Exclusive Interview with Julia K. Hughes, President of the United States Fashion Industry Association


(Photo above: Julia Hughes presented at the 25th Annual Textile and Apparel Importer Conference. Courtesy of the United States Fashion Industry Association)

Julia K. Hughes is the President of the United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA). USFIA represents all segments of the fashion industry, from apparel brands to retailers to service companies.  Ms. Hughes represents the interests of textile and apparel importers on trade policy issues to government officials, both in the United States and overseas. She has testified before Congress and the Executive Branch on textile trade issues. Ms. Hughes is also recognized as an expert in textile and apparel issues and is a frequent speaker at international conferences including the Apparel Sourcing Show, MAGIC, Foreign Service Institute, National Association of Manufacturers, Cotton Sourcing Summit, USIA’s Worldnet, the International Textiles and Clothing Bureau, Young Presidents’ Organization, World Trade Organization Beijing International Forum and others.

Julia Hughes is also well known to students enrolled in TMD433. She is featured in the book Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy, which highlights the global nature of the textile and apparel industry in the 21st century and those complicated economic, social and political factors associated with this important sector.

Interview Part

Sheng Lu: Would you please briefly introduce the current status of the U.S. fashion industry which your organization represents? For example, how large is the industry, how important is it to the US and the global economy, and what types of companies are involved as well as their business functions?

Julia Hughes: The phrase “the fashion industry” may call to mind images of Fashion Week and photo shoots. In this era of global trade, however, the high-fashion runways are just one part of the broader textile and apparel industry that ranges from high-end luxury brands to fast-fashion retailers—and the thousands of companies in between that produce and sell clothing, shoes, and other textile products.

United States Fashion Industry Association members and affiliates include companies across the value chain, which support our mission to remove barriers to textile and apparel trade. These companies include:

  • Brands, retailers, importers, and wholesalers of textiles and apparel.
  • Service providers, including consultants, customs brokers, freight forwarders, law firms, logistics providers, steamship lines, and testing and certification companies that help those brands, retailers, importers, and wholesalers.
  • Manufacturers and suppliers of finished products and inputs for finished products, as well as supplier associations, business councils, and promotional groups.
  • Agencies that promote the industry from a specific region, country, city, or other geographic entity.
  • Academic institutions.

This industry includes companies and professionals across the value chain, working in roles ranging from design and development, to sourcing and logistics, to trade policy and compliance, to retail and marketing. USFIA members include all of these types of companies and individuals…

Sheng Lu: The United States Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel (USA-ITA) has been a big name in the industry for 25 years. What leads your organization to change the name and rebrand yourself? Particularly, how will the USFIA distinguish itself with the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA), whose members also include many US-based apparel companies and retailers?

Julia Hughes: The United States Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel (USA-ITA), founded in January 1989 by nine U.S. importers, was instrumental in eliminating the global apparel quota system. At that time, it seemed like an almost insurmountable task to change the political dynamic enough so that the special protection for textiles and apparel would finally end.

On January 1, 2005, the quotas were officially eliminated, and since then, the industry has increasingly globalized. As a result, new challenges arise every day for apparel brands, retailers, and importers, ranging from challenges with compliance at the factories to challenges with transportation at the ports of entry. Over the years, the association has evolved with our members to address these new challenges—but our brand, including our name, logo, and official mission statement, had not changed in over two decades.

Accordingly, our major project in 2013 was rebranding the association to more clearly communicate our purpose and our direction for the future. It’s important to note that this project was not about changing our purpose or direction, but about ensuring that our brand accurately reflects the reality of the industry and the work we had already been doing for our members. The new brand—the United States Fashion Industry Association—was developed over 10 months with input from members and our trusted network across the value chain who participated in comprehensive overviews.

