The state of trade, the Berry Amendment and intellectual property protection were top of mind Monday during a conversation between American Apparel and Footwear Association CEO-president Rick Helfenbein and New Balance CEO Rob DeMartini.
The two were on hand at the Footwear News Summit in New York for a talk titled “The Future of Footwear Policy.”
The Berry Amendment was a key point for both DeMartini and Helfenbein. Passed decades ago, the Berry Amendment requires all U.S. military apparel and footwear to be made in the USA, though athletic styles have long been an exception. Helfenbein and DeMartini said that thanks to recent media pickup and ongoing industry lobbying, the exception has been amended and is now included in the Department of Defense bill.
“We’ve done a lot of work to ensure that we’re not the one sole supplier, and we’ve ensured that, unlike the Boston Globe reported last week, that this is not an earmark, and we want to keep business,” said DeMartini. “We’ve also enable a few of our competitors to be with us so American soldiers can wear American-made product.”
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Trade legislation, especially the hotly debated Trans-Pacific Partnership, was a key item for both DeMartini and Helfenbein. It’s been noteworthy in the industry that the TPP is widely supported by many firms and the AAFA, but New Balance has been one of the few brands to come out against the deal.
“For us, we believe that making things matter and that by doing it, we can produce better product, even thought it’s a percentage of our business in stores,” said DeMartini.
DeMartini serves as chairman of the board for AAFA, and said that despite the difference of opinion, it’s been an opportunity for both viewpoints to head to Capitol Hill.
Another key point of the conversation was the growing importance of protecting intellectual property of brands. It’s been a key initiative for AAFA in the past few years, and it’s one New Balance says it supports. In particular, DeMartini and Helfenbein singled out Alibaba’s Tao Boa marketplace as a major offender. DeMartini pointed out that as much as 80 percent of New Balance product listed on the Alibaba subsidiary is counterfeit.
“Brand protection is a battle we fight every day,” said Helfenbein. “We’re a bit in a World War III with Alibaba, even though we don’t want that. It’s a little bit frightening, and everyone likes to sing their praises, but sometimes we have to hold them accountable.”