Mark Werts has logged 45 years in the apparel industry, and struck his first deal in China in the Seventies. He’s now expanding American Rag’s retail and manufacturing businesses, opening a store in Shanghai and denim production in Dubai. He’s written “America’s Simple Solutions,” a self-help book for business and society, to be published in July by Cool Titles. J. Crew chief executive officer Millard “Mickey” Drexler praised it for “digestible yet insightful solutions to some of our biggest issues with no agenda and no BS.”
Why did you want to write this book?
This story first appeared in the April 20, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
It was kind of burning in my guts for a long time. I’m busy all over the world and have been for years. I see things that work and things that don’t work. We have people telling us to do things that absolutely don’t work.
In the book, you write: “Many other countries also make it easier for businesses than America does, and many successful countries in our new global environment are openly friendly to business and new employment.” How has the environment for running an apparel retail and manufacturing business in the U.S. changed over the years?
It becomes more difficult every year. In America, the government’s approach to business — unlike other places in the world that are successful — the regulations and [punishing] taxes drive business away, drive international business away. And then they wonder why there are no jobs.
But some people would say these regulations protect society and workers.
The intentions are always good and it’s very important to have good intentions. But it’s more important to see what actually results. To me, the best form of welfare and good intentions is a job, is an income, is employment. Benjamin Franklin said, “The happy man is the working man.”
Now that you’ve written the book, it sounds like it could be a political platform. Would you want to run for office?
I’m too old.
What’s your assessment of the current retail market?
Very difficult. First of all, it’s in transition, tremendous transition, from the stress on mobile devices and online shopping to brick and mortar. To me, the businesses that are going to survive are going to be either vertical — they produce their own goods — or they will [emphasize] entertainment.
What’s your take on the American dream in 2016?
It’s very much alive outside of America.
Not inside America?
No, because we’re strangled with regulations. Success is not rewarded. We have penal taxation.
Why is it very much alive outside of America?
Without free speech, China is adopting the growth-oriented, capitalistic, laissez-faire economy that America had post-World War II. America was very successful. The late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping said: “Be the cat black or white, does it catch the mouse?” With the exception of free speech, which is an important one, China has more economic liberty than the U.S. in business, without any question or doubt.