. Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (3M), of St. Paul, Minnesota, introduced the revolutionary "Scotchgard" process during the 1950s as well. The oil-based spray proved resistant against the harshest conditions and could be used on a wide range of products to prevent moisture penetration, dust particles, and oil stains.

The two major segments of the men's and boys' shirt industry were moving in opposite directions in the 1990s. In 1995, U.S. manufacturers shipped 1.13 billion knit shirts (including T-shirts, sweatshirts, and polo shirts), valued at $5.84 billion, which was up from $4.89 billion in 1992 and $3.92 billion in 1991. These gains were entirely due to a jump in shipments of T-shirts and tank tops, which climbed from 565 million shirts at $2.09 billion in 1991, to 833 million shirts at $3.99 billion in 1995. Earnings from boys' knit shirts showed the most growth, with 1998 sales doubling those from the previous year. By contrast, shipments of woven shirts (including dress, business, and sports shirts) declined steadily over the same period, from 105 million shirts at $1.11 billion in 1992, to 88.4 million shirts at $990 million in 1995. However, woven shirts made a slight recovery near the end of the decade, at least in discount clothing stores. Total sales of men's woven sport shirts in discount stores during the first half of 1998 rose 3.8 percent compared to the same period in 1997, from $355 million to $368.7 million. Total sales of men's knit sport shirts in discount stores rose only 1.3 percent over the same period, to $712.7 million.

The very different fortunes of these two segments of the industry were attributable in part to the "casualization" of U.S. clothing tastes, expressed in the trend toward corporate dressing-down, which hurt sales of dress and business shirts. By the mid-1990s, dress-shirt manufacturers responded to the trend by developing new lines of casual woven shirts, sometimes known as "Friday wear." T-shirt sales gained from this trend as well as from the synergy between corporate merchandising campaigns and the desire of millions of Americans to wear clothing expressing their loyalties to sports teams, rock groups, and other popular icons. Sports apparel by itself generated almost $1.5 billion in sales during 1998.

Although these trends had markedly different impacts on the various branches of the U.S. men's and boys' shirt industry in the 1990s, both knit and woven shirt producers felt the effect of competition from overseas manufacturers, who were producing cheap goods with cheap labor. Additional long-term uncertainties were thrown into the mix by the passage of the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the 1994 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and the 1995 Agreement on Textiles and Clothing (ATC).

The apparel industry was extremely susceptible to import competition during the latter half of the twentieth century and frequently lobbied the U.S. government to impose tariffs and quotas. The share of imports in U.S. consumption of both knit and woven shirts rose substantially from the 1970s to the 1990s, although import penetration was much higher for woven shirts. The Multifiber Agreement (MFA) had regulated U.S. imports of textiles and apparel since 1974. Based on bilateral agreements with individual countries, the MFA established import quotas on most apparel items, including suits. NAFTA, GATT, and ATC dismantled many of those protections. For example, ACT increased the number of items allowed into the United States under the apparel quotas and all quotas on shirts were phased out by 2005. However, in November 2005, a three-year agreement was reached between China and the United States to temporarily limit apparel imports, based on a World Trade Organization (WTO) safeguard.

Shirt manufacturers had to respond to the challenges posed by foreign competition. One strategy involved a combination of downsizing U.S. operations by closing plants and laying off production workers, as well as outsourcing an increasingly large amount of work to company-owned plants or contractors in Mexico or the Caribbean Basin. Many U.S. companies manufacture shirts with cheap foreign labor by sending cut fabric to these foreign plants, where they are sewn and finished. The finished items are then shipped back to the United States at preferential duties. Between 1991 and 1995, the value of such "807" imported shirts (a figure that included the value added in both the United States and abroad) rose from $183 million to $1.03 billion.

Offshore production gave U.S. companies a chance to produce their goods with cheap labor, but domestic production had its own advantages, especially proximity to the huge U.S. consumer market and the ability of rapid response to shifting consumer demands. One major shirt manufacturer, Hampton Industries Inc., estimated that the production cycle (the time from cutting the fabric to the product's arrival at the company's distribution center) for shirts produced in the Far East lasts as long as six months. For shirts produced in the Caribbean Basin, Hampton estimated that the production cycle lasts about 10 weeks, and for shirts produced in the United States it lasts just five weeks.

