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Getting fashion-forward on customs

Make sure you’re clued up on customs procedures before exporting fashion and texile products, from licensing requirements to valuations.


By David L. Cunningham Jr, Chief Operating Officer, FedEx Express

For start-up fashion designers and small-scale entrepreneurs, global sourcing is often a must, creating all sorts of opportunities for fashion-focused SMEs looking to export. Malaysian shoe entrepreneur Christy Ng cites “fresh design, distinct artisanship and competitive pricing” as motivations for buying raw materials internationally, while for Juan David Martinez of Colombian cycling wear manufacturer Industrias Suárez, the quality and pricing of overseas-sourced zips, dyes, adhesives and reflective tapes are integral to their cost model and product integrity.

Whether you’re exporting goods or sourcing them, understanding customs rules is key, as Ng and Martinez will both attest. Customs rules are fluid and differ markedly from country/territory to country/territory, and long hold-ups and penalties can ensue if rules aren’t followed. Ng has experienced the pitfalls first-hand, where complex or changing customs rules have resulted in “unprecedented financial losses with garments left on the docks for weeks at a time”.

If you’re a fashion entrepreneur ready to source or sell items internationally, here are some tips on navigating customs to get you started.

1. Check textile quotas and licensing requirements

Research the textile quota of your destination

The textile industry has long been the subject of global trade negotiations. Some countries/territories still maintain select quotas, so be sure to research your chosen destination. Classifying your goods is essential1, as this will show you what restrictions apply. You’ll definitely need a licence if you’re exporting textiles over 50 years old and worth more than £12,0002.

2. Review banned or restricted substances lists

Obtain a list of banned substances from authorities

Many materials used by the fashion industry contain plastics or chemicals that are subject to bans or restrictions. Obtain a list of banned substances from local authorities, and check with vendors that textiles and materials pass the test before purchasing.

3. Be sure valuations are accurate and goods are properly labelled

Help customs calculate duties by providing an accurate valuation

When exporting goods, make sure to provide an accurate valuation along with a detailed description of the contents of a shipment — for example, rather than ‘bolt of silk,’ the description should read ‘bolt of blue silk with embroidered detail’. This will help customs officials calculate duties and taxes.

4. Check for authenticity and report any counterfeit products

Report any counterfeit goods you come across

The trade of counterfeit goods is worth nearly half a trillion dollars a year, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-opeation and Development, with footwear and handbags being among the most copied items3. If you’re importing, you may inadvertently find yourself sourcing (or being subject to) ‘knock-off’ merchandise to complete a seasonal line-up.

5. Be clear when exporting textiles containing animal products

Check you meet the health and labelling requirements

When shipping packages containing products such as wool or fur, you’ll need to meet the relevant health and labelling requirements specific to that product4. Do your research, as regulations and supplemental laws can drastically differ between markets, with the species, nature of the product and purpose of the export all affecting the shipping requirements.

Sourcing or selling goods internationally can seem complex, but there are a range of organisations that can assist, from government agencies to transportation partners. Once you’re on your way, talk to your transportation provider to find out how tools such as FedEx Global Trade Manager can help estimate duties and taxes, manage documentation and gain up-to-date insights into local market conditions.


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