Why did we choose this name? First, our members are no longer just “importers.” While importing will be a critical aspect of our members’ sourcing plans for the foreseeable future, many of our members are truly global brands—for instance, designing product in the United States, producing that product in Asia, and then selling that product in Europe or Australia. Additionally, many of our members are also making product in the United States from U.S. and/or imported inputs. As we told WWD, “We are very supportive of Made in USA, and we sponsored some of the very first programs about Made in USA at MAGIC. It is a very important element, but it is one part of sourcing decision making.” Considering these realities, the phrase “Importers of Textiles and Apparel” no longer accurately described the industry or our members, so we needed to update it. (It was also a mouthful!) We settled on this exact name because “the fashion industry” is the phrase that companies, government, and the media uses most commonly to describe the wide variety of companies and professionals across the value chain—it best describes our association in 2013 and moving forward.

We spoke to our members and some trusted partners in our network about who we are and what sets us apart. From those conversations, we developed five values that we keep in mind with every decision we make. They are:

1.      Integrity: Our members tell us that we listen to them, support them, and defend them—while our government partners tell us that we work with them to find creative solutions.

2.      Substance: We maintain and articulate a deep understanding of the industry and challenges most important to our members—the sourcing and compliance executives who make tough decisions every day on how to address these challenges.

3.      Focus: We keep a laser focus on our mission, which allows us to be agile and quickly seize upon opportunities to move the needle.

4.      Collaboration: Our members collaborate to share best practices and amplify the industry’s voice on the critical issues, putting aside marketplace competition to work together toward common goals.

5.      Foresight: We keep our members informed not only about the regulatory challenges today, but also the regulatory challenges of tomorrow—and as our industry globalizes, we likewise expand our reach.

Sheng Lu: As mentioned in your mission statement, the USFIA is dedicated to the removal of barriers that impede the free movement of textile and apparel products to the United States and international markets. What are the top trade policy and market access concerns for the USFIA right now?

Julia Hughes: For 25 years, the United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA)–formerly the United States Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel (USA-ITA)–worked to eliminate barriers that impede the free movement of textile and apparel products to the United States and international markets. We participate in advocacy activities on a number of issues related to our mission in order to eliminate the tariff and non-tariff barriers that impede the industry’s ability to trade freely and create economic opportunities in the United States and abroad. Our top issues include:

Sheng Lu: You are featured in the well-known book Travels of T-shirt in the Global Economy. Interestingly enough, your counterpart in the book—Mr. Auggie Tantillo, now taps to lead the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) which represents the US textile industry.  In the T-shirt book, you two held very different views on whether the U.S. should restrict apparel imports from China. Now almost 8 years later, do you (and the USFIA) still debate often with Auggie (and the NCTO) on textile and apparel trade policy issues? If so, what are you mainly debating about?

Julia Hughes: Today, Auggie and I still disagree on some of the basic trade policy issues–especially the negotiations for new free trade agreements. NCTO is trying to hold onto the same textile rules of origin that were negotiated in the 1990s, the yarn-forward rule of origin. USFIA and our members continue to encourage the U.S. textile industry to take a fresh look at the global industry.  But, so far, we remain far apart.

Nonetheless, we also have some areas where we can work together. Both our organizations support efforts to promote Made in the USA activities, as well as manufacturing in the Western Hemisphere. And, just this week I asked Auggie to help us with information about U.S.-based fabric mills. We also have collaborated on some proposals with Customs and Border Protection that build on the “trusted trader” concept and would focus enforcement measures on the companies who are not already proven to be compliant. And if I had to make a prediction, I would predict that in the next few years, we will find other areas where we can worth together productively.

Sheng Lu: Most of our students in the Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design (TMD) department will become professionals working for the US fashion industry after graduation. Does the USFIA have any resources available to our college students or have any future plans to expand the collaboration with the textile and apparel educational programs/academic institutions?

Julia Hughes: Yes! We welcome participation from universities, educators, and students in the fashion industry.

