WASHINGTON — One of Matt Priest's top priorities as the Commerce Department's new deputy assistant secretary for textiles and apparel is to maintain an open door to the industry. Given the trade agenda, he is bound to get plenty of visits and an earful from domestic textile producers and importers.
The job, which he began on Monday, gives Priest, 29, an important voice in the formation of trade policy and the opportunity to weigh in on issues such as a controversial program to consider antidumping cases against Vietnam, negotiations for a free trade agreement with South Korea and the implementation of existing agreements.
Like his predecessor, Jim Leonard, who stepped down in September, Priest is also chairman of the powerful interagency Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements, which helps turn negotiated trade pacts into a set of on-the-ground practices.
"Our goal is not to be an impediment," Priest said. "It's to be a colleague and a friend and an ally in the global economy, and to work with, as tricky as it can be sometimes, both sides of the equation."
On one side of that equation are the importers who want to loosen restrictions on foreign-made goods, mostly those from Asia. Domestic textile firms are on the other side, wanting to protect their export business to Central America and stave off competition from China, Vietnam and elsewhere.
As a native of Havelock, N.C., Priest, who is 6 feet, 4 inches tall with an easy demeanor and a Southern politeness, also has an innate understanding of the importance of the textile business to the region.
"Whether you work for the industry or not, it's a major part of the economy, so you're always cognizant of the importance textiles play in the state's economy," he said.
Priest, who lives in Springfield, Va., with his wife, Lisa, and two-year-old daughter, originally moved from North Carolina because of his father's career in the Marines. He went to junior high and high school in Northern Virginia before venturing south again to get a bachelor's degree in political science from North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
But it was as legislative assistant and then legislative director for Rep. Sue Myrick (R., N.C.) where Priest picked up the skills he expects to rely on in his new role."A lot of the principles I feel like I bring to the job aren't specific to textiles or apparel or importers or retailers," he said. "They're just good practices for when you're dealing with constituents."
Priest also said he wants to help people feel like they've had their say, even when things don't go their way.
"It's important that you're able to build relationships and communicate well with folks who have an interest and who have a lot on the line in some of the decisions we make," he said.
Priest enters the job, which isn't so far removed from his most recent post as senior adviser to David Spooner, assistant secretary for import administration at Commerce, at a time of some friction between importers and the Bush administration.
That friction stems from a plan to monitor imports from Vietnam and possibly self-initiate antidumping cases, which could increase costs and has injected a degree of uncertainty into the business of importing from the Southeast Asian nation.
Importers complain they had no say in the initiative before it was publicly laid out in September, though interested parties have since had a chance to offer advice on how the program should look.
"Moving forward, we are committed to keeping this as open a process as possible," said Priest, who noted there has been a "healthy exchange of ideas" recently.
Auggie Tantillo, who held Priest's job under President George H.W. Bush and is now executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, said Priest's time in the job could be quite active. Tantillo also took the job as a 29-year-old with experience working on Capitol Hill.
"You just have to trust your gut instincts," said Tantillo. "You have to acknowledge that you don't know everything and you do have a grouping of experts there to help you."
Tantillo also said Priest will have to operate in the larger framework of the Bush administration's policies.
Importers would like to see some of those policies tweaked.
"The most difficult job that [Priest] could do, but the most important thing he could do, is really be the change agent to make [the committee] have a stronger role in helping the domestic industry adjust to the commercial realities of 2007 versus looking for special protection," said Julia Hughes, senior vice president of international trade at the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel.
As one of the most recognizable models in the world, Christy Turlington Burns has an insider’s view of the fashion industry and the allegations of sexual harassment swirling around it. “I can say that harassment and mistreatment have always been widely known and tolerated in the industry. The industry is surrounded by predators who thrive on the constant rejection and loneliness so many of us have experiences at some point in our careers,” Turlington told WWD, along with her suggestions for how the modeling world should protect younger women and men. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. (📷: Tony Palmieri) #wwdnews
@asics America has tapped a new brand ambassador: famed DJ/record producer @steveaoki. This initiative is intended to set the tone for the new brand identity and philosophy and will include partnerships with influencers and in-store and off-line activations that will continue into next year. This is Asics’ most significant marketing effort in two decades, and is expected to attract younger consumers to the brand. #wwdfashion
24-year-old Jean Prounis is redefining the rules of jewelry. Formerly a studio assistant to Jemima Kirke and a design apprentice at Ghuran, she focuses on handcrafted subtleties and ancient goldsmithing techniques. “There was a really sterile feel in the environment and I wanted to have jewelry with character that shapes how you wear it everyday,” Prounis said. Each piece is hand made in New York, either by Prounis or three other jewelers in the district. #wwdfashion
“These collections continue to build on that vision, empowering differently abled adults to express themselves through fashion,” said @tommyhilfiger of his line of adaptive apparel, which launches today. The line consists of 37 men’s and 34 women’s styles based upon the pieces from the spring Tommy Hilfiger sportswear collection. #wwdnews
“Stranger Things” is getting a new cast member for season 2. Meet @sadiesink_, the 15-year-old who will be joining the Netflix series for its new season. You may recognize her from “The Glass Castle” with Brie Larson and Woody Harrelson, but the Texas native’s next role goes in an entirely different direction. She describes her character, Max, as “a rough and tumble skater girl [who] becomes friends with the boys at school.” The second season debuts on October 27. (📷: @jgreenery) #wwdeye
Amid the Harvey Weinstein controversy, there’s another sector that’s being put under the spotlight for sexual abuse: the modeling industry. While rumors about abuse and sexual harassment of female and male models — and the photographers, agents and others who perpetrated it — have circulated within the fashion world for years, model @cameronrussell started posting stories from models on Instagram last week about abusive situations they’ve encountered — from sexual harassment and molestation to attempted rape. Over 75 have weighed in so far. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. #wwdnews
To celebrate its 16th anniversary, @dylanscandybar tapped designers and celebrities to create mosaics out of candy. The mosaics will be auctioned off to support the philanthropic cause of each participant’s choice. Pictured here is the mural created by @aliceandolivia's Stacey Bendet. For a first look at some of the other artwork being unveiled tonight, go to WWD.com. #wwdeye
The annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic in Pacific Palisades this weekend drew Kate Hudson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laura Dern and more. See pictures of the star-studded event on WWD.com. (📷: @chelsealaurenla) #wwdeye
In his new book “Hollywood Royale,” Andy Warhol’s Protégé Matthew Rolston celebrates the Eighties revival of Hollywood glamour. Featuring more than 100 portraits taken by Rolston from 1977 to 1993, the book contains photos of icons like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and @drewbarrymore, pictured here in 1991. “Hollywood Royale,” out today, will be accompanied by an exhibition opening at Los Angeles’ Fahey/Klein Gallery on March 1. #wwdeye