We’ve all experienced the toilet paper shortages. When I saw the explanation for why it was happening it made more sense. If you trace it back to the manufacturers it turns out there are home use TP makers and commercial TP makers. With so many more people at home there is more of a demand for one type of the product than the other. ( Not even counting in the hoarding part of things)The problem is the factories are geared to make one type and can’t just switch over one day to make the other. Different machines, materials and even roll sizes come into play.
I saw a piece by a farmer explaining why they were dumping milk and why he couldn’t just give it to the local food bank. Again, the supply chain is set up in certain ways to process specific amounts of milk and sell them to specific customers. Things can’t just change from one day to the next in the supply chain.
That got me thinking this morning, while walking Miss Annie, about the elastic that I am trying so hard to get!
Back in the 80’s when I first started working in sewing factories, there were quite a few in this area of Colorado. They were making outdoor gear, medical supplies, jeep covers and all kinds of sewn goods. There were many skilled sewers here working in those factories.
I started working at Lowe Alpine and they trained me on an industrial machine making parts for back packs. I hadn’t been there long before they announced they were going to make everything overseas and we all lost our jobs. I found another outdoor gear manufacturer, Madden Mountaineering, and worked piece rate there, eventually moving up to sewing room supervisor and then production manager. My late husband also worked there in various capacities including as a buyer for the raw materials.
This immersion in the manufacturing industry, especially the outdoor gear aspect of it gave me a good insight into how it all works and a window on the changes that happened.
Back then there were a variety of fabric mills in this country. Like the toilet paper manufacturers they specialized, some with cottons, some with synthetics etc. In the outdoor gear world, fabrics like cordura nylon and pack cloth were king. Buyers from the factories don’t generally buy direct from the mills they buy from a wholesale middleman company. As fabrics started to be made overseas you could order domestic or foreign from the middlemen. You’d pay more for domestic but the quality was better. But over time the American mills started closing because they couldn’t compete with the prices from overseas. So we lost many of the factories and the raw material manufacturers too.
I buy all my cottons at retail prices, but all the other parts I use, the body fabrics, the webbing, the zippers, the buckles, come from those middleman wholesalers. I am guessing the majority of these products are made overseas. By the way that’s true of most of the cotton prints too. They are made in other countries.
Back to my musing on the elastic supply chain and how it fits into the big picture right now. I don’t use elastic for my products so in order to make the masks I had to order some in. One of my wholesalers let me know they had a shipment in the works. But here’s the thing, the elastic, like so many other products, is made in China. China is in the same situation as the rest of the world as far as trying to control the virus, factories might be closed or short staffed, mail is moving more slowly etc. However the demand for elastic has gone through the roof. My middleman company has an order in, but those wholesale orders from overseas are most profitable when shipped the slow way to save on freight. There isn’t a lot of profit margin in a buckle. In this case they have paid three times their usual rate in order to get the elastic faster. However there aren’t many international flights right now, so that factors in as well. They expect it to arrive this week and it will all be spoken for before it even arrives.
Other middlemen are telling me the same thing, they are waiting on orders, and in one case waiting on a domestic mill to deliver. I have asked them to hang on to some for me in case it arrives before my other order. With the mills, we get back to the amount of production they can handle, if the demand increases they aren’t prepared to meet it. They don’t have unused machines sitting around waiting to crank out more elastic, they can only produce what they are scaled to make.
This expands out to the supply in other places, like local sewing stores etc. I ordered from a few people on eBay in order to get a jump on this but right now I think at least one or two of them are playing a game and saying they have shipped when they are also waiting on a shipment from China. I have hopes for two other orders I have in. Fingers crossed they might arrive this week as might my larger order.
There might be other materials that could be used instead of elastic but that means ordering and waiting on them too and they are most likely in high demand as well. While many home sewers are cutting up t-shirts, and other items, I’m in a different category than that. I have a few things to consider. One is the cost of the finished item, one is the quality of my products and one is the production sewing aspect. Just like I can’t use a home sewing machine anymore ( they are soooooo slow) I can’t change the way I make and design my products in the way that a home sewer might. Cutting and sewing ties for instance is very labor intensive and not practical. I can’t sell anything this is made with old cut up t-shirts either. LOL
I am so pleased with the face mask I have designed and anxious to get some made and out to those of you who are waiting so patiently. Thank you for hanging in, I understand you might not be able to wait, or that you might not need a mask by the time I get some made!