First, our website is a wonderful resource for information about the industry and our key issues. In addition to our issue pages, you’ll also find resources including recaps of past seminars, recordings of past webinars, our member publications, and more. (Some of this information is locked to USFIA members, but in the spirit of helping to grow our industry and future members, we’re always happy to help you access specific information you need! Just ask us!) We continue to build on the website, and in 2014, we will be launching a Value Chain Directory, which will provide comprehensive information on service providers and sourcing opportunities around the world.

Additionally, we host a number of events throughout the year, including our annual conference. We’re happy to work with educators and students to make attendance affordable, and we even have opportunities for universities to exhibit and students to volunteer.

We also encourage current and former students to visit our Career Center, which contains job opportunities at USFIA member companies. Even if you’re not looking for a job at the moment, it may be helpful to see what types of candidates these companies are seeking.

We’re always happy to work with universities, educators, and students to ensure that we educate the next generation of fashion industry leaders and professionals—future USFIA members!


Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

30 thoughts on “Exclusive Interview with Julia K. Hughes, President of the United States Fashion Industry Association”

  1. Julia makes some really important points in the interview. I enjoyed the various information she shared. One topic I thought that was very interesting was the “Auggie & Julia” topic. As I have learned from the “Travels of T-shirt in the Global Economy” book, Auggie is the voice of the textiles industry and Julia is the voice of the apparel industry. Although they may not agree on several topics, they have to work together to allow the textiles and apparel industry to be successful. In the interview, Julia has explained that her and Auggie disagree on many topics dealing with trade. However, they also agree on important sectors, especially the topic dealing with promoting Made in the USA products. In class, in our last case study, we dealt with trying to come up with a campaign to promote products being “Made in the USA”. Throughout the years there have been tons and tons of campaigns trying to promote this, but for some reason it is extremely difficult to get it through. Our group wanted to contribute to the global causes by promoting American-made designs, which were therefore created by American made jobs. We wanted the American designers (Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs, Tori Burch, etc.) to promote the campaign in their stores by using such things as social media. We were hoping these companies would make an American line of products made in NAFTA and CAFTA regions and they would be designed by the American designers. There is tons and tons of information and research and tiny details that go into the textile and apparel industry. Many don’t understand how complex the industry can be. As Julia had said in her interview, the fashion industry isn’t just Fashion Week and photo shoots, there is so much more to it. Since I have taken TMD433, I have learned what the industry truly entails.

  2. Posted on behalf of Anne Panciotti

    “I appreciate the optimistic nature of free trade advocates, such as Julia Hughes. Rather than wallow in misery over a specific, declining US manufacturing sector, these T&A industry supporters of globalization are fighting off obsolescence with creativity. The world is always changing, and I don’t think it is beneficial to fight it. Things improve when we seek to make them better, and I like the attitude that it is up to us to define – or redefine – our worthwhile, and sometimes new, roles.”

  3. I found this interview to be very interesting, especially after reading the travels of a t-shirt book. The first thing that caught my attention was the list of all the different types of companies that are members of the USFIA and want there to be no trade barriers in the textile and apparel industries. I originally would have thought that the members would just be those directly in the fashion industry but after seeing the list of other types of companies that are members, I can understand that textile and apparel trade affects much more than just the fashion industry. This goes along with a point we have talked about multiple times in class about how the textile and apparel industries affect everyone, even if they do not think that it does. Like Dani, I also thought the question about Julia’s differences with Auggie was interesting. Representing two different parts of the industry, they are obviously not going to agree on everything but I think that it is important that despite their differences, they still work together to promote made in the USA products. We have discussed in class how what is good for the textile industry isn’t necessarily good for the apparel industry and how one may favor something while the other industry favors something else. For example, the textile industry likes the yarn-forward rule of origin while the apparel industry likes the fabric-forward rule of origin. But promoting USA products can be seen as a common ground since it benefits both sides and creates more jobs for Americans.

