Where do our clothes come from?

A broad overview

Where do textiles and clothes come from? From what source do stores fill their inventories and shelves with? These are cognitive questions that may cross your mind, and enormous ones at that.

In a broad stroke, China leads the pack with exports of $118.5 billion in textiles alone, followed by the 28 countries that make-up the European Union.

As seen from the below figures, China’s share of the world textile industry is massive. Brands like Nike, Adidas, L.L. Bean, New Balance, Calvin Klein, etc., source much of their goods from the country’s manufacturing infrastructure and labor.  

(via shenglufashion.com)

(via shenglufashion.com)

Regulations, labor and workers’ rights legislation all factor into the conditions which drive much of the market to China for textile and fashion production. Labor has long been a driving force in the evolution of where markets source, operate and thrive. These facts are not new—see the 2012 Congressional-Executive Commission on China (https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CHRG-112hhrg76387/html/CHRG-112hhrg76387.htm) for further reading.

The flexible interpretation and enforcement shortcomings of China’s labor laws are another factor that spur the growth of production of textiles and clothing in the country.

While this growth and manufacturing has catalyzed jobs and growth within China, its outlawing of independent unions, localized enforcement and squashing of activists demonstrate the lengths the country will go to secure its stake of market dominance in the fashion and textile world. Of course, China is but one piece of the larger fashion industry.

What changes can countries make to improve the operating model of the industry?


Fernie J., Perry P. (2011) The International Fashion Retail Supply Chain. In: Zentes J., Swoboda B., Morschett D. (eds) Fallstudien zum Internationalen Management. Gabler Verlag, Wiesbaden. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-8349-6793-0_16

WTO Reports World Textile and Apparel Trade in 2018


Vural C.A. (2019) Sustainability Issues in Asian Fashion Supply Chains: Retailers Versus Suppliers. In: Shen B., Gu Q., Yang Y. (eds) Fashion Supply Chain Management in Asia: Concepts, Models, and Cases. Springer Series in Fashion Business. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-2294-5_3

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