While Americans account for 5 percent of the world’s population, they wear 25 percent of its clothes and shoes.
And while 97 percent of the apparel and 98 percent of the footwear are made outside of the country, the industry still employs 4 million Americans and contributes $350 billion in annual sales to the American economy.
“That’s twice the size of the U.S. auto industry,” Kevin Burke, president of the American Apparel and Footwear Association, pointed out as he shared industry facts and job-hunting tips Tuesday with students from SUNY Buffalo State’s fashion and textile technology program.
“This, to me, is the future of the industry I represent,” he told the students, as he took in the classroom so packed that some students stood and sat on the floor.
About 100 students from the program attended the talk in the Technology Building. Burke, a 1979 graduate of Brockport State, spoke about the goal and role of the AAFA, the national trade association that represents 1,000 major brands.
Last year alone, Americans bought 2 billion garments and 2 billion pairs of shoes. The average American purchased 62 garments and almost seven pairs of shoes, Burke said.
China remains the No. 1 manufacturer of apparel and shoes, with $30 billion or 42 percent of apparel and $166 billion, or 84 percent, of footwear, made there.
But Burke said labor costs and workforce shortages in China are making it less attractive to brands and retailers. Vietnam, Bangladesh, Indonesia and some Central American countries are also suppliers of clothing and footwear.
About 4 million Americans are employed directly by the industry, in positions such as designers, textile mill workers, retail floor associates and marketing professionals.
“It’s never easy finding a job in this business,” Burke told the students. “The competition is fierce.”
Buffalo State’s fashion and textile technology program is the only area baccalaureate program geared toward the fashion industry. Burke said students graduating next spring will be competing with 90,000 other fashion industry graduates from across the country.
“You have to put yourself in the best position,” he said. Starting out, he said, they will most likely work as paid interns without benefits. “It’s not pretty, but it’s the world you want to enter,” Burke said.
He encouraged students to learn Spanish if they plan to work in this in hemisphere, and be familiar with legislation and regulations, which will impress prospective employers, he said.
“Stay hungry, work hard and be ambitious,” Burke said.