    1. excellent comment! Very glad to see you link the content of the interview with what you’ve learnt in the class. totally agree with what you’ve said. In addition to “made in USA”, the other opportunity for the textile & apparel industry in the US to work together I think is to promote the export of US goods in the global market, no matter “goods” are physical merchandise or services such as brands/retail.

  4. I find it interesting that Ms. Hughes says the purpose of the organization’s re-branding was “to more clearly communicate our purpose and our direction for the future.” The change from the United States Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel to the United States Fashion Industry Association”seems, at least on the surface, to make the organization more ambiguous.

    In my opinion, the organization’s new name is rather nondescript. What exactly would the US Fashion Industry Association stand for? There’s no hint to what the organization’s purpose or stance is in this new title. However, I think that was part of the re-branding strategy. By changing it’s title to something less descriptive, the organization can separate itself from any negative ideas about free trade. By calling itself the “Fashion Industry Association,” the organization portrays itself as supporting the well-being of the US fashion industry as a whole, rather than just importers. Tricky.

  5. After reading this article and the T-shirt book, I found the differences in Auggie and Julia’s standpoints really interesting. Although they want different things when it comes to free trade, they both support made in the USA. Julia’s arguments made me agree more with her, we need to have imports and exports, as countries work together in globalization. The USFIA mission statement comes across many issues with trying to remove tariffs on free trade. There are many agreements and partnerships that they are trying to negotiate with, I think this is hard to remove all the tariffs, and there are plenty of organizations that may make this impossible to remove completely. I agree with Julia’s argument, however the USFIA may come into problems with their new title in trying to remove tariff barriers with the other organizations protecting them.

    1. agree with your observation. that’s why in the class I told you guys making trade policy is like trying to “breathe and suck at the same time”. the debate will always continue. In many occasions, the T&A industry has to compete with other sectors for policy resources.

    2. After reading this article, I also agree more with Julia. I think her views on free trade is a more realistic view. We need globalization. It is beneficial to our economy and to other countries. I know globalization can cause some people to lose their jobs and that is what Auggie fights for (keeping U.S jobs) but I feel that there is more of a gain then a loss. I like how they can work together in supporting man-made in U.S.organizations but there are still big differences. If we lived like Auggie wants to I think the U.S and places like China would lose out on a lot of money. Not to mention the consumers would have to pay a lot more money for everyday items.

  6. In the t-shirt book, I enjoyed reading about Julia Hughes and her debate with Auggie and the NCTO in section III. I really think her beliefs and ideas could have a positive influence on the Textile and Apparel industry today. Hughes points out in the interview that the U.S. needs to deal with the realities of our time and enjoy the benefits of free trade, rather than set barriers on international trade. As Hughes explains in the beginning of the interview, the fashion industry is so much more than the clothes and models people see on the runway. It covers a large span of activities across the supply chain to produce a textile or apparel product. This is why it is important that we use all of the help and resources we can. While Hughes believes in outsourcing and the freedom of trade, she also supports “made in the US.” I think that more people need to listen to Hughes and her knowledge about the textile and apparel industry. By doing so, we would be one step closer to adapting to the global world, while finding ways to preserve the “made in America” name.

    1. good thoughts! Overall, as we mentioned in the class, the nature of the 21st century T&A industry both globally and in the US has become critically different from the past. To certain extent, the concept of “made in where” is outdated which should be replaced by “value in where”. I hope both the course and the interview can help our students form a bigger picture vision when evaluating the current affairs.

  7. After reading the interview, I realzed that I agree with Julia now more than Auggie. We do need more globalization and her views are more realistic in that matter. Globalization not only affects peoples jobs about also the textile and apparel industry. Auggie fights for keeping jobs in the US, but that would affect the prices of the textiles that are imported into the US. Also the workers in China would be loosing a lot of money that they are used to working for. Julia believes that we need to work on enjoying free trade, rather than worrying about international trade policies.

