Trade officials from APEC member economies and the USD1.3 trillion fashion industry have sewn a new partnership to make it easier for up and coming designers in the Asia-Pacific to build their brands and trade internationally.
Under the arrangement, officials, together with fashion designers and industry groups, have commenced work to reduce cross-border business barriers and better position designers to integrate into production and supply chains that can enable them to “go global.”
They are focused on advancing policies in APEC economies to support these goals based on public-private sector information sharing and the findings of companion research by the Chinese University of Hong Kong—host of the APEC Study Centre in Hong Kong, China.
It is part of a broader initiative in APEC to open up trade opportunities for small business in high-growth services sectors via international production and supply chains, and which includes comparable efforts underway in logistics, software and tourism.
“Our aim is to help emerging firms in APEC go global by creating an environment that enables them to crack into services trade,” explained Marie Sherylyn Aquia, Chair of the APEC Committee on Trade and Investment, which administers the initiative.
“We see considerable room for small fashion houses to become more competitive and access partners, suppliers and customers overseas,” added Monica Chen, Assistant Director-General of Trade and Industry in Hong Kong, China, overseer of the initiative’s fashion industry stream.
Apparel, hosiery and accessories business in the Asia-Pacific accounts for more than a third of the fashion industry’s total value worldwide and two per cent of the region’s GDP. The Asia-Pacific is also one of the industry’s fastest growing regions, increasing 3.6 per cent in 2016. The implications for trade are significant, with fashion already accounting for as much as 12.5 per cent of exports among APEC economies.
It is powered by value chains consisting of companies large and small across the region and globally that play complementary roles in production and supply lines. Designers are their creative center, determining product distinctiveness, form and success, but they must also team with researchers, producers, distributors, marketing agencies, and support services providers.
Top challenges to their integration into value chains include knowledge and skills gaps in areas such as production methods, new materials and technologies, and management, as case study and survey analyses by the APEC Study Centre in Hong Kong, China reveal. Business model innovation, effective use of data and digital tools, and labor and environmental issues are parallel concerns.
“The integration of small fashion businesses from the region into global value chains can enable them to compete internationally through upgrades in their processes, products and functions but it isn’t automatic,” noted Dr Andrew Yuen of the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Department of Decision Sciences and Managerial Economics, and Associate Director of the APEC Study Centre in Hong Kong, China.
Its policy recommendations include support for general financing schemes and tailor-made financing channels, talent development and technological adaptation, sourcing information and manufacturing quality assurance. Public-private backed designer competitions, low-rent retail spaces for startups, fashion shows and global branding campaigns like “Cool Japan” and “Fashion Hong Kong” are also encouraged.
“The fashion industry is both a major creator of jobs and growth, and an important way of promoting cultural identity on an international stage that can bring substantial benefits to other sectors in an economy,” said Chungmin Lee, CEO of fashion market consultancy Trendlab 506 in Korea—fashion accounts for some 300,000 jobs in Korea alone, according to APEC Study Centre in Hong Kong, China research. “Efforts in APEC to work with designers and industry peers to take this process forward are encouraging,” concluded Lee.
Trade officials will assess the overall progress of APEC’s value chain integration initiative and take next steps when they convene in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam in August.