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Manufacturers in China Survive by Moving to Asian Neighbors, including Vietnam

Monday - 01/05/2017 02:04
As it shifts production to Vietnam, Lever Style says it is able to offer clients a discount of up to 10% per garment. That is attractive to U.S. retailers.
Manufacturers in China Survive by Moving to Asian Neighbors, including Vietnam
This shift is already well under way. Lever Style expects that a few years from now, 40% of the clothes it makes for Uniqlo, one of Lever Style’s biggest customers, will come from Vietnam and 60% from China.

SHENZHEN, China—In a corner of a sprawling factory in this coastal southern city, sewing machines that stitched blouses and shirts for Lever Style Inc.’s clients now gather dust. As the din on the factory floor has dropped, so, too, has the payroll. Over the past two years, Lever Style’s employee count in China has declined by one-third to 5,000 workers.

The company in April began moving apparel production for Japanese retail chain Uniqlo to Vietnam, where wages can be half those in China. Lever Style also is testing a shift to India for U.S. department-store chain Nordstrom Inc. and moving production for other customers.

Companies from leather-goods chain Coach Inc. to clogs maker Crocs Inc. also are shifting some manufacturing to other countries as the onetime factory to the world becomes less competitive because of sharply rising wages and a persistent labor shortage. The moves allow the companies to keep consumer prices in check, although competition for labor in places such as Vietnam and Cambodia is pushing up wages in those countries as well.

At Crocs, 65% of its colorful shoes are expected to be made in China this year through third-party manufacturers, down from 80% last year. Coach will reduce its overall production in China to about 50% by 2015 from more than 80% in 2011 so the handbag maker isn’t too reliant on one country, a spokeswoman says.

In five years, Lever Style expects about 80% of its production to be outsourced to factories it manages throughout Asia, and half its clothing to be made outside China.

As it shifts production to Vietnam, Lever Style says it is able to offer clients a discount of up to 10% per garment. That is attractive to U.S. retailers, whose profit margins average 1% to 2%, according to the U.S.-based National Retail Federation.

This shift is already well under way. Lever Style expects that a few years from now, 40% of the clothes it makes for Uniqlo, one of Lever Style’s biggest customers, will come from Vietnam and 60% from China.

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