Artificial Intelligence, Tax Reform, Digitization Take Center Stage at AAFA Summit

Artificial intelligence, tax reform and the new digital sphere were among the topics discussed at the American Apparel & Footwear Association’s 2018 executive summit in Washington, D.C., which wrapped today.

Hosted at the famed The Watergate Hotel, C-level executives and speakers — which included Carl Bernstein and key executives from footwear industry providers such as Microsoft, Intel, MarkMonitor, RSM, Turnberry — gathered to discuss the rapidly transforming landscape of retail.

With an emphasis on the words ‘reboot, reimagine, reinvent’ and making a point of uncovering “what is ‘actually’ happening in Washington,” the summit opened with an address from AAFA president and CEO Rick Helfenbein. During his remarks, he expressed concerns about a factors that are affecting retail.

Reflecting on his presentation, Helfenbein sat down with FN to elaborate. “I think there’s good reason to worry,” he said, pointing out that the industry is dealing with “myriad” problems. Among them, according to Helfenbein, is the current administration’s bashing of the World Trade Organization. “I believe this is unwarranted,” he said.

What’s more, Helfenbein brought up apprehensions about China and U.S. trade policies — especially considering the large percentage of footwear that comes out of China. “The drumbeat keeps getting louder and louder,” he cautioned.

Still, the overall feeling of the summit was positive and forward-thinking. Helfenbein commented in his opening address that he aspired to “open up [the audience’s] minds.”

According to several attendees and fellow presenters, this mission succeeded. Mathew Talcoff, partner and national consumer products tax leader at RSM US LLP, described the honesty of the panelists as “refreshing.” And Chris Veator, president of online brand protection company MarkMonitor, expressed similar thoughts. “I thought they had some of the highest-quality programming I’ve heard,” he said.

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