This category includes establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing apparel belts. Companies that produce all types of belts for clothing are grouped in this industry, regardless of the material from which the belts are made.
315999 (Apparel Accessories and Other Apparel Manufacturing)
The overall accessories business, like other sectors of the apparel industry, struggled with waning sales as the U.S. economy continued to weaken in the early 2000s. Along with the sluggish economic conditions, U.S. accessories manufacturers were also forced to contend with increased imports, the result of China's entrance into the World Trade Organization in December of 2001, as well as the passage of the Uruguay Round agreement, which mandated the elimination of textile quotas by 2005.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, roughly 150 establishments operated in this category in the early 2000s. The apparel accessories industry employed 53,441 workers receiving a payroll of more than one billion dollars. Production workers accounted for 42,602 of these employees, and they received an average hourly wage of $11.25. Overall shipments for the industry were valued at a little more than $1.92 billion in 2001, down from $2.04 billion in 2000 shipments. Leather belt shipments totaled $395.8 million in 2001, down from $408.8 million in 1997. Shipments of belts other than leather increased from $50.9 million to $84.5 million over the same time period.
Leading the industry in overall sales was St. John Knits Inc. of Irvine, California, with $370 in sales for its fiscal year ended October 31, 2003. The family-run company, which had gone public in 1993 only to retreat back into private ownership in 1999, operated 30 retail boutique shops and counted Hillary Rodham Clinton and Diane Sawyer as two of its ultra-loyal customers. Lillian Vernon of Rye, New York, followed with $238 million in sales for its fiscal year ended February 27, 2003. Tandy
Brands Accessories Inc. of Arlington, Texas, generated $224.5 million in sales for its fiscal year ended June 30,2003. In 1999, Chicago-based Florsheim Group Inc. had contracted Tandy to design, manufacture, and market accessories, including a line of belts launched in fall 1999, under the Florsheim name. However, most of Tandy's products were private label items sold to giant retailers like Wal-Mart. In fact, by 2003, Wal-Mart accounted for 40 percent of Tandy's sales. Swank Inc. of Attleboro, Massachusetts, rounded out the top five industry leaders with 2002 sales of roughly $100 million.
Leather is by far the most important material for apparel belts, making up nearly two-thirds of total shipments. Since the beginning of the 1990s, Nubuck suede has become an important material in the manufacture of apparel belts. Nubuck is a softened leather that is available in a variety of colors and textures. Nubuck first appeared as a footwear material and soon began to show up in women's accessories. Men's belts, which have traditionally been closely linked to footwear in terms of leather trends, followed soon thereafter.
An important factor in the belt industry's success throughout the 1990s and early 2000s has been an increasing emphasis on casual styles, as epitomized by the workday casual movement adopted by many American businesses by the mid-1990s. The glossy look of 1980s accessories had given way to a more down-to-earth and practical flavor in belts. With the comeback of jeans, belt manufacturers were producing "jean friendly" belts—belts with wider widths, braided belts, and belts with brushed textures—to work with the wider legs and roomier fit featured in many of the modern styles. Furthermore, the crossover market in men's belts continued to grow. What had until recently been mainly a replacement business had been spurred on by increasing attention paid to men by designers and manufacturers and ever changing fashion trends such as textured belts and updated buckles.
On the women's side, the reappearance of the fitted look and a renewed emphasis on the waistline was expected to contribute to the health of the belt industry in 2004 and 2005. The popularity of the grunge look and natural soft flowing fabrics in the late 1990s had created a slump in sales for makers of belts. New fashion trends in the early 2000s were expected to counteract this decline, despite generally poor showings throughout much of the apparel industry.
Since the early 1980s, the number of U.S. jobs in this category has been on a steady decline. In 1982, the industry employed 11,700 U.S. workers; by the late 1990s that number was down to roughly 5,000. Four states provided more than 70 percent of those jobs: New York, California, Texas, and Connecticut.
U.S. Census Bureau. "Other Apparel Accessories and Other Apparel Manufacturing." 1997 Economic Census—Manufacturing, 10 February 2000. Available from http://www.census.gov/prod/ec97/97m3159d.pdf .
——. "Statistics for Industry Groups and Industries: 2000." February 2002. Available from http://www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/m00as-1.pdf .
——. "Value of Shipment for Product Classes: 2001 and Earlier Years." December 2002. Available from http://www.census.gov/prod/2003pubs/m01as-2.pdf .