Shoe Execs Talk Trade Agreements During Heated Election Season

Nate Herman AAFA
Nate Herman.
FN Archive.

As pressure mounts for members of Congress to get the political hot-button issue of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement approved this year, most likely in the lame-duck session after the U.S. presidential election in November, footwear players in Las Vegas were focused on the policy’s impact on sourcing.

“The top five [countries that manufacture footwear] are responsible for 95 percent of the shoes sold in the U.S.,” Nate Herman, senior vice president of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said during a Tuesday morning panel at FN Platform. “Many of these countries don’t have trade agreements with the U.S.”

Herman said that it’s crucial to pass TPP soon because “both presidential candidates have bashed it” on the campaign trail, with Republican nominee Donald Trump advocating for backing out of several of the nation’s trade agreements, “even though he doesn’t know most of their names.”

He said the AAFA has stepped up its efforts to urge passage of the bill by activating letter-writing campaigns, reaching out to local newspapers and flying in members of its organization to help on the lobbying front. “We’re putting everything on the line to get this through,” he said.

Julio Martini, chief operating officer for Camuto Group, said while it’s important to consider government policies when determining the best locations to source from, “speed and quality of product” matter just as much.

Martini said that while Camuto Group tested production in countries such as Colombia and Ethiopia, 87 percent of its shoes are made in China, the world’s largest manufacturer, and will continue to be made there for at least the next five years.

“China won’t be replaced [in the immediate future],” he said.

Similarly, Christophe Dubes, VP of development and commercialization for Toms Shoes, which now produces 40 percent of its shoes outside of China in a bid to create local jobs in countries where it gives away shoes, said China has lots of capacity and a willingness on the part of factory owners to “lower their costs and do whatever it takes to stay in business.”

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