WASHINGTON — Kevin Burke, who has headed the American Apparel & Footwear Association for 12 years, ushering the group through the policies of two presidents, the enactment of several free-trade agreements and a change in the global sourcing paradigm that has sparked a mini revival in domestic manufacturing, is stepping down from the trade and lobbying group next month.
Burke, president and chief executive officer of AAFA, is leaving on Jan. 21 to become president and ceo of the Airports Council International-North America.
AAFA said it will begin the process of identifying a new president and ceo “as quickly as possible.”
“For the past several years, I have had the wonderful opportunity to serve a very dynamic industry as its top spokesperson in Washington,” said Burke. “The key lessons I’ve learned during my years at AAFA are that the U.S. apparel and footwear industry is always moving forward and that the industry must maintain its global perspective to remain competitive.”
Philip C. Williamson, AAFA’s chairman, who is also president, ceo and chairman of Williamson-Dickie Manufacturing Co., said, “Our industry has changed significantly since Kevin came to AAFA in 2001. He brought a much-needed global vision to AAFA and traveled the world meeting with industry stakeholders to keep American workers competitive in the global market.”
AAFA highlighted Burke’s leadership in increasing the group’s membership base to more than 530 corporate members representing 1,500 brands and expanding it to include a stronger retail presence. More than 25 percent of AAFA’s membership is related to retail, while the remaining 75 percent is comprised of manufacturers and wholesalers.
While he notched several policy successes in Washington, Burke was also tasked with navigating his members though darker times for the global apparel industry, particularly in the wake of two apparel factory tragedies in Bangladesh, in November 2012 and this April, that together claimed the lives of more than 1,240 workers and called the industry’s supply chain practices into question.
AAFA signed on to the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety in July with five other trade associations, along with major companies such as VF Corp., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Target Corp. and Gap Inc. The initiative is aimed at improving factory and building safety in Bangladesh.
Burke also helped engineer a new brand campaign in 2011 known as “We Wear” to increase AAFA’s visibility and voice in Washington. The program featured themes such as how the apparel and footwear industries foster jobs in the U.S., their economic impact, the importance of global markets, intellectual property rights protection, sustainability, responsibility, innovation and readiness.
“Oftentimes, when we go to Capitol Hill, members of Congress tell us we are all importers and that we don’t manufacture here,” Burke said at the time of the launch. “We tell them that we do manufacture here and we have a larger impact on the economy than they think.”