Ultimate Guide to Import Duty Rates, Landed Costs, and Lead Times - Finding the Best Country for Apparel Manufacturing When Importing to the USA

By: Jack & Jeans

January 28, 2023

For apparel companies and retailers looking to import garments to sell in the United States, there are a myriad of factors to analyze when selecting an optimal overseas manufacturing source. Between production costs, lead times, minimum order quantities, and import duty rates, finding the right strategic balance is crucial.

This article provides a comprehensive overview of key considerations for importing apparel into America, using a case study of sourcing 1,000 black, 100% cotton t-shirts.

T-Shirt Import Duty Rates by Country

A major factor in landed costs is the import duty rate levied on apparel and textiles entering the US. These tariffs vary based on the country of origin.

In contrast, certain countries enjoy duty-free access to the US apparel and textile market:

These duty rate differentials between manufacturing countries have major implications on landed costs. Sourcing decisions require analyzing duties along with other cost factors.

Landed Cost Comparison Between Countries

While import duties make up a portion of total landed costs, base production costs at each factory must also be accounted for. When comparing various country options on total per unit landed costs, the duty advantage is not always decisive.

For example, here is a cost breakdown for 1,000 cotton t-shirts from select countries:

In this example, Nicaragua’s duty-free advantage is outweighed by the lower FOB costs in Asian manufacturing countries. Landed costs come out lowest in China, Pakistan and Bangladesh despite paying duties.

Of course, cost savings from duty exemptions become more impactful at higher order volumes where those import taxes really add up. They also save time and administrative hassle. But for lower minimums, base production cost differences can nullify duty advantages.

Lead Time Impacts of Manufacturing Locations

In addition to landed costs, production lead times also differ considerably based on sourcing geography. Transit times are a crucial factor for apparel importers getting goods to market quickly.

Average ocean freight transit times from major manufacturing regions:

This faster ocean transit from countries like Nicaragua or Mexico in the Western Hemisphere allows for more rapid replenishment than longer Asian lead times. Air freight can also be used cost-effectively from these regions to enable fast turn deliveries.

For apparel importers focused on speed-to-market, regional Western hemisphere manufacturing has a time advantage over Asia. This provides flexibility to respond to trends and demand fluctuations.

Order Minimums Based on Country Capacities

Manufacturers in each country also have minimum order quantity requirements that buyers must meet to access their pricing tiers. This stems from setup costs that factories need to spread across overall order volumes.

For a smaller 1,000 unit order, buyers may have limited factory options in countries like Bangladesh and Nicaragua. Importers seeking flexibility on order quantities under 5,000 units will find more choice among manufacturers in China, Pakistan or India.

Strategic Guidance for Apparel Sourcing Decisions

With so many variables from duties to transit times, narrowing country selection involves careful analysis of item costs, lead time needs and volume capabilities at each factory.

While duty savings are appealing, lower base production prices can outweigh taxes for smaller orders. Seeking GSP or duty-free countries makes most sense for higher quantities.

For fast replenishment needs, a Western hemisphere source closer to market reduces lead times. But higher minimums must be met.

Matching order sizes to a country’s production scale also ensures pricing tiers are maximized.

Robust apparel importing requires continuously evaluating total costs, capabilities and changing trade conditions across various manufacturing countries. There is no one-size-fits all sourcing solution. By taking a strategic approach, importers can optimize cost, quality and speed.


In today’s globalized apparel industry, brands have more country choices than ever for manufacturing garments to import to America. Yet with this wider field comes the need for careful analysis before selecting an ideal sourcing partner. By weighing key criteria like import duties and tariffs, production costs, lead times, and minimum order volumes, importers can find the market that brings the optimal balance of landed cost, speed, and flexibility. While no country may check every box, taking a strategic approach ensures you maximize both financial and operational performance. With informed analysis of all variables, apparel companies can tailor their country selection in sync with item needs and business priorities when importing goods to sell competitively in the lucrative American fashion marketplace.


Strategies like sourcing from countries with trade preferences (GSP, FTAs), using a customs broker, negotiating with suppliers to ship DDP, and working to meet rules of origin can help minimize import duties. Analyze total landed costs.

Lead times vary significantly by country and mode of transport. For ocean shipments, expect 3-6 weeks from Asia, 1-2 weeks from Western Hemisphere. Air freight can shorten transit but costs more. Build in buffer for port delays.

Minimums range widely based on country production capacity. China has some of the lowest minimums starting at 1,000 units. Bangladesh and Nicaragua have higher minimums from 5,000-10,000 units. Match order volume to a country's capabilities.

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