AAFA Returns to In-Person Executive Summit in Washington DC – Footwear News

New. Now. Following. That was the theme of the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) Executive Summit this week in Washington, DC.

The two-day affair opened with welcoming remarks from AFOA President and CEO Steve Lamar, who took a moment to acknowledge the victims of the ongoing war in Ukraine and asked for a minute of silence remarking: “Our hearts go out to those affected by the devastation in Ukraine. We are seeing growing concerns about what this conflict means next for the world. And now, as in 2020, it is impossible to imagine how this crisis will evolve. We just know that it will surely be the case and that we need to stay engaged so that we can better tackle what comes next.

Lamar added that the past two years have been difficult, but have provided an insightful roadmap for how to respond in the midst of a crisis. “We have been engaged in a period of intense action and reflection over the past two years, and we as members have sought, among other things, to change our industry from within and to do so with determination and responsibility.”

Another crisis on Lamar’s mind was the supply chain. He encouraged everyone to have a ‘First Mile’ approach to their businesses this year. “The last mile, which we used to focus on, determines whether our customers get the products, but that first mile determines whether they even want them in the first place.”

This is where Environment, Social and Governance (ESG), the central discussion topic of the event, comes in. Lamar said today’s modern consumer wants to know the purpose of a brand as well as the purpose of the product before they even consider buying it. “While the last mile is always important, we need to effectively communicate our position on sustainability and social issues before we even start selling the product.”

During the two-day summit, executives from New Balance, Gap, Ralph Lauren, Levi’s and United Legwear discussed how their companies are approaching this topic and what comes next. Other sessions covered the Metaverse, DEI and customer acquisition. Here, FN pulls together the three main themes that defined much of the event.

ESG is more than just compliance

As Laura Wittman, vice president of responsible leadership and corporate compliance at New Balance, admitted, when she started working in this space, it was all about compliance at its most fundamental level. Now, organizations are eager to work together as an industry to make a meaningful impact.

Several speakers, including Wittman, Celeste Burgoyne, President of Americas and Global Guest Innovation at Lululemon, and Liz O’Neill, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Levi Strauss & Co., echoed the sentiment that their respective companies are small compared to the vast size of the apparel and footwear industry. Noting that while they are doing their part to shift to a more sustainable and conscious way of doing business, the industry as a whole must do the same in order to bring about real change.

An example of how brands are working together to make the industry more socially responsible is the implementation of Gap Inc.’s PACE program. Launched in 2007, the Personal Advancement & Career Enhancement (PACE) program was originally created by Gap Inc. to support women in the global apparel industry and has since expanded the program to community settings and other countries to open up new opportunities for women and adolescent girls. around the world. Today, PACE and Gap enlist other companies such as New Balance to help the organization’s efforts to deliver community programs in multiple sectors and settings around the world in partnership with local NGOs, governments , brands and schools.

Sally Gilligan, Head of Growth Transformation at Gap Inc., made the exciting announcement during the panel that the company has officially achieved its goal of reaching 1 million women and girls through supply chain suppliers. procurement and community partnerships by 2022.

The metaverse is here to stay

Barry McGeough, VP of Advanced Concepts and Innovation Group at Wolverine World Wide, gave a thoughtful presentation on what’s happening in the Metaverse and what’s next for the futuristic concept. “I apologize in advance for what I’m about to show you,” McGeough says. “This information is already out of date, that’s how fast the metaverse is moving.”

To critics in the room, McGeough said that we already live part of our lives in the metaverse. “If you’ve ever used the Starbucks mobile app to order your drink and then sign out at the store to pick it up, you’re in the Metaverse,” he said. “If you ordered food online and it was delivered to your doorstep, you are interacting with the metaverse.”

Although this is just the beginning, McGeough admits that the Metaverse is a viable business that will only grow from here. Banks like JP Morgan Chase have even gone so far as to declare that the Metaverse will become a $1 trillion annual revenue market opportunity in the near future, as its virtual worlds will infiltrate all industries in one way or another. another in the years to come.

And as more and more brands like Nike, Adidas, Gucci and many more start to interact with the Metaverse, the challenge is how these companies protect themselves against intellectual property fraud and the like. Citing a recent lawsuit filed by Hermès, McGeough suggests similar cases could arise as more people start creating in the virtual world.

Diversifying your trading strategies is the future

If the coronavirus has taught many business leaders anything, it’s not to put all your eggs in one basket when it comes to products, retail, logistics, and more. And if 2020 wasn’t enough, the same lesson was learned again just recently with the ongoing maritime crisis in our country’s ports. Many companies are now looking for alternatives to move some production closer to home.

“Shipping something from Kenya, which then goes to Saudi Arabia, then Turkey, then Spain, then finally to the Port of New York in the space of three months, just isn’t realistic,” Chris Volpe said. , director of operations and finance at United. Legwear & Apparel Co.

Volpe and Liz O’Neill of Levi’s mentioned that their respective companies have a fraction of their supply chain in the United States and hear that more and more companies are following suit, most of the growth in new factories and warehouses appearing on the west coast. . Nearshoring in Central and South America is also gaining momentum.

While these actions may bring relief, one audience member added fuel to the fire by mentioning an impending action in June that will require all goods mined, produced or manufactured in whole or in part from China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region are the result of forced labor and will prohibit entry into the country through US Customs and Border Protection. Although the effects of this on the supply chain are still unknown, many have speculated that it could only add to the headache.

This, along with upcoming negotiations on the West Coast port, is also a priority as AAFA and industry leaders urge Congress and President Biden to take more decisive action to mitigate delays and the resulting increase in costs.

James T. Quintero