DANA POINT, Calif. — It's a complicated and expensive time to operate a fashion firm.

The challenges of selling to U.S. and foreign consumers in the Internet age, the cost of doing business in a volatile economy and the prospects for free trade in a Democrat-controlled Congress were among the myriad issues that industry leaders at the annual American Apparel & Footwear Association summit said they grapple with every day.

Some 200 AAFA members, including representatives from Jones Apparel Group, Kellwood Co., Cotton Incorporated, NPD Group, Carhartt and YKK, gathered Feb. 28 to March 2 at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort, 60 miles south of Los Angeles, to listen to panels covering a range of issues. Among the speakers were VF Corp. chairman and chief executive officer Mackey McDonald, retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, Jassin-O'Rourke Group managing director Mary O'Rourke and QVC director Marilyn Montross.

One message was reiterated during the conference: how increasingly difficult and costly it is to run an apparel business in the U.S.

"We've had a rise in protectionism — not just in this country, but in Europe — especially in footwear," Kevin Burke, AAFA president and ceo, said in his introduction.

Erik Peterson, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington, presented an overview of the current situation by addressing what he considered the seven forces that will have a revolutionary impact on business: population and demographic growth, resource supply, technology, data flow, global economic integration, political conflict and governance.

The world population is projected to increase more than 40 percent, to 9.2 billion, by 2050, and the least developed nations, such as Afghanistan and Uganda, will grow the most.

"Immigration is likely to be significant in the years ahead," he said, predicting that 126 million people would cross borders by 2050.

A fifth of the global population will be older than 60 by 2050 and a shortage of usable water and oil will exacerbate the economic outlook. China could import 10 million barrels of oil per day by 2030, he said.

Peterson's statistics struck close to home with the four members of a panel on global business that he moderated. Fred Jackson, president of thread maker American & Efird, based in Mount Holly, N.C., said it took between five and 20 gallons of water to produce a pound of yarn. Rocky Brands chairman and ceo Mike Brooks said new corporate governance rules under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act added $1 million in costs for the Nelsonville, Ohio, shoe company.

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