Analyzing the Value Chain for Apparel Designed in the United States and Manufactured Overseas



Susan B. Hester

It is widely known that most apparel sold in the United States is assembled overseas. What is less well known is the fact that millions of American jobs are included in the global value chains (GVCs) that design, produce, and market clothing sold in the United States. American consumers and policymakers tend to look at the finished apparel product and put it into one of two categories: imported or made in the United States. But the reality is that GVCs have made this simplistic judgment usually outdated and inaccurate.

Today’s GVCs utilized by U.S. apparel brands, manufacturers, and retailers, include the full range of activities that firms and workers do to bring a product from its conception to the final consumer. This study analyzed where and how American workers contribute to the apparel GVCs, and quantified the value-added that these U.S. workers bring to apparel manufactured abroad. As policymakers look to enact policies to promote U.S. jobs and economic activity in the textile, apparel, and retail sector, this study will provide factual information to educate policymakers on how millions of American workers rely on and contribute to GVCs.

The total value-added to apparel presented below has many U.S. components and represents jobs in a myriad of occupations and includes part-time or hourly
employees as well as salaried professionals. U.S. workers are employed to design and manage the production of apparel overseas; U.S. carriers are sometimes involved in the transport of goods by air, sea or land; and a variety of U.S. professionals are employed to handle Customs clearance and compliance issues related to GVCs for apparel products. Once the garment is landed in the United States, numerous U.S. workers manage warehousing and distribution; still more U.S. professionals market apparel products on television, in print media, online, and through social media.

Finally, there are many American workers employed in retail and customer service activities whether the apparel products are sold in stores, through catalogs, or online. As found in the study, the total value-added by these U.S. workers far exceeds the value-added overseas in manufacturing activities even when the yarn and/or fabric is acquired abroad. Moreover, the level of U.S. value-added varies little regardless of the kind of apparel product or the company involved.


This report was originally published by the U.S. Global Value Chain Coalition

Read the full report here