What’s next for apparel?

Just Style speaks to leading industry experts to discover what’s in-store for the apparel sector in 2023 and beyond.  

Just Style speaks to leading industry experts to discover what’s in-store for the apparel sector in 2023 and beyond.  


he Ukraine war, inflation, soaring energy costs and a turbulent market environment are all taking their toll on the fashion industry. As a result, weakened consumer demand is inevitable in 2023, while the US and China trade war is likely to continue impacting supply chain decisions. There will be opportunities, however in sustainability and reducing waste, investment in technology and exploring ways to bring the supply chain closer to home.

A shifting landscape for sourcing 

Gherzi Textil Organisation’s partner, Robert Antoshak equates global sourcing in 2023 to a balloon leaking air. He says: “That noise you'll hear will be the sound of orders seeping out of China to suppliers in places like Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, and other countries in the ASEAN region. At the same time, further diversification of global sourcing will mark increased shipments from CAFTA-DR, the Western Hemisphere, and Africa.” 

From a sourcing perspective, Antoshak suggests China has had its moment. He explains: “Although China will hardly disappear as an apparel supplier, its traditional role as a sole source of supply will diminish over time.” 

Antoshak says many forces have compelled purchasing companies to diversify their sources of supply away from China: “First, of course, we had pandemic-induced supply chain disruptions. But now we have a changing global economy, political frictions, and a rebalancing of production costs. As a result, sourcing companies look beyond China to not only mitigate risk but also to strengthen sources of supply.” 

He also suggests supply chain resiliency will become more critical in 2023 than just-in-time delivery: “If the pandemic taught the industry anything, just-in-time supply chains could disintegrate when pressure-tested - which proved a costly mistake for the industry.”  

In turn, Antoshak predicts supply chain resiliency for many companies will come in the form of sourcing closer to consuming markets.  

He adds: “In contrast, for others, it will come with greater diversification of sources of supply. Consequently, look for regional sourcing to expand in 2023 while sourcing in Asia also expands from a broader range of supplier countries.” 

Building resilience for the future 

The American Apparel & Footwear Association ‘s president and CEO, Steve Lamar, believes ‘first mile thinking’ will be key in 2023.  

He states: “While we continue to solve the ‘last mile’ of a product’s journey, companies must be equally laser focused on what happens before the product – from concept to consumer – begins its development journey. This first mile thinking will take on an increasingly important role in the supply chains of the future as companies assess how products are designed, made, used, and reused.” 

He also explains building stronger relationships with supply chain partners will remain a vital part of this equation, particularly as all players accelerate their traceability and transparency efforts to combat climate change and ensure products are free from forced labour.  

He adds: “Technology will continue to feature heavily in these transformations as companies look for more efficient ways to communicate with their stakeholders, document their supply chains, and tell their product and company stories.” 

Table 1 Frequency of keyword mentions in fashion apparel companies’ public filings

Keywords2020 vs. 2017
Energy Consumption350.00%
Renewable Electricity304.30%
Renewable Energy Sources242.90%
Renewable Energy166.20%
Clean Energy84.40%
Energy Efficiency67.90%
Data source: GlobalData (2021)

Winners and losers  

Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA)’s CEO, Edwin Keh, tells Just Style that concerns are turning to alarm about the climate change crisis.  

He believes how the apparel industry makes, ships, sells, resells, and disposes of its garments will come under more scrutiny, and says: “There will probably be winners and losers in this as consumers make better and more conscious decisions and as greener brands make their offerings more compelling.” 

Keh also points out better disclosure, more transparency, and new rules about responsibilities as well as new laws and taxes will mean the industry will buy less but more intentionally. 

He explains: “For the industry there will be a race to zero. Zero waste, zero discharge, zero carbon, and zero non-renewable anything. The winners will be those who embrace the challenge the fastest.” 

On the plus side, he believes the result may finally be a cleaner, more responsible, and digital apparel industry.  

Culturally, he explains, this means fashion went from being driven by art and inspiration a generation ago, to being a more technical, functional and scientific business.  

Having said that, he notes: “Just about every consumption decision in the fashion industry is discretionary. Few of us would freeze to death this winter for lack of clothes, so how brands win hearts and minds will still be key.” 

Keh doesn’t believe everything will happen in 2023, but he suspects like all changes in the fashion industry, when it happens, it will be much faster than anyone thought possible. 

Challenges versus opportunities  

The University of Delaware’s associate professor of fashion and apparel studies, Sheng Lu predicts 2023 will be another year full of challenges and opportunities for the global apparel sector. 

He tells Just Style the apparel industry may face a slowed world economy and weakened consumer demand in 2023: “Apparel is a buyer-driven industry, meaning the sector’s volume of trade and production is highly sensitive to the macroeconomic environment. Amid hiking inflation, high energy costs, and retrenchment of global supply chains, leading international economic agencies, from the World Bank to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), unanimously predict a slowing economy worldwide in the new year.” 

Likewise, he adds the World Trade Organization (WTO) forecasts the world merchandise trade will grow at around 1% in 2023, much lower than 3.5% in 2022. As estimated, the world apparel trade may marginally increase between 0.8% and 1.5% in the new year, the lowest since 2021. On the other hand, the falling demand may somewhat help reduce the rising sourcing cost pressure facing fashion companies in the new year. 

Lu highlights that it’s likely fashion brands and retailers will continue leveraging sourcing diversification and strengthening relationships with key vendors in response to the turbulent market environment.  

Plus, improvements in terms of sourcing sustainability and sourcing apparel products using sustainable textile materials will gain momentum in the new year. He notes the rich supplier data following new regulations and the focus on traceability could provide new opportunities for fashion companies to optimise their existing supply chains and improve operational efficiency. 

Lu also believes the growing trend for clothing made from recycled textile materials will help fashion companies that wish to reduce their dependence on sourcing from China, expand their nearsourcing, and diversify their sourcing base. He explains this is because most clothing made from recycled textile materials is found outside of China.  

Similarly, he expects more public dialogue regarding how trade policy tools, such as preferential tariffs, may support fashion companies’ efforts to source clothing using recycled or other eco-friendly textile materials. 

He says he wouldn’t be surprised if the debates on fashion companies’ China sourcing strategy and how to meaningfully expand nearsourcing intensifies in 2023.  

Lu predicts fashion companies’ top concerns and related public policy debates next year will include:  

1) How to fully comply with the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) and reduce the forced labour risks in the supply chain?  

2) What to do with Section 301 tariff actions against imports from China, including the tariff exclusion process? 

3) How to reduce ‘China exposure’ further in sourcing, especially regarding textile raw materials? 

4) How fashion companies should respond and mitigate the business impacts of China’s zero-Covid policy, if it stays?  

5) What is the contingency plan if the geopolitical tensions in the Asia-Pacific region directly affect shipping? 

Finally, Lu suggests the nearshoring discussion will become ever more technical and detailed. For example, he points out that to expand nearshoring from the Western Hemisphere, more attention will need to be given to the impact of existing free trade agreements and their specific mechanisms (such as short supply in CAFTA-DR) on fashion companies’ sourcing practices.  

He concludes: “Even though we may not see many conventional free trade agreements newly launched, 2023 will be another busy year for textile and apparel trade policy deliberation, especially behind the scenes.”  

Main image credit: CEO Petri Alava, Infinited Fiber Company Management