Onshoring fashion: Worker sustainability impacts of global and local apparel production

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13 Scopus citations


Recently “onshoring,” manufacturing products for local markets from regional suppliers and producers, has gained traction in the U.S. “Onshoring” is contrasted with “offshoring” or moving production to countries with lower wages and fewer environmental and safety regulations. Moving manufacturing operations effects people, communities, economies, and the environment worldwide. Offshoring steadily eroded U.S. apparel manufacturing capabilities while U.S. apparel demand skyrocketed according to American Association of Footwear and Apparel statistics. This research developed a simplified prospective sustainability life cycle assessment (LCA) method to compare global sustainability impacts of onshoring and offshoring legging production in the fast-growing athleisure apparel market segment. A proof-of-concept legging design demonstrated that technical capability exists regionally in the Eastern U.S. for supply and production. Sustainability LCA impacts were measured globally to compare effects to workers from onshoring to the U.S. with offshoring to Sri Lanka to produce garments for U.S. consumers. Results suggest greater worker environmental impacts exist when producing leggings in Sri Lanka than the U.S. largely due to electricity generation differences. Worker safety concerns for garment workers in Sri Lanka were found to be greater than in the U.S. However, economic benefits for workers were better in Sri Lanka than the U.S. because Sri Lankan apparel workers receive middle-class wages, whereas U.S. counterparts do not. Whether onshoring or offshoring apparel production, sustainability tradeoffs exist. U.N. sustainable development goals encourage strategies to improve sustainability for apparel workers worldwide instead of specifying where production occurs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1206-1218
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
StatePublished - Jan 20 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Elsevier Ltd


  • Apparel industry
  • Apparel product development
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Sustainability assessment
  • Sustainable sourcing

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