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Interview with Stephen Lamar

Stephen Lamar
Stephen Lamar

Greater focus on sustainability & ecommerce will continue to grow
American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) represents more than 1,000 world famous brands, retailers, and manufacturers of US. Stephen Lamar, CEO, AAFA, speaks to Fibre2Fashion about AAFA’s key missions and functions, and the current issues it is voicing its opinion on for the US apparel & footwear industry.

Please give us a brief introduction of AAFA, including your current members, your key missions and main functions.

AAFA is the trusted public policy and political voice of the apparel and footwear industry, its management and shareholders, its nearly four million US workers, and its contribution of more than $400 billion in annual US retail sales. Our reach stretches from Washington, DC throughout the United States, and around the globe. We represent more than 1,000 world famous name brands, retailers, and manufacturers.

AAFA provides exclusive expertise in trade, brand protection, and supply chain and manufacturing to help our members navigate the complex regulatory environment and lower costs. Members gain unparalleled access to information and exclusive insights on regulation and policy, and premier opportunities for networking and collaboration.

What is the size of the American apparel and footwear industries? What is the workforce that they employ?

The apparel and footwear industry employs nearly four million US workers, and contributes more than $400 billion in annual US retail sales.

What are the main reports/research findings you come up with during the year? What are the areas they cover?

Throughout the calendar year, AAFA provides members with tools and resources that meet a variety of needs. Most recently AAFA has collated and developed materials to help the industry manage the COVID-19 pandemic. We also provide many annual reports to our members, such as our ApparelStats and ShoeStats that provide industry statistics. Finally, AAFA also provides a few open-industry publications, such as our Restricted Substance List, which is regularly updated to help the industry identify and meet chemical management regulations.

Which are the biggest markets for US apparel and footwear industry? Which are the highly imported/exported products in each category?

While clothes and shoes are bought and worn all over the world, the biggest markets continue to be the US, the European Union, and Japan. That said, our members are finding China to be an increasingly important market – especially as they service it from local Chinese production – with an increasingly affluent middle class interested in dressing fashionably and looking for great deals. The most imported and exported categories continue to be tops and bottoms, but basics and accessories also remain in high demand.

What are the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the US apparel/footwear industry in 2020, and why?

The biggest challenge at the moment for the apparel and footwear industry is addressing the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic – both from a supply chain perspective and a retail perspective. Our members’ first priority is the health and safety of the workers in their factories, their associates around the world, and their customers. That is why each company is taking steps to ensure that personal protective equipment is available where needed and adjusting work and travel schedules.

Beyond the pandemic, there are many challenges facing the industry, chief of which is the ongoing US/China trade war. Despite the signing of a Phase One deal, 92 per cent of apparel, 51 per cent of footwear, 68 per cent of home textiles, and all travel goods imported to the US from China are still being hit with an additional punitive tariff ranging from 7.5 per cent to 25 per cent on top of the already high duties the industry pays. To put this into perspective, in 2019 the industry paid approximately $20 billion in tariffs to the US government. That is about $4 billion more than we did in 2016, before the trade war. These are taxes that work their way to the consumer, and money that could be much better used to invest in supply chains and R&D, or to provide consumers with cost savings. The continued threat of additional trade wars with other countries is also top of mind for many executives.

On a positive note, we expect the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) to be implemented this year, which will provide many opportunities for businesses and supply chains in North America. Moving past trade, we see many opportunities to increase sustainability efforts throughout our industry.
Published on: 13/04/2020

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of