SIC 2339

This industry includes establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing women's, misses', and juniors' outerwear, not elsewhere classified, from purchased woven or knit fabrics. Knitting mills primarily engaged in manufacturing outerwear are classified in SIC 2253: Knit Outerwear Mills.

NAICS Code(s)

315999 (Other Apparel Accessories and Other Apparel Manufacturing)

315212 (Women's and Girls' Cut and Sew Apparel Contractors)

315299 (All Other Cut and Sew Apparel Manufacturing)

315238 (Women's and Girls' Cut and Sew Other Outerwear Manufacturing)

Industry Snapshot

Globalization was a major influence on the women's, misses' and juniors' knit outerwear industry in the United States at the end of the twentieth century. While most design and sales operations were still primarily centered in California and New York, sourcing, sewing, and other labor moved overseas as a cost-cutting measure, sometimes at the expense of smaller family-based enterprises. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) spurred the migration of operations overseas, forcing smaller U.S. businesses to close down and ushering in a new worldwide business approach. The industry also experienced technical innovations and advances that improved production and permitted enhanced international cooperation; new computer applications allowed operations spread over several countries to be seamlessly coordinated.

The global perspective that dominated the manufacturing side of the industry was evident in other aspects as well. Clothing designers were influenced by fashion developments and styles of other countries, indicated by the designs shown both on the high fashion runways and in retail clothing shops. American consumers had also become more diversified by the beginning of the twenty-first century: Asian and Hispanic American populations in particular were growing, especially female Hispanic American consumers', whose influence grew considerably during the 1990s. A 1999 survey by Cotton Inc. indicated that these women spent more on fashion and beauty items than any other market segment. Clothing merchants took notice of this trend and made special efforts to cater to these customers. Major retailer J.C. Penney, for example, created store signage in Spanish for its outlets in predominantly Hispanic areas like Los Angeles and Miami, further increasing sales to Hispanic American women.

An increase in imports further increased competition in this already volatile and difficult industry. To help deal with these chaotic global circumstances, a new World Trade Organization (WTO) was established in 1995. Furthermore, the Multifiber Arrangement (MFA), which allowed importing countries to limit the flow of imports from lower cost, developing countries, was replaced by the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing (ATC) which required the phasing out of MFA quotas over a ten-year period. According to Linda Shelton in an Industry, Trade, and Technology Review report, "The elimination of MFA quotas likely will have a significant impact on the U.S. textile and apparel sector given the level of protection that such restrictions have provided domestic producers over the past two decades." Since the United States has until 2005 to implement the ATC, the legislation's impact on the women's, misses' and junior's outerwear industry was only beginning to be realized at the end of the 1990s.

Still, with the steady growth of the American economy and record highs in consumer confidence through the end of the 1990s, the women's apparel market experienced a rejuvenation. There were some growing pains as the industry scrambled to employ new technology and initiatives to streamline operations. Profound advancements in communication and availability of information, combined with smarter uses of computer technology and tools, introduced strategies and processes that benefited manufacturers and customers alike. Such pivotal improvements, including the broad application of the World Wide Web, inspired market time savers and positive outcomes like just-in-time merchandise delivery, fewer stagnant inventory levels, lower costs and instant order fulfillment and verification.

These improved business strategies facilitated cooperation among the various industry channels on all levels. While corporate acquisitions—in an effort to expand or diversify—were common in the late 1990s, a majority of industry participants collectively pooled their resources to better afford and understand these updated business methods. These industry innovations frequently required prohibitive investments of time and money, but many deemed the risk worthwhile and soon learned that doing so often resulted in significant savings and generous profits. Electronic commerce, a mode that had become a solid fixture in businesses large and small by the twenty-first century, proved to be one of the most important of the Web-based transactions. Although slow in its start and acceptance, it soon revolutionized the industry.

Historically, the women's apparel industry has been particularly sensitive to changes in economic conditions. As the economic downturn of the early 2000s caused consumers to look for value and savings, consumer tastes shifted from a preference for designer labels during the economic boom of the late 1990s to an increased interest in more casual, and less expensive, apparel. This shift in consumer behavior resulted improved results for discount mass merchandisers at the expense of specialty boutiques and department stores. Manufacturers attempted to hold down costs and provide high quality garments for increasingly demanding and careful customers. The value of industry shipments in 2000 totaled $9.95 billion.

Industry Leaders

Founded in 1976 and based in New York City, Liz Claiborne, Inc. was considered the top manufacturer of women's apparel. Many in the industry attributed its success to advertising its products as designer but pricing them to attract a broader market. The company sold a number of lines of segmented brands like Lizsport, Liz & Co., Elisabeth and Dana Buchman in an array of retail outlets. The label also licensed cosmetic items, shoes, sunglasses, watches, home furnishings, and men's clothes.


More than 22,000 people, or over 20 percent of this industry's work force, were employed in California's 670 establishments engaged in women's, juniors', and misses' outerwear manufacturing in the mid-1990s. New York employed 12,800 people in this industry. The largest percentage of workers were employed as sewing machine operators, followed by pressing machine operators and inspectors. With the exception of sales and machine mechanics, all other employment categories in the industry were anticipating work force reductions to continue through the turn of the twenty-first century.

Further Reading

Apparel Import Digest. Arlington, VA: American Apparel Manufacturers Association, 1997.

Apparel Industry Trends. Arlington, VA: American Apparel Manufacturers Association, March 1997.

Conces, Elaine, and Margaret Brantley. "Textiles, Apparel, Shoes and Accessories Industry." Austin, TX: Hoovers Online, 1999. Available from,2204,42,00.html .

Focus: An Economic Profile of the Apparel Industry. Arlington, VA: American Apparel Manufacturers Association, 1996.

"A Global Perspective On Women and Women's Wear." WWD Lifestyle Monitor, Cotton Incorporated, 1999. Available from .

Hill, Suzette. "Women's wear makers look ahead to 2005." Apparel Industry Magazine Online, 1999. Available from .

"Import Growth Slowing, AAMA Says." Apparel Industry, June 1996.

"Latina Fashionistas." WWD Lifestyle Monitor, Cotton Incorporated, 1999. Available from .

Rotenier, Nancy. "Niki and Me." Forbes, 13 January 1997.

Shelton, Linda and Robert Wallace. "World Textile and Apparel Trade: A New Era," Industry, Trade, and Technology Review, October 1996.

United States Census Bureau. "Statistics for Industries and Industry Groups: 2000." Annual Survey of Manufacturers. February 2002. Available from .

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