  8. I found this blog post very interesting. I really enjoyed reading the Auggie and Julia section of the interview. After reading about them in the T-shirt book, it was cool to see what Julia had to say about everything. Although they still disagree on some basic trade policy, I am glad that they can work together in some areas. I like that both of their organizations support efforts to promote Made in the USA and they ask each other for help so they can collaborate on different proposals with Customs and Border Protection to build on the “trusted trader”. She also said that she predicts that they will continue to work together on more and more areas of both the Textile and Apparel Industries. After the last case study, it was clear that majority of the class wanted to find a way to have companies promote and produce Made in the USA items. I think that both Auggie and Julia would appreciate our ideas and would be glad to see that we have some of the same opinions that they do. I also loved how enthusiastic she was about having students in our field of study working with the USFIA.

    1. Good thinking! The argument between Julia and Auggie is not personal, but rather reflects the different commercial interests of the US apparel industry compared with the US textile industry. On the other hand, I hope students can brace the concept of “value in USA” in addition to “made in USA” given the nature of the US T&A industry in the 21st century global economy.

  9. I found this interview to be quite interesting. It was one thing hearing about both the UTA-ITA (now USFIA) and Julia’s views in the “Travels of a T-shirt in a Global Economy” book, but another to hear her responses first hand. This interview positioned her as a more open-minded industry leader since she seemed to respect Aggie’s positions and embraced the fact that they can work together to improve the textile industry on key issues. Another topic that I found interesting in this interview was the question having to do with the rebranding of the USFIA. Like Julia stated, it is extremely important to align what the actual goals of an organization are with how they are perceived to the public and a brand’s identity needs to be the vehicle to help do this.

  10. I really admire julia after reading about her in the T-shirt book and this interview. Being the president of the USFIA can’t be an easy job. She’s knowlegeable in all aspects in the fashion industry and an expert in textile and apparel issues. Julia frequently speaks at international conferences and testifies before government officials on the interests of textile and apparel importers on trade policy issues. She faces new challenges that arise everyday in this diffucult industry and is looked upon to analyse and figure out solutions to them. It makes me happy to see a woman in charge of such a large, complex industry. This world is still too sexist in the job market where mainly men hold the top positions in companies and industries. Julia is a positive role model to other women, she is proof that women can successfully run an industry just as well as men can.

  11. I found this interview really interesting. There were so many good points that were brought up. After reading the T-shirt book I wasn’t surprised that Julia mentioned that Auggie and her would still disagree 8 years later on some trade policy issues. I was happy that Julia mentioned that her and Auggie have some areas where they can work together helping to promote made in the USA activities. I think that it’s great that even though Auggie and Julia both have two different views that they can overcome those differences and work together. I also find It amazing how many different companies the United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA) represents. I was very shocked that so many companies want there to be no trade barriers in the textile and apparel industries. This point relates to what we have been learning in class over the semester in that the textile and apparel industry affects a lot more than just the fashion industry.

  12. I found this interview interesting because Julia really demonstrated the truth in one concept that has come up multiple times in class; that the nature of the US fashion industry is constantly changing. The change to the organization’s name came not only from a need of rebranding, but to better define it’s goals and the different levels of the supply chain it represents. Another change that we can see is the effort Julia and Auggie now make to help each other out and fight for common goals rather than constantly being at odds. The “Made in the USA” campaign has had it’s flaws, but she explains how it can benefit both the textile and apparel industries and create a more ethical form of business.

  13. This interview encompasses almost everything we learned in the last few weeks of class. The United States Fashion Industry Association took their business plan and made it better. An upgrade after 25 years is more than necessary and I agree with Julia Hughes when she says that the name now represents the true aspects of the business.”It’s important to note that this project was not about changing our purpose or direction, but about ensuring that our brand accurately reflects the reality of the industry” she states and the reality is that the business has become more globalized and thus business must change or their look must change to keep of with the time. The United States Fashion Industry Association are not just importers but their members are also producers. Great interview.

