Women's, Children's and Infants' Clothing and Accessories

SIC 5137

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This industry is composed of wholesale distributors of women's, children's, and infants' clothing and accessories. Products of the industry include blouses, dresses, skirts, sportswear, unisex clothing, underwear, lingerie, hosiery, outerwear, hats, handbags, ladies' handkerchiefs, gloves, and mittens. Wholesale distributors of baby goods and diapers and distributors of hospital gowns are also included. Wholesalers engaged in the distribution of women's, children's, and infants' footwear, however, are classified under SIC 5139: Footwear.

Industry Snapshot

Generally, a business in this industry purchases apparel from manufacturers and sells the products to retailers with little to no further processing of the product. Wholesalers are also likely to perform sales and administrative activities to ensure proper supply and demand and marketing and advertising of the product.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 7,171 establishments engaged in this industry in 2009. Together these firms employed 81,349 people earning a total payroll of $4.2 billion. Figures from D&B Sales & Marketing Solutions showed that the average sales per establishment decreased slightly from $2.5 billion in 2007 to $2.4 billion in 2009. Most establishments were located in California and New York, and these two states accounted for nearly three-fourths of the industry's revenues.

According to several U.S. business publications, including Forbes, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was the impetus behind a massive shift of U.S. garment production from Asia to Mexico. Half of the apparel sold in the United States was imported from other countries and, after the 1994 NAFTA agreement, apparel exports from Mexico grew to $3.3 billion. In early 1997, Mexico was the highest U.S. source of imported apparel. Sent to Mexico mainly in the form of cut pieces to be sewn, U.S. apparel exports almost doubled to about $2.5 billion a year after NAFTA. The change in production from Asia to Mexico helped lower U.S. clothing costs between 1994 and 1997.

By 2004, the Central American and Dominican Republic region was the top apparel supplier to the U.S. market, followed by China and Mexico. During that same period, imports from Mexico decreased almost 7 percent and imports from China increased by 24.3 percent over 2003.

In January 2005 the World Trade Organization quotas on almost all textiles and apparel were eliminated, which caused a shock to the U.S. textile industry, dropping prices by as much as 40 percent and increasing imports from China by nearly 600 percent. In response, the United States put new safeguards in place by imposing restrictions in numerous categories on imports and penned a bilateral deal that expired at the end of 2008.

Despite U.S. attempts to encourage trade with Central American countries by signing the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), China's dominance of the U.S. textile market continued through the first decade of the 2000s, and by the end of 2008, China held a 33.6 percent share of the U.S. market. In addition, Vietnam also threatened U.S.-based establishments as imports from that country increased by 36 percent in 2008 alone, making it the second largest importer of textiles into the United States.

The economic recession of the late 2000s hurt clothing wholesalers, as consumers cut back on shopping and discretionary spending. However, the industry began to look forward to a rebound in 2010, as the economy slowly started to recover and Americans returned to their usual shopping habits. Like many, this industry continued to suffer from the trend to bypass the wholesaler and purchase directly from the manufacturer. The availability of products on the Internet also affected the industry.

By the second decade of the twenty-first century, apparel imports had decreased slightly, and although China and Vietnam remained the number one and number two exporters of apparel and textiles into the United States, firms were shifting production to other countries as well where labor was even cheaper, such as Cambodia and Mexico. According to the U.S. Association of Importers of Clothing and Textiles, eight of the top 10 importers of textiles and apparel, including China, Bangladesh, Indonesia, South Korea, and Pakistan, saw declines in U.S. shipments in 2011.

Leaders in this industry included Ralph Lauren Corp., with 2011 sales of $5.6 billion and 24,000 employees; The Jones Group (formerly Jones Apparel Group), with 2011 fiscal year sales of $3.6 billion and 10,940 employees; and Liz Claiborne Inc., with 2011 revenues of $2.5 billion and 11,300 employees. In 2012 Liz Claiborne was planning to sell its brand of apparel and re-launch itself as Fifth and Pacific Co., which would focus on more upscale brands.

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News and information about Women's, Children's and Infants' Clothing and Accessories

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US Fed News Service, Including US State News; April 16, 2011; 295 words
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