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King and Wei spoke mostly regarding trade policy and domestic production, with Wei describing how Chinese textile and apparel production is segmented into geographic clusters of expertise to gain the most benefit from economies of scale. There currently are more than 200 such clusters, but the Chinese government has recognized and named only 99 of them, said Wei. These account for about 25 percent of the country’s textile and apparel production.
There already are concerns about cost and labor pressures in China, however, Wei indicated. In Eastern China, the scarcity of labor is causing costs to rise. In coming years, he predicted that production would migrate from the coastal regions where it currently is centered to central and western China, where land and labor are abundant and costs are lower.
But the audience, predominantly Chinese garment suppliers looking to expand exports, seemed more interested in the international speakers’ exposition on recent trends and developments in Western, primarily American, markets than in China’s industry. Delbyck, an American attorney with offices in Hong Kong and Mill Valley, Calif., discussed the end of quotas and explained the minutiae of safeguards, which currently are being discussed by the U.S. government and which he described as “old wine in new bottles,” in American trade law. In his view, “safeguards will come; the question is when.”
“Duty will become the chief differentiator,” in production of textiles and apparel, Delbyck said. “People will factor duty into their sourcing decisions.”
Burns served as emcee and provided the forum’s opening address. His wide-ranging talk touched upon fashion’s role in the larger global economy, the latest consumer trends and the changing retail business. As fast-moving consumer goods besides apparel become more shaped by fashion, he said, they start to directly compete with fashion. This is becoming the case particularly with electronics, and he cited the iPod as the most notable recent example; consumers “are more interested in buying the latest cell phone than the latest jacket.”
He stressed the need for producers to market to specifically targeted consumers with differentiated products to respond to the age of mergers and consolidation and online shopping to create a “strong brand experience.” He provided as examples of this more integrated department stores that combine dining and spa options along with shopping. Burns concluded by identifying a trend toward a simple, streamlined, unostentatious “deluxe minimization” in 2005 collections, along with looser fits, a revival of vintage retro looks, rustic motifs in casual wear and quality over whimsy in accessories.