Leading U.S. shirt manufacturers also capitalized on domestic production advantages by pursuing a consumer-driven "quick response" (QR) strategy. This strategy integrates numerous dimensions of the production cycle with the goal of shortening a cycle's duration, implementing productivity improvements, and shrinking inventory levels through the immediate transmission of consumer taste to manufacturers. The QR strategy depends on a manufacturer's investment in state-of-the-art communications systems, known as electronic data interchange (EDI). EDI systems link manufacturers to retailers' computer-recorded sales information, allowing them to track changes in consumer preferences as they happen.

QR strategies also attempt to reduce inventories and accelerate production cycles so that changing consumer preferences can be quickly translated into modified products. The most far-reaching attempt to accomplish these goals involves the replacement of the bundle system of assembly with "modular" production. In modular systems, teams of multi-skilled operators work to produce a single garment or a single part of a garment, such as a collar. Pay is based on an entire team's output, which is an incentive for team-members to shift tasks when backlogs develop. Workers focus on maximizing the number of finished pieces produced by the whole team, rather than on the number of individual operations performed. Individual worker productivity in a modular system is not normally as high as that of specialized workers in the progressive bundle system. However, modular systems reduce inventory and accelerate the production cycle for the assembly of an entire garment. Although modular systems have received strong backing from industry analysts, industry leaders, and unions, manufacturers have been slow to change their management and human resource practices.

Trends affecting men's shirts in the early twenty-first century were color and prints. Tropical sportswear, including Hawaiian print shirts, and striped and patterned shirts resurfaced in the new millennium. With a struggling economy and a climate of uneasiness following the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, consumers wanted to return to a happier time and the industry obliged, showing a variety of bright colors and prints that had been popular in the 1950s and 1960s. The popularity of surfing worldwide drove sales of surfer wear beyond the sport and into mainstream society.

T-shirts made news in 2003 when manufacturer Hanes began manufacturing its premium men's shirts without the sometimes annoying labels. Replaced by printed-on tags, the company had success with the line and began implementing the label-free idea across all its undershirt lines. Jockey International also began eliminating labels in its underwear lines. Outerwear T-shirts, children's shirts, and all Jockey International products were also becoming label free.

Despite reduced production, demand for dress shirts from the men's sector slowly rose in the mid-2000s. Bucking the 1990s trend of "casual Friday" and a more informal look in the workforce in general, the majority of men began wearing more tailored, professional, or dressed-up clothing, even when the company did not have a dress code. By 2004, research from the NPD Group discovered that more than 50 percent of men wore business tailored clothing to work, while only 10 percent reported that their offices required such an appearance. While the industry marked a trend back to the more formal, tailored look of earlier years, colors and patterns were bold and sharp. Outside the business world, service industries also were interested in showing their best side.

Unlike former days of dry-cleaned and starched shirts, the majority of men looked for easy care, wrinkle-free, wash-and-wear clothing in the early twenty-first century. High-tech fabrics in dress shirts gained popularity with manufacturers and wearers. Although traditionally made of cotton or cotton-blend fabrics, synthetic microfibers became more prevalent in dress shirts. Microfibers are commonly made up of polyester with polynosic. Rayon and nylon blends also are popular, and rayon or nylon polynosic blends are the most expensive of the fabrics. They typically sport a peached (or sanded) finish that lends a textured feel to the shirt. Some mimic the look and feel of silk but are machine washable and dryable. Easy to care for and stain resistant, these fabrics are appealing to consumers. Cotton remained the leader among dress shirts, however, particularly high-quality luxury cottons such as Egyptian cottons. Button-down collars continued to be consumer favorites, although spread collars were gaining in popularity.

Cost was an important concern for shirt manufacturers. With the cost of manufacturing shirts on the rise, shirt makers were forced to keep prices down and find ways to save in other areas. Most looked for more affordable factories and, by the early 2000s, all major shirt manufacturing plants had moved out of the United States to countries with lower production costs. In 2005, long-standing quotas on imports were lifted, causing an astronomical rise in inexpensive Asian products on the U.S. market, with apparel imports recording hundreds or even thousands of percentage increases month after month in the early part of that year. Later in the year the United States and China reached a new trade agreement, which provided for a progressive increase in imports of certain textile and apparel products from China, including men's and boys' knit and woven shirts. Using import figures from the previous year, the agreement allowed China to ship 10 to 15 percent more apparel imports to the United States in 2006, 12.5 to 16 percent more in 2007, and 15 to 17 percent more in 2008. The National Committee of Textile Organizations and other industry organizations lobbied Congress for a new import-monitoring program on Chinese products to follow up on the agreement that ended in 2008.

