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Framing a descriptive profile of a transformed apparel industry: Apparel import intermediaries in the United States

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Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to confirm empirically the existence of a US apparel import intermediary (AII) identity crisis, and to provide a detailed descriptive profile of AIIs, differentiating them from apparel firms not primarily engaged in importing activities. Design/methodology/approach ‐ A survey study was conducted using a national sample of US AIIs. Based on these firms' executives' responses, a firm identity issue was analyzed and a detailed profile of these firms' business characteristics was developed, using frequency comparisons. Findings ‐ The study confirmed that US AIIs are currently experiencing an identity crisis, as nearly half of the study respondents misclassified themselves as apparel manufacturers or other business types, suggesting a significant distortion in US Economic Census data. The study also provided a descriptive profile of US AIIs, including geographic location and other business operation characteristics. Research limitations/implications ‐ Three fourths of the survey respondents were located in the state of New York. Whether most US AIIs truly reside in New York cannot be known with certainty. Generalization of the study findings to a greater population should be cautious. Practical implications ‐ Confirmation of an AII identity crisis suggests both aggregate and individual firm-level impacts on import activities. The study offers a new term, "intermediary", to replace the US Census Bureau term "wholesaler" to accurately reflect the industry's transformation. Originality/value ‐ The study provides the first empirical support for a US AII identity crisis. The detailed profile of US AIIs offers industry data not available prior to this study.

Keywords: Census; Garment industry; Imports; Intermediaries; United States of America; Wholesaling

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2009-05-08

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