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November 3, 2008

GQ of Associations


Kevin Burke, CEO of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, knows when to wear Polo and when to wear his Levi’s 501 jeans. After all, representing members—and looking good doing it—is part of the job description at AAFA. Dressing the part also helps him fight for the free trade that has kept American apparel prices down 10% over the past 10 years, at the same time general retail prices have shot up 25%.


Kevin’s 600 corporate members include international clothing manufacturers like The North Face, Reebok and Jockey. Kevin says the U.S. needs to pass free trade agreements—such as pending deals with Panama and Colombia—in order to open tariff-free markets for American goods. He also says labor and transportation costs in China have gone up, making manufacturing closer to home more appealing. Though Obama and the Dems have talked tough on trade, Kevin thinks they’ll shed their campaigning rhetoric when it comes time to keep prices down for cash-strapped Americans.


Kevin says he still “craves” going to the Capitol as he did for more than a dozen years as top government relations man for Food Distributors International, the American Bakers Association and the National Association of Broadcasters. He also says it was the range of responsibilities and $2 M budget he had at FDI that helped prepare him to switch gears to a management job and $5.6 M budget at AAFA. When he took over a “defunct” association in 2001, Kevin shrunk the staff from 28 to 16, closed the NY office and diversified revenue streams, saying “I turned the association into a business, not a charity.”


Kevin plans to save money in ’09 by increasing sponsored webinars instead of educational seminars that members must travel to. Four are already in the works with sponsors paying to act as moderators. When not looking good, Kevin enjoys taking golf lessons from his three handicap, 17-year-old son, and he plans to give a talk at the University of Rhode Island, where his daughter is a junior studying fashion. Kevin says she was doodling dresses on her math homework long before Kevin took the AAFA job and started inspecting stores with stylish apparel.

Arent Fox
Eng Garcia
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