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January 2008
An Invaluable Learning Experience in Government Relations:
My Internship with the American Apparel and Footwear Association

by Anna Konigsburg

Dr. Hye-Shin Kim

My two-month internship with the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) this past summer was a great learning experience. The AAFA acts as the liaison between government officials and apparel and footwear brands, assisting these companies in obeying new laws and regulations created by the government. In addition, the AAFA helps their clients create laws and lobby members of Congress to support and pass specific bills and agreements that will benefit their clients.

Over the summer, I was immersed in government relations for the fashion industry. Since the fashion industry is dependent upon outsourcing and trade, the government is key to the industry’s success. Many apparel and footwear products are manufactured in China, India, and South America. The government can assist the industry by creating Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with the countries that manufacture yarn, fabrics, and apparel and footwear. The government also can harm the fashion industry by increasing tariffs on imported goods from the countries that manufacture apparel and footwear.

Through the internship, I was able to understand the importance of FTAs and the lowering of specific tariffs. I was able to sit in on meetings where lobbyists representing other industries banded together to educate and lobby Congress to pass the Panama FTA, Colombia FTA, and the Peru FTA. Overall, these FTAs eliminate tariffs and thus help reduce the costs for importing and exporting goods between the United States and these countries.

In addition, I accompanied AAFA employees and watched as they lobbied different members of Congress to support and introduce a bill called the Affordable Footwear Act of 2007. The purpose of this act is to eliminate high tariffs on low-cost shoes sold at stores such as Target and Payless. If eliminated, this tax would reduce the cost of shoes paid for by low- to middle-class Americans.

At the start of my internship, I was given an ongoing project to accomplish by my last day. I was asked to update the Federal Regulations Guide, which was last updated in the early 1990s. I downloaded hundreds of different regulations and turned this once-paper version into an electronic format. The guide contains regulations from government agencies such as Customs and Border Protection, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and others. It was a huge undertaking, but I was able to compile all of the regulations before my last day.

Working for the AAFA, I learned that a lobbyist is like a salesperson. Instead of selling merchandise, he/she "sells" bills to benefit his/her clients. This internship was a great experience because it allowed me to understand the importance the government plays in the fashion industry.

Anna Konigsburg is an undergraduate student in fashion and apparel studies at the University of Delaware.