Current Conditions

The American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) reported that production in the overall U.S. apparel wholesale market dropped significantly in the mid- to late 2000s. After reaching production numbers of 2.2 billion garments in 2005, U.S. production fell below the 1 million mark in 2007 to 986,900 garments. States most affected included North Carolina, South Carolina, New York, and California. U.S. consumption also fell, but much less dramatically, to 20.1 billion garments. The difference between production and consumption was made up by imports, which rose in 2007 to 19.1 billion garments. Figures from the AAFA also showed that apparel imports brought into the United States duty-free under CAFTA-DR went from $1.8 billion in 2006, when it began, to $3.0 billion in 2007.

In 2008, output in the U.S. apparel industry suffered the worst decline since the months following 9/11. According to the AAFA, production equaled 22.7 million square meters equivalent (SME). Reports released in July 2009 were no better. Figures from the Institute for Supply Management showed that output in the apparel and textile manufacturing industry fell for the 17th month in a row. In addition, the U.S. Commerce Department reported that shipments of apparel from China increased 8.9 percent to 592 million SME in May 2009 compared to a year earlier. The United States and China held meetings in mid-2009 regarding the trade issue but did not reach an agreement.

Regarding specific segments of the apparel industry, in 2007 the United States produced 797,000 men's and boys' cotton woven shirts. Consumption was at 26.0 million garments, which resulted in an import penetration of 96.9 percent, a 4.1 percent increase from 2006. Import penetration of knit shirts for men and boys also increased, reaching 97.5 percent in 2007, a year when the United States produced 811,000 of these garments with a 31.9 million consumption rate. In the men's and boys' woven shirt category, the United States produced only 672,000 garments for a nation that consumed 8.1 million.

Industry Leaders

Leading companies in the industry in the late 2000s included Levi Strauss and Co. of San Francisco, California, with 2008 sales (including all product lines) of $4.3 billion and 11,400 employees; Quiksilver Inc. of Huntington Beach, California, which featured youth- and beach-oriented apparel and had 2008 sales of $2.3 billion with 8,400 employees; and St. Louis, Missouri-based Kellwood Co., which became a private company in 2008 and was undergoing restructuring.

The largest producer of men's dress shirts was New York City-based Phillips-Van Heusen Corp., with Van Heusen, Kenneth Cole, Geoffrey Beene, Bass, IZOD, and DKNY brand names, among others. The company reported almost $2.5 billion in fiscal year 2008 sales and 11,100 employees.

Workforce

Between 1996 and 2006, employment in the cut and sew manufacturing industry in the United States dropped more than any other industry tracked by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), from 604,600 workers to 185,500. The BLS projected more significant losses of around 8.4 percent annually between 2006 and 2016 and predicted that employment would be down to 77,200 workers by 2016.

In the late 2000s, production workers, earning an average of $14.37 an hour, accounted for 76 percent of employees in the cut and sew apparel manufacturing industry. The largest segment was sewing machine operators, who accounted for 47 percent of the industry total.

Research and Technology

After years of research and development, a major breakthrough in menswear was achieved in the early 2000s with the arrival of the all-cotton broadcloth, wrinkle-free dress shirt. Sold at JCPenney department stores, the debut of the Stafford Executive in stores was the result of work at JCPenney's Research and Technology Laboratory in Carrollton, Texas. While the wrinkle-free technology worked well in the heavier fabric used in pants, shirts posed more of a challenge as it weakened the lighter-weight fabric. Producing a shirt with the wrinkle-free technology that would be able to tolerate daily wear and washing was more difficult to achieve without using a cotton-poly blend for strength. A leader in the wrinkle-free technology, JCPenney's Stafford cotton-poly wrinkle-free shirts, which debuted in 1993, became the best-selling dress shirt in the United States. Other companies followed soon followed with similar products.

In the mid-2000s Dockers launched a line of sweat-free dress shirts, which dried up to eight times faster than regular brands. Designed to minimize or remove underarm sweat stains, the shirts were named "Perspiration Guards." While somewhat heavier than other brands of dress shirts, the products, which were made with antimicrobial and nanotechnology to reduce both odor and wetness, were found to be successful by independent testers.

© 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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