AAFA To Get Closer To Capitol Hill, Literally

At the late March Annual Executive Summit of the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA), held in Washington, D.C., president & CEO Juanita Duggan made no bones about her commitment to strengthening the industry's influence with the U.S. government and media.

To wit, next year AAFA is moving its headquarter offices from Arlington, Va., to a location six blocks from the Capitol.

"We will create a fashion destination in a highly branded environment. We are going to look like what we are, and we will make a deep impression on Washington, Congress and the industry," said Duggan, adding, "That is how you influence policy."

Duggan, who has been on the job since last July and has led three previous trade organizations, is continuing the branding that AAFA previously launched, namely its "We Wear" theme, to emphasize the size and depth of the apparel and footwear industry, which is larger than such industries as new cars, electronics, gambling and alcohol.  

"I've learned the apparel and footwear industry compared to others is more dynamic, more creative, more consumer-driven and more global. And, to my surprise, it is big."

Duggan said that very few people in Washington understand the industry's size and economic importance, but that AAFA is committed to changing that.

She added: "Just like a consumer brand, an influential political brand not only affects your bottom line, but it also provides a direct line of communication, and helps manage your risk for when something goes wrong. In Washington, that communication needs to take place with policymakers."

In terms of the association's agenda, Duggan said protecting intellectual property is one priority, noting that 80 percent of customs seizures are fashion-related, which cost businesses $68 billion in 2013.

On the trade front, Duggan said the AAFA has a "unique window" in Congress to make progress, vowing to push for legislation that has the most impact on its members' bottom lines.  As one most recent example, the association lent its voice to the West Coast port crisis with a message of  "port congestion is our biggest trade barrier," and while that message resonated, said Duggan, the issue is not resolved and will continue to be of  significant importance.
While Duggan did not directly address it in her opening remarks at the Summit, the association also has been heavily focused on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement being negotiated between the United States and 11 Asian and Western Hemisphere countries.  It includes Vietnam, the second-largest supplier of apparel to the United States.

Negotiating partners include six countries with whom the United States already has a free trade agreement (FTA) — Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico, Peru, and Singapore — and five with whom it does not, including Brunei, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand and Vietnam. According to the AAFA, once completed, the TPP will result in the eventual elimination of tariffs and non-tariff barriers among these Pacific Rim countries.  It will also create a platform for regional integration and for accession of other potential TPP partners. 

The Summit featured a variety of industry and Capitol Hill speakers, covering subjects ranging from international expansion to connecting to the consumer. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) addressed issues of tax reform and the nation's trade agenda. Apparel previously published his remarks which can be read here.

Industry leadership
One the association's leadership front, Rick Helfenbein, president of Luen Thai USA (TellaS Ltd.), will serve another year as chairman of AAFA.  New board members include the following:
  • Robert B. Campbell, chairman and CEO, BBC International;
  • Leslie Gallin, president, FN PLATFORM/ADVANSTAR;                  
  • Paul Grangaard, president and CEO, Allen Edmonds Shoe Corporation;Jeff Howald, CFO, Camuto Group;  
  • Karen Kyllo, Ph.D, deputy VP, Global Softlines, SGS Consumer Testing Services ;
  • David  J. Miller, CEO, Minnetonka Moccasin Company;
  • Lisa Bate, chief executive, Americas, Bureau Veritas Consumer Products;
  • J. Michael Binnie, president, Dickies North America, Williamson-Dickie Manufacturing Co.;
  • Mike Faircloth, president and chief supply chain officer, Hanesbrands; and
  • Ed Manburg, CFO, Byer California
To learn more about the AAFA visit wewear.org.

Susan S. Nichols is publisher of Apparel and may be reached at [email protected].

Editor's Note:  Stay tuned for additional coverage of the AAFA Summit.
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