  14. Julia truly is an incredible woman who is dedicated to her profession- this article and the T-shirt book are two great examples of that. I feel as though this article is a great representation of what we have learned in TMD 433 this semester. After reading this article, I agree with everything that the USFIA stands for and represents. They are an organization that is dedication to making globalization a more realistic option for the US textile and apparel industry. Although, Julia and Auggie have differing views about trade policy issues I feel as though those beliefs are centralized on personal values. However, I agree more with Julia than Auggie on this topic. I think that global trade needs to be looked at from a more modern viewpoint and we can not keep relying on old ideas. Overall, I found this article to be very interesting and I enjoyed reading it!

  15. I felt it was very interesting to see how Julia and Auggie both represent the companies they work for really well. It was also interesting to see what Julia and the apparel side of the industry felt about the textile side and how Auggie feels about it as well. While, Auggie’s way has been working well for the textile industry, is it really suiting all aspects of textile AND APPAREL? The textile industry is trying to keep the same trade policies in control with a yarn forward rule of origin. While this works out very well for the textile industry, we all know it does not bode well for the apparel industry. It causes too many conflicts between countries and hinders trade between the US and other countries on any product produced in another country with another countries yarn, and also products manufactured in countries that do not fall under NAFTA and CAFTA regulations. I have to wonder if we could create new trade policies that have a yarn forward rule of origin, but also open up the markets a bit more than what they are right now? Can we open up the markets and make globalization a complete circle with importing and exporting around the globe. I believe that if Julia and Auggie and the companies they represent could find a way to agree a little more, we could create new trade policies that incorporate the old way with a new way that is even more effective than what we have now.

  16. Julia makes a lot of good points here. I personally agree with what the USFIA is working for by trying to eliminate trade barriers. However, I found it very interesting to hear about what Julia had to say about Auggie’s stance. I think it is great that Julia says although they disagree, there are also many things they can agree on. I feel as if this article sums up this course very well, and was a great article for me to read as the semester comes to a close.
    I also really apreciated the information at the end directed toward students!

  17. I think this interview is very interesting and brings out some valid points. I like how even though Julia and Auggje have their differences, they still hear each others opinions on the subject matter. It wasn’t personal, they just had different interest in the industry. But even though they don’t agree on much, together they make this industry successful. I do have to agree with Julia on her points that she came up with for the industry. Great read!

  18. This article brings about some very interesting topics. I think that the relationship between Julia and Auggie is very representative of how two different sectors of the same big picture have to interact in order to bring about success, and when necessary, change. Julia focused on how her and Auggie can work together versus what they disagree on. This is a very efficient way of approaching issues. Julia hit the nail on the head when she said that the USFIA are not only importers but also producers. Removing all barriers is impossible, but by using compromise, certain situations can be bettered.

  19. This interview was very interesting because it was able to show two different perspectives. Auggje and Julia did not always agree but that is why the T&A industry is so complex and the problems cannot always be solved with one solution. Auggie and Julia showed very different sides on the issue of trade and trade agreements but this is one of the biggest debated over issues in the industry. By Auggie and Julia debating their sides in a civil way, this shows that as long as the opposing sides respect each other an agreeable plan could be decided on in the future.

  20. I found this interview to be very interesting and I agree with Julia far more than Auggie because her views are more realistic. The T&A industry is a globally reliant one, therefore Julia is correct when she states that we need more globalization because it affects peoples jobs as well as the T&A industry. Auggie’s fights for keeping jobs in the US, but his unrealistic view undermines the effect that would have on the prices of the textiles that are imported into the US. The workers in China would also be loosing a large amount of money that they at used to making when putting Auggies views of keeping jobs in the US rather than China. Julia’s beliefs of enjoying free trade are common amongst myself and many other involved in the T&A industry.

    1. Another point I’d like to make is service also creates jobs–logistics, sourcing, branding and retailing. US retailers would not be able to expand so fast (and hire more people) if they did not embrace globalization and do global sourcing.

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