Three Major Themes From AAFA’s Executive Summit, From Culture to ESG

“Adapt, Align, Act” was the central theme at last week’s American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) Executive Summit in Washington, DC, a fitting description for a program discussing an economy and retail industry in flux.

The two-day summit, which was held on March 1 and 2, focused on a variety of timely themes related to retail, including geopolitical conflicts in Russia and Ukraine, foreign policy and trade issues, the importance of company culture, sustainability and other relevant topics.

Here were our top takeaways:

Values should drive business

In a session entitled “values shaping company culture,” leaders from Hanesbrands Inc. and Levi Strauss and Co. discussed the importance of integrating values into daily culture and business practices.

Levi Strauss EVP and chief operations officer Liz O’Neill said the company’s core values of originality, integrity, empathy and courage permeate daily life at Levi Strauss and are remnants of the values that helped launch the company over 100 years ago. Levi Strauss himself donated some of his first profits to a local orphanage in 1854, setting up a blueprint for future values at the company, O’Neill said.

“It becomes really important for us to think about values and value. And those two things are sort of inextricably linked for us,” O’Neill said. “How we make our products is just as important as what we make and how the business does.”

Hanesbrands group president of global operations Mike Faircloth said the company’s values have also remained consistent through the company’s more than 100-year history.

“[The values] really all start in doing the right thing, making sure we provide a safe and rewarding environment for all of our associates around the world,” Faircloth said. “Giving back to the community’s health, education, those types of really core values resonate in our company.”

Sustainable practices through teamwork

Working toward climate and sustainability goals was another key theme at the summit, which leaders agreed is something that needs to be tackled together as an industry.

Anbinh Phan, Walmart’s director of global government affairs and business diplomacy, discussed the retailer’s “Project Gigaton” plan that encourages suppliers and other partners to help tackle climate action and collectively avoid 1 billion metric tons, or a gigaton, of greenhouse gases from the global value chain by 2030.

She also noted how the superstore helps support small business partners with sustainability goals via a supply chain finance program that enables greenhouse gas emissions reductions. This is especially impactful in reducing Scope 3 emissions, which include emissions that are produced by other entities in relation to a larger corporation.

“As we look to scope three, it begins to be a lot of small and medium enterprises, not the big corporate names,” Phan said. “And so really helping on that front will really improve our ability to make that transition for climate.”

Patagonia president Jenna Johnson also noted how the next level of sustainability progress can only come when different, otherwise competing companies, can work together toward a common goal.

“The more we let our guards down, come together and bring expertise from this industry, we’re going to move bolder, faster and smarter together,” Johnson said. “And it doesn’t at all inhibit my ability at Patagonia to run and grow and develop and be competitive and a for-profit [business].”

Consumers are fueling innovation

In a session entitled “investing in the future,” innovation accelerators and funders discussed how consumers and companies are driving the next wave of retail technology.

According to Oren Paran, managing director of the Retail Innovation Club, consumer pressure is the primary driver of innovation.

“The consumer is the one who’s pushing and doing the most of the heavy lifting here in pushing the retailers forward,” Paran said during the session. “There are a few more factors like new technologies coming in, competition in the market, and all the giants want to be the first ones to have next day delivery, same day delivery systems and a lot of action around it. And there’s also other forces, like developing markets, and then other competition efforts that are changing these kinds of metrics, but I believe that the consumer is the one who’s pushing.”

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