President Donald Trump

American fashion industry leaders have coauthored a letter to President Trump, objecting to his latest wave of proposed tariffs against Chinese-made goods.

The letter, organized by the fashion industry’s lobbying group the American Apparel & Footwear Association along with the Council of Fashion Designers of America and the Accessories Council, was sent to the White House this afternoon and is supported by household name fashion designers, retailers and brands. It is the industry’s last-ditch effort to protect Chinese-made apparel, footwear, eyewear, jewelry and other fashion-adjacent goods from incurring a an additional 25 percent tariff upon reaching U.S. soil — a figure the letter derides as a “catastrophic” blow to fashion, retail and consumer culture.

Among the four-plus pages of signees are catwalk fixtures including Narciso Rodriguez, Ralph Lauren, Diane von Furstenberg and this year’s CFDA Womenswear Designer of the Year Brandon Maxwell, as well as groups including PVH Corp.; VF Corp.; Tapestry Inc.; Perry Ellis International; Global Brands Group; Safilo North America; Spanx; Gap Inc.; Levi Strauss & Co., and Ascena Retail Group.

There also are specialty women’s wear brands including Alice + Olivia, Adrienne Landau, Lilly Pulitzer, Tibi, Vince, Cynthia Rowley and Rebecca Minkoff; men’s wear firms such as John Varvatos, Kenneth Cole and Tommy Bahama; footwear brands including Aldo USA, Marc Fisher Footwear and Steve Madden; activewear giants including New Balance, Vibram, Columbia Sportswear and Under Armour; lingerie groups like Delta Gallil and Komar Brands, as well as boutique accessories lines such as Loeffler Randall Inc., Jack Rogers, Marais Designs, MZ Wallace and Minnetonka, among others.

The AAFA’s president and chief executive officer Rick Helfenbein told WWD that, if passed, the latest wave of tariffs “have all the opportunity in the world to be devastating.…We are already a heavily tariffed industry, the average numbers in apparel are 12.5 percent. The thought of adding 25 percent on top of that is frightening, that’s more than the profit some of these companies make.”

“Dear Mr. President,” begins the memorandum. “The undersigned companies are writing to urge you to refrain from imposing additional tariffs on textiles, clothing, shoes and fashion accessories (like fashion jewelry, eyeglasses, and jewelry stones), that are imported from China.”

It continues: “We share your frustration that a trade deal has not yet been settled with China and agree that more needs to be done to ensure that China — like all nations — operates on a level playing field with the United States.…At the same time, we are strongly opposed to using textile, clothing, accessories and shoe tariffs as a bargaining chip in the effort to secure that deal.”

The letter specifies: “In 2018, our industries paid more than $18 billion in tariffs, representing nearly 40 percent of all tariffs collected by the U.S. government, yet we accounted for only about 6 percent of all U.S. imports.” Helfenbein separately clarified that the average Chinese-made apparel good is taxed at some 12.5 percent, with baby garments presently facing 32 percent levies and some tennis shoes hitting the market with a 67.5 percent tariff.

“As you may know, China currently accounts for about 69 percent of our footwear and about 42 percent of the apparel sold in the United States today. While our industry has begun to diversify away from China…supply chains cannot move fast enough or find suitable alternatives in the near term to mitigate the costs associated with these tariffs,” the memo continued.

“All companies in our industry — designers, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, exporters and importers — will be harmed by this action. Make no mistake, these new tariffs will mean higher prices for U.S. consumers, lower U.S. apparel and footwear sales and lost jobs for American workers in the U.S. apparel and footwear industry. The short-term prognosis for these sectors due to these tariffs is catastrophic.”

The AAFA’s letter echoes sentiments included in the National Retail Federation’s own memo sent to the White House last week, which was cosigned by many of the above brands as well as the Council of Fashion Designers of America. For its own letter, the AAFA decided to only enlist signees from the brand and retail spheres, rather than trade organizations.

However, a release issued earlier today by the National Council of Textile Organizations offered support for the tariffs, noting that several of the organization’s members plan to testify in favor of them. “We believe this move will lead to the re-shoring of production to the United States and the Western Hemisphere production platform. It’s critical we address and mitigate China’s rampant trade distortions,” said NCTO’s ceo Kim Glas.

A seven-day period of testimony relating to this latest tariffs wave – totaling some $300 billion of annual imported goods – began today in Washington at the USTR. The proceedings are organized as 30-minute panels divided by industry and kicked off with a fashion industry grouping, including representatives from the Accessories Council and Kenneth Cole.

Handbags and leather goods, included in the last trade war tranche, began incurring its prescribed 25 percent tax in late May. During September testimonies, the category did not receive the same volume of testimony requests as apparel and footwear.

Accessories Council president Karen Giberson, among the few representatives to testify in support of the handbag industry, returned to Washington this morning to testify for members in the footwear, jewelry and eyewear categories.

“I would say my main point is that this is just a further blow to an already-fragile group of members and wholesalers,” Giberson said of her testimony. “We are not sharing or compromising state secrets, we are not sharing confidential intellectual property and these products have been made in the same way for years – it doesn’t meet criteria that is being challenged in a trade imbalance.”

Compared with her previous outing in Washington, Giberson said the USTR panel “asked a lot more questions, they wanted to know how handbag companies have adjusted to tariff increases. It could have been because they were more engaged since we are on the first panel or there just could have been more questions.”

Kenneth Cole ceo Marc Schneider also spoke before the panel this morning. “I said very clearly that the standpoint that China will pay for the tariffs is not true – it will impact companies and retailers and consumers who will bear the brunt of this tax,” he told WWD of his remarks.

Schneider’s testimony noted that Kenneth Cole’s earnings could decrease as much as 20 percent as a result of the tariffs. “The bottom line is that higher costs for consumers means they will purchase fewer shoes, which could put footwear companies out of business and will certainly threaten jobs and capital investment in our industry,” he told the panel.

Vince, which will appear before the USTR next Monday, plans to appeal the tariff on cashmere and silk goods. Brendan Hoffman, the brand’s ceo, told WWD: “These fiber sources are only available in China in the quality and quantity needed by the apparel industry. Cashmere production in China accounts for more than 70 percent of the world’s output, and silk production in China is more than seven times larger than the second largest source of silk, which is India. For technical reasons, the manufacturing of apparel from these fibers must also be in proximity to the source.”

Other brands scheduled to testify before the USTR include New Balance, Fila, Steve Madden, Jack Rogers, Ulla Johnson, Forever 21, Cynthia Rowley and Everlane, among others.

Helfenbein, testifying this afternoon, referenced Trump’s onetime clothing brand with Macy’s, which was largely produced in China. “If this happened to him, he would be right there with us saying, ‘This is ridiculous,’ and screaming and yelling,” Helfenbein said. “The man has started a trade war, it may be nonviolent by nature, but someone losing their job over this is just wrong.”

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