Supply Chain Issues Now Causing Problems for Custom Apparel Orders
The global supply chain is like a domino track. If one piece gets knocked over, other pieces topple all over the world. Right now, there are multiple dominoes falling, and it’s causing price increases, supply shortages and shipping backlogs at major ports from China to Europe and North America.
We've covered these supply chain issues in detail, but until recently, they've mostly impacted promotional hard goods. The apparel supply chain tends to have more country diversification, insulating it from some of the issues facing hard goods, which are mostly manufactured in China.
That's no longer the case.
Custom apparel shops are increasingly reporting difficulties sourcing T-shirts and other wearables, with smaller shops particularly susceptible to sourcing issues. That includes delayed shipments and problems securing blanks.
As one example, Shawn Ritchie, owner of Ritchie’s Sporting Goods in Tallmadge, Ohio, told the Akron Beacon Journal that he’s personally experienced issues ordering from big-name apparel suppliers like Gildan, JerZees, Adidas, SanMar and Nike.
“We’re seeing issues with businesses, both big and small, that are having difficulty getting products to the market,” Jonathan Gold, vice president of the National Retail Federation’s supply chain and customs policy, told the Akron Beacon Journal. “It starts overseas with the foreign factories that were obviously impacted because of the COVID, and have had issues getting staffed back up to be able to meet the consumer demand that we’ve seen.”
In the U.S., which has a relatively high level of vaccinated citizens, retail shopping is booming, creating demand for apparel last seen before the pandemic. The problem, however, is that the global shipping world is not in a “post-pandemic state” yet.
“What we’re calling it is a shipping crisis,” Nate Herman, senior vice president of policy for the American Apparel and Footwear Association, told the Beacon Journal. “That shipping crisis is threatening to leave store shelves empty, which is particularly concerning for our industry as we get closer to back to school and move into the holiday season.”
Apparel shops are delivering orders well past the original quoted date, like one jersey order Ritchie fielded for a local softball team, which arrived in time for the team’s last game of the season. For large orders, he said that products “dribble in over four or five weeks,” rather than all at once.
Other decorators, like Cleveland Clothing Co., which works with a California-based apparel supplier, have had to get creative with solutions to put products in customers' hands in time.
“We have to print one of our top sellers on a different color now because we can’t get the mauve color until July,” Cleveland Clothing Co. owner Mike Kubinski told Cleveland.com.
Some apparel shops are turning to multiple suppliers, piecing together complete orders from more than one source. But that piecemeal approach creates its own challenges. Via the Beacon Journal:
For example, the Summit County Fair gets its T-shirts from Akron Shirt Factory in Norton, but there were some bumps in the road for those plans this year. Kathy Scheetz, owner of Akron Shirt Factory, ordered this year’s maroon shirts from JerZee, but was unable to find any shirts in 2XL. She planned to buy that size once they were in stock again, but that never happened.
The result: Those who pick up an 2XL shirt from the Summit County Fair this year will be a shade off from the other fairgoers who buy T-shirts.
Cleveland Printwear owner Mike Cannon told Cleveland.com that his company sourced a 350-piece order from three different suppliers across seven different warehouses in the U.S.
“It’s the sheer volume and the immediacy of the volume that we need right now that supply can’t keep up,” Cannon said. “It’s been really taxing here. People don’t want to hear that, obviously. The sales part is extremely tricky, and then we’re really, really worried about overworking our staff.”
It’s an exceedingly difficult situation for business owners. The demand is there for the first time in more than a year, but now the supply side is falling short.
Shipping experts are guessing that these problems aren’t going away any time soon, possibly not until 2022. Until that point, if it comes when it’s expected, apparel sellers are going to need to plan accordingly. That can mean working with different or new suppliers, covering their bases with multiple supplier partners, and being realistic and honest with customers about how long an order will realistically take to arrive.