NEW RILA MEMBERS: The Retail Industry Leaders Association, a lobby and trade group representing mass merchant’s interests in Washington, signed six new members during the year, marking the largest increase in the association’s membership since 2003. Among the new apparel retail members are Chico’s FAS Inc., J.C. Penney Co. and Northern Reflections Ltd., a Canadian specialty chain. RILA, which includes Wal-Mart Stores and Target Corp. as members, has lobbied this year on issues such as opposing a measure requiring 100 percent scanning of all cargo containers, a bill that would have made it easier for workers to form unions and action pressuring China to revalue its currency or face punitive tariffs on imports. The association supported bilateral trade agreements with Peru, Colombia, Panama and South Korea.

This story first appeared in the December 13, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

WILLIAMSON DEFENDS AFRICAN DESIGNS: Matthew Williamson on Monday defended his use of African-inspired designs in his spring collection after Ethiopian officials expressed their dismay with some of the pieces. A spokesman for Ethiopia’s Intellectual Property Office in Addis Ababa told London’s Independent newspaper on Sunday that some of Williamson’s dresses with striped borders and simple geometric patterns symbolized Ethiopia’s “identity, faith and national pride. Nobody has the right to claim these designs as their own.” In a statement, a Williamson spokeswoman said, “Historically, Matthew Williamson bases his collections on the idea of a modern girl who is a global traveler. Her style is in part defined by incorporating many different cultures, traditions and customs. The spring-summer 2008 season was particularly inspired by the idea of modernizing and celebrating certain traditional African fabrics and costumes.”