After thirteen years of leadership, Kevin Burke is stepping down as president and CEO of the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA).
Under his tutelage, the AAFA aggressively expanded its membership to more than 530 major companies that account for nearly 1,500 brands. It also broadened its purview to include new markets like Indonesia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, China and India. The organization has been a notable industry leader, weighing in on numerous free trade agreements, acts of legislation and matters of both economic and ethical controversy pertinent to the apparel and footwear industries.
Announcing his retirement from the organization, Burke reflected on more than a decade of experience. He said, “The key lessons I’ve learned during my years at AAFA are that the US apparel and footwear industry is always moving forward and that the industry must maintain its global perspective to remain competitive.”
On November 5, Burke spoke at the Sourcing Journal Summit 2013, delivering an address entitled, “Political Dysfunction in the Supply Chain,” powerfully expressing a synopsis of his views regarding the state of the industry. He derided congressional stalemates generated by blind partisanship as corrosive of robust business. And while he acknowledged he has historically been a Republican reflexively skeptical of bureaucratic interference into free markets, he also conceded that some regulatory oversight was absolutely necessary for efficient economic trade.
The fulcrum of Burke’s speech was the shutdown of the US federal government, a woeful example of partisanship undermining the possibility for reasonable, pragmatic solutions to imminently solvable problems. And while he argued that “conventional wisdom and personal experience” suggested that this latest episode of political “brinksmanship” should be short lived, the dispute still dragged on interminably, generating measurable economic harm.
Burke also observed that while he was critical of government overreach, and has spent much of his long career in government relations advocating for a lighter congressional imprint on business, he also maintained that the AAFA does not take an “anti-government position.” In fact, his organization recognizes the “the strong and positive role that a functioning and well run government can have in establishing and ensuring a fair competitive environment for our members.” This role is especially important when it comes to “providing valuable information, ensuring a predictable and transparent regulatory environment and advocating for US interests globally.”
For the sake of the continuity of leadership, Burke pledged to find his replacement swiftly. “With so many pressing policy issues facing the industry, including the near conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, time is of the essence,” he said. “We will act quickly to ensure seamless continuity in both leadership and AAFA’s mission of standing at the forefront as a leader of positive change for the apparel and footwear industry.”