The Olympian was on hand at the American Image Awards, hosted by the American Apparel & Footwear Association at Cipriani in New York, to accept the Humanitarian Award.
“We have some pretty impressive [winners] and we got Michael Phelps here, so we were very pleased,” said AAFA President and CEO Kevin Burke while ticking off Phelps’ many accolades, including eight gold medals from Beijing in 2008 for a total of 16 Olympic medals overall, as well as his charitable work.
Also at the ceremony, CEO Steven Tanger received the Excellence in Retail Award for his company, Tanger Factory Outlets Centers Inc., and was presented the honor by Saks Inc. Chairman and CEO Stephen Sadove.
“Our children are our most important assets. We will do whatever we can to support children’s education,” said Tanger, whose company donates to organizations such as the Madison Square Boys & Girls Club (also a beneficiary of the night’s proceeds).
But Tanger also was excited about Phelps. When asked if he was a fan, Tanger replied, “Who isn’t? He’s an American idol.”
The host for the evening, Robert Verdi, also spoke about the star swimmer, specifically his $1 million contract from his sponsor, Speedo. “I was paid $2 million by Speedo to never wear one,” he quipped.
During his own speech, Phelps discussed the work of his namesake foundation, which teaches swimming lessons to youth and expands opportunities in the sport of swimming. “I wanted to do more [than compete] — to be able to work with kids is a passion of mine,” said the athlete.
Meanwhile, it was a family affair for the Schwartz & Benjamin team. CEO Danny Schwartz, who accepted the award for Footwear Company of the Year (presented by Brown Shoe Co. Chairman Ron Fromm), was accompanied by both his father and son. “My father and I believe in long cocktail hours and short speeches,” joked Schwartz.
The CEO also discussed the benefits of working with his family during his brief speech. “I’d like to believe we’re being honored because of our company culture,” he said.
Other award winners included Fashion Maverick honoree Yeohlee Teng; Warnaco Group, recognized for Excellence in Global Leadership; and Kate Spade New York, named the Lifestyle Brand of the Year. (In a bit of nice synergy, Kate Spade has been partnering with Schwartz & Benjamin on its footwear license since 2003.)