Harry van Dalfsen, president of the International Apparel Federation (IAF)

Harry van Dalfsen, president of the International Apparel Federation (IAF)

The theme of change resonates loudly with Harry van Dalfsen, who took on the role of president of the International Apparel Federation (IAF) two years ago at the height of the global economic crisis. Not surprisingly, 'Fashion business in a changing environment' is also the focus of the upcoming IAF World Apparel Convention, which takes place later this month.

Founded 40 years ago to bring together apparel manufacturers from across the world, the industry served by the International Apparel Federation (IAF) has undergone dramatic change during this time. And for Harry van Dalfsen, taking on the role of IAF president two years ago came at the height of this upheaval.

"Everyone is looking at how to balance the threat from lower turnover," he explains. "They are searching for new markets, collaborating to get better prices and save costs, and looking at internet sales and cross-selling," he tells just-style.

Among the challenges faced by the sourcing community have been the lifting of quotas at the beginning of 2005 which paved the way for China's dominance in apparel production; issues such as rising costs, labour shortages and increasing domestic demand; and the search for alternative supply countries.

Retailers and brands have also been rocked by global economic turmoil, the credit crunch, the eurozone crisis and consumer uncertainty - all of which have contributed to slower sales, smaller orders, lower inventories, and a move away from long lead times to fast-fashion styles at relatively low prices.

And the lines are increasingly blurring between producers and consumers, especially in countries like China, India and Turkey for whom the domestic market not only provides a huge opportunity but also competes for business with export channels. And of course there's the internet and social media, which have fundamentally changed the way firms and consumers buy, sell and interact.

Faced with all this, van Dalfsen's tenure at the IAF has also been underpinned by a belief that threats bring new opportunities. "A good entrepreneur is always looking for new challenges, and we also see that happening in our chain."

IAF World Apparel Convention
Appropriately, change is also the key theme in the upcoming IAF World Apparel Convention, which is taking place in Oporto, Portugal later this month.

Focusing on 'Fashion Business in a Changing Environment,' the event is the highlight in the IAF annual calendar and is expected to attract between 250 and 300 delegates keen to hear what speakers have to say on key issues including sourcing developments, opportunities for fashion businesses in emerging markets, digital solutions, and new ways of attracting consumers.

The keynote address will be made by Harry Lee, CEO of Hong Kong based TAL Apparel, who will discuss 'Creating Value in the Supply Chain: win-win for buyers and suppliers.' The speech will look at how buyers and suppliers can both make more profit by taking a risk and investing in fewer, but stronger business ties.

"My vision is to get the whole chain together, not only producers but also retailers and brands," van Dalfsen says. "As the IAF as a neutral, non-political organisation, we want to build bridges between the continents and get people talking together."

Efforts to widen the association's membership have been high on its agenda in recent years, and coincided with the relocation of its headquarters from London to Zeist, near Amsterdam back in 2006. Van Dalfsen, the former head of the Dutch textile association Modint, believes that drawing in new members from the textile and apparel chain is key to keeping the IAF relevant to the needs of today's industry.
National trade organisations currently make up the membership backbone - so much so that the IAF says it now represents around 90% of the world's clothing manufacturing countries and apparel markets. But retailers, brands and importers including Escada, Esquel, Li & Fung, VF Corp, G-Star and Jockey have also joined.

Member benefits
"What's in it for me?" is a key question asked by potential members, and van Dalfsen says efforts to "deliver a lot more content," have been ramped up in the last two years.

Examples include a global responsibility committee and an education committee, both of which have been set up to encourage the whole fashion chain to get together, share knowledge, and take the initiative to drive change. IAF is a facilitator for all these discussions to take place. 

On the education front, for example, "our chain needs good middle management," van Dalfsen explains. "So what we are trying to do is build bridges between universities, high schools and companies. As people get older and retire from the industry, then knowledge is going away, so we have to get a good education programme and the IAF is an ideal platform to organise that."

Other benefits include an arrangement with DHL to provide preferential logistics prices for members, and work is underway to tap into its member contacts in 40 countries to organise international trade missions. "We can be an intermediary between companies and countries," notes van Dalfsen.

"The burning issue for me as president of the IAF is to build bridges between continents and national organisations, retailers and producers - and when we bring them together I am really convinced that it helps the industry. You can save costs, you can share knowledge, and that is not a threat, it's an opportunity. There are so many benefits to be had, it's worth pursuing."

The 28th edition of the IAF World Apparel Convention will be held on 24-28 September 2012 at the Sheraton Porto Hotel & Spa. The convention will be followed by an optional study and cultural tour, which will include visits to textile and clothing factories. Click here to view the full programme.

The speaker line-up includes: Jan Hilger, operations director at Escada (Germany); Carlos Botero, Inexmoda (Colombia); Kevin Burke, AAFA (US); Govind Shrikhande, Shoppers Stop (India); Fernando Pimentel, ABIT (Brazil); Guido Brackelsberg, Setlog (Germany); Kurt Cavano, Tradecard (US); Bob McKee, Infor (US); Andreas Schneider, GCS (Germany); Mauro Scalia, Euratex (Belgium); Nicolas Mouze, DHL (Iberia), Orij Abraham, UNIC (Netherlands); Frank Bober, Stylesight (US); Mike Fralix, TC2 (US); Ed Gribbin, Alvanon (US); Remco Vroom, TAB Worldmedia (Netherlands); Magdalena Kondej, Euromonitor (UK); Sanjeev Mohanty, Benetton India (India); Shubhankar Ray, G-Star Raw (Netherlands); Isabel Cantista, Fast Forward Innovation (Portugal); Koen Snoeren, GfK Panel Services (Benelux).