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International Garment Sourcing

(December 2001) posted on Fri Jan 18, 2002

Globalization has changed the way garment-printing companies compete, both in the US and abroad.

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By Rick Davis

Did you know that much of the high-volume contract printing work once handled by domestic garment printers is now going to foreign shops? Learn why offshore competition has increased and how US printers can take advantage of this trend.

In the past ten years, the textile screen-printing industry has progressed through a metamorphosis that no one could have imagined. Mass merchandizing and low labor costs in foreign countries have driven garment prices down to levels that have not been seen since the mid 1970s. As a result, a large number of the biggest garment manufacturers in the US have been forced to consolidate their assets, sell off their domestic production capabilities, or fold altogether.

At the same time, many of the largest garment screen-printing operations have also downsized or closed due to foreign competition or a decrease in business. The larger facilities that remain are left to devise ways of staying competitive and profitable.

The trend became noticeable with the passage of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). After NAFTA, a number of large contract-printers moved their operations to Mexico, lured by NAFTA incentives, as well as lower production costs. For some US firms that relocated, the experience was eye opening as they learned that business practices in Mexico bare little resemblance to business dealings in the US. Many of the print shops that were quick to move south of the border have either returned to the US to start anew or gone under. Others, however, discovered quality and cost savings that make foreign manufacturing very appealing.

New responsibilities

One of the changes that came with the globalization of our industry was that large contract printers were forced to diversify into new and/or different applications. Some became specialty printing companies, mastering new special-effects techniques, such as high-density printing. Others expanded beyond printing into new applications like embroidery.

While all of this diversification was taking place, the overall market for imprinted garments shrank, due in part to unstable economic conditions and decreased consumer spending. To keep their businesses alive, contract printers had to expand their services until they could offer full packaging programs. Full packaging meant that the companies now offered or controlled garment manufacturing, printing, packaging, and shipping, all to the customer's specifications.


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