World Footwear


World Footwear Voices: interview with Steve Lamar from AAFA

Mar 21, 2024 World Footwear Voices
Today we bring you a conversation with Steve Lamar, President and CEO at American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA). Watch the new episode of the World Footwear Voices

World Footwear: We are in Istanbul at the World Footwear Congress, and I have with me Steve Lamar from the AAFA. Thank you, Steve, for being here with me. My first question is, what can you tell us about the footwear industry in the US? How has it been in 2023?
Steve Lamar:
Thanks for having me here. Regarding the footwear industry, we're optimistic. We think that the future is bright. There are great brands, great consumer acceptance, and a lot of innovation, both in style design as well as the materials that are being used. It's an industry that is very much embracing the need to be and the opportunity to be more sustainable. And, to help people have more affordable, more fashionable, more sustainable, more comfortable shoes. So, as I said, we think the future is bright. And you know, we're looking forward to great things in 2024 and beyond.

World Footwear: The last three years were quite challenging. We had a pandemic, and issues in the supply chain. And now in Europe we are facing a war, there are issues with the cost-of-living crisis, high-interest rates, and high inflation rates. What has been the impact in the footwear industry in your view? And do you think we can continue to do business the same way we used to do?
Steve Lamar:
I think we should never think that we're going to do business the same way we ever were. And I think that's something that is a time-honored tradition. You know, if you asked me this question 20 or 30 years ago, I would say we shouldn't be doing business the same way and I would say the same thing in 20 or 30 years from now. Certainly, the last three years have challenged the industry as it challenged all industries in ways like we've never seen before. If you look at where we're looking at right now in the next couple of years, some of the headwinds that we're facing, in addition to the political challenges, geopolitical challenges, the uncertainty, and all we talked to at this conference about all the sustainability work that's in front of us, some of it behind us, but some of it is still in front of us. But we also have a lot of economic challenges, you know, high inflation is still in the industry, interest rates in the United States are driving higher costs of capital, and additional costs, and inventory challenges that continue to be a hangover from the supply chain challenges that we've had. But the industry is working through, they're managing these challenges and trying to find places where those challenges can be offset through opportunity or to figure out that we have to do things differently and how we are going to use this crisis to accelerate some of the changes that we need to make. And I think that one of the approaches that people had as they went into the pandemic was: OK, this is a crisis but with every crisis is both a challenge but also an opportunity, as we all learned. So, what can we do differently? I think that mindset has only deepened in the industry. So, I'm hopeful that we're going to continue to see that mindset power, with more innovation and better approaches going forward and we can only be optimistic about it.

World Footwear: One of the topics under discussion here at the Congress has been sustainability. You already started to mention a few things about it. During your presentation, you were talking about a lot of different regulations that are being either prepared or already in place. From that perspective, what can you tell a company or a brand that wants to sell their products in the United States? What kind of things they should be paying attention immediately?
Steve Lamar:
Well, I think sustainability needs to be the central topic of every conference and conversation going forward. And beyond sustainability is the concept of responsibility and accountability. I think where we are now, and increasingly going forward, we're going to be in a more transparent and traceable industry. Increasingly, regardless of where you sit in the supply chain, those supply chains are going to become more transparent, and much more of what occurs in the supply chains will be tracked and disclosed to the public, to the consumers, to regulators, and to other stakeholders. And I think that's a good thing because it shows how the industry and all the different players in the industry come together. A lot of times when people are putting on their shoes, they think Wow, that shoe just appeared in the box and I'm so glad the shoe is here and it's comfortable. They don't realize all of the people around the world who helped, were part of that value chain to create that shoe, the materials that went into it, the people that went into it, the thought the purpose that went into it. And I think when we make a better effort to put that out there publicly, we now want to tell that story more proudly and to do that, I think, it requires some resources and it requires some time and it requires some investigation. But to be able to do that, I think now gives credit to all of the craftspeople that were involved in the design and the production of the shoe, in the distribution and the sale of the shoe. And then ultimately, as the shoe gets to the end of life and it becomes part of that circular journey where it either gets recycled or disassembled and brought back into new materials to then make the new shoe, whatever that might look like. And of course, technology is going to tell a different story over time and how that occurs. But I think that the key thing right now is as an industry we're going to become more transparent and traceable. This is a good thing and I think companies and players really need to lean into that, to make sure that that begins to occur as smoothly as possible and as quickly as possible.

World Footwear: The theme of this congress was Reshaping the Future. What were your key takeaways from these two days of discussion? And how will that help us to reshape the footwear industry?
Steve Lamar:
Great question. I think in order to reshape the industry and it's not a single endeavor, we're going to reshape and then we'll reshape and then we'll reshape. It's a continuous process. As I mentioned before, I think that requires intense collaboration and intense harmonization. This is a global industry. We've got governments around the world, we've got stakeholders around the world. We've got supply chains that are involving many players. And for us to be able to accomplish the things we need to accomplish requires all these stakeholders to work together in a very inclusive manner. And I think that reshaping that transformation is really going to depend on sort of a unity of purpose. And I really found that here from panel to panel, every conversation sort of picked up where the last conversation left off, and a lot of the speakers were reiterating concepts that were talked about previously. I felt that to be very uplifting because as I come back to the United States, I want to take that message back to my industry. And I felt that I brought that message here, right? So, it's a very iterative process where I think together we can keep sort of working together and kind of continue to move forward.

World Footwear: Thank you, Steve. Thank you. These were some of the insights from the US and from the latest edition of the World Footwear Congress. Continue to follow the World Footwear for more updates. 

This interview was conducted in Istanbul in November 2023 during the World Footwear Congress

Check some of our previous interviews HERE