AAFA’s Outgoing Chair Colin Browne Talks Supply Chain, Inflation, Near-Shoring and the Metaverse

Colin Browne, Under Armour’s chief operating officer and the outgoing chair of the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) sat down with FN on Thursday to catch up on the industry’s hottest topics during last week’s Executive Summit in Washington, DC.

For Browne, who stepped down from his position with the AAFA on Friday, the last two years were filled with both change and ambiguity for the industry and the world.

“The speed of change we’ve experienced over the last two years just demonstrates how quickly the world continues to evolve and how quick and nimble we need to be moving forward because we don’t know what may happen next,” Browne told FN. “I’ve learned that you have to be an optimist because the alternative is just not very attractive.”

Here, Browne discusses hot button topics such as supply chain, near-shoring, inflation, and the metaverse.

FN: What is the latest update you can give on the shipping crisis and supply chain? Do you see specific actions starting to take place?

Browne: It’s interesting because you don’t hear a lot about it at the moment from a consumer point of view, it’s not really front and center of the news anymore. But here’s still over 100 ships moored off the West Coast and actually even some of the other ports still have ships moored around them and it is still continuing to be a problem. It’s certainly not going to change any time soon. At the same time, demand has been really strong, but this will eventually correct itself, these issues always do. I think it’s going to flow through until the back half of the year.

FN: Do you think contract negotiations at the West Coast ports will proceed soon, as the AAFA urged in a letter last week?

Browne: The AAFA and other industry groups is pushing the Biden Administration to get ahead of these contract negotiations so that they don’t add even more fuel to the fire in the shipping crisis. And it’s an important thing for the Administration to try and lean into because it’s something we can see coming and a crisis we can avoid if we start now. It could be a potential train wreck if we don’t get ahead of it and address it now.

FN: In one of your panels at the Executive Summit, the subject of on-shoring and near-shoring came up. Are more brands shifting production to the States or is this a small part of the business?

Browne: There are more companies interested now in figuring that out than there was three or five years ago. I think the recent COVID crisis and the reliance on overseas supply chains has demonstrated, frankly, we need to find a better solution. And as we think more about building sustainable solutions, the last thing we want to do is be taking goods and shipping halfway across the world, that’s not very sustainable. I think we will see it this shift start to gain momentum. But at the same time, I don’t think it’s going to be a huge shift to full production in or near the States. I think the idea of actually moving more production here is incredibly attractive and we’re going to have to figure it out, but we need better technologies in order to make that move more appealing for some.

FN: As for inflation, what trends have you been seeing so far in 2022? Is there any relief in sight?

Browne: I believe most brands are in the process of negotiating next season’s prices, and undoubtedly everyone is increasing prices in some capacity while also trying to work with their vendors to minimize the impact that gets passed on to consumers. And once the price on the product goes up for the consumer, it’s hard to bring it back down. So when the cost on the brand side eventually course corrects, the opportunity here is to build more sustainable supply chains. Use that extra money to do some of the things we’ve been putting off because it was cost prohibitive.

FN: Moving to the metaverse. Is the AAFA monitoring what brands are doing in this space? What’s the AAFA’s role in all of this development?

Browne: I think we’re still trying to figure that out, but if the metaverse is where the consumer is going to be, then that’s where we have to be, to help companies navigate the space. We will undoubtedly need to think about brand protection elements in the metaverse as we’ve already learned of a few lawsuits in the space already. But, overall, I get really excited about these things because it just gives us another way to engage with consumers.

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