Anti-tariff rhetoric escalated in the days leading up to Tuesday’s deadline for public comments regarding the third wave of proposed USTR levies.
Just before the deadline, two fashion players posted remarks on how an additional 25-plus percent levy would adversely affect their businesses. One company even reverted to pictorials — including images of pop-culture icons — in its plea to perhaps make its argument more relatable.
Goody, a mass-market purveyor of hair accessories, and Vera Bradley, the American accessories brand, both filed comments addressing U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who is overseeing the USTR’s consideration of taxing some $200 billion of Chinese-made goods. The tariffs are a key maneuver in President Trump’s tit-for-tat trade war with China.
Goody, known for its low-cost hair elastics that are stocked at drugstores nationwide, wrote in opposition to a proposed tariff on yarn, twine rope or cables made of man-made fibers. The company uses these materials to cover rubber bands — thus creating a hair tie.
Adding drama to its plea, the company inserted photos within its comments document. Images include the actor Chris Hemsworth with his hair tied at the nape of his neck, in a style oft referred to as a “man bun.”
To demonstrate the pitfalls of a world without hair ties, the company prominently featured a photo of “The Addams Family” character Cousin Itt, known for floor-length tresses that carpeted his entire body.
“Our hairbands are a basic consumer item needed, not wanted, by virtually every girl and woman in the United States,” the Atlanta-based company wrote. “If 10 or 25 percent tariffs are applied as proposed, we estimate we will owe over [redacted] in additional duties. This is a very substantial increase of low-cost products like hairbands.”
The company noted that “these tariffs would not be paid by China; they will be paid by Goody and our customers.” The company’s personal financial figures were redacted throughout the public version of its comments document.
Vera Bradley, the Fort Wayne, Ind.-based company known for its quilted print bags, submitted something of a dire sermon to the USTR. The brand conceded that its business has felt the effects of a retail downturn and that tariffs on Chinese-made handbags could further damage its financial outlook.
“Over the last five years, our revenues and income have fallen, exacerbated by a difficult retail environment,” read a letter submitted on the company’s behalf.
The comments noted that restructuring and strategizing had initiated a turnaround for the company. “Our concern is the most recently announced tariffs included over 85 percent of our HTS categories, equating to millions of dollars for Vera Bradley. We will either have to absorb this and jeopardize the financial health of our company or make significant changes to our pricing policy, instituting inordinate price increases in categories that are already highly taxed with import duty, and with tariffs that could exceed 42 percent.”
The brand had already worked to lessen its dependence on Chinese manufacturing, curtailing its production there from 95 percent of brand goods to fewer than 50 percent by the end of 2019.
The letter pleaded that the government’s plan to quickly implement tariffs would not be sustainable: “This has taken five years to effectively cultivate sources and elevate quality standards to acceptable levels. In most cases, our actual purchase is six months from actual need, and the plans we make to purchase are between 12 and 18 months in advance. The impact of list 3 fast implementation gives us no alternative strategies to offset the losses we will incur.”
Now that hearings are finished and comments have closed, a USTR verdict on the affected categories is expected in coming weeks.