Remember When… “Supply Chain” Was Mysterious?

David Billstrom
5 min readOct 1, 2021


Current Status: Apparel Goods, Worldwide

In the Before Times, most of us riding bikes and wearing clothes didn’t really understand what “Supply Chain” meant… or perhaps hadn’t even heard the term used before in regular conversation.

That’s over.

We all know what “Supply Chain” means now, whether your personal experience in 2020 was with a shortage of toilet paper or waiting months for a new bike. 18 months later, we’re still suffering supply chain delays. In fact, in some sectors, it’s even worse than Spring of 2020.

One of those troubled industries is apparel. Anyone else notice all the new swimsuits advertised everywhere in August this year? That’s a first. In many cases, those brands had just received their ‘swim’ products in August, rather than April and were forced to introduce them at the end of summer. In coming months, we predict you will see more of these “seasonal launches” in the wrong season. Including the 2021 “holiday season”.

Apparel Slammed in 2021

18 months later, apparel imports are severely compromised because the Delta variant is ravaging Vietnam. Pricing pressure and Trump’s punishment tariffs has shifted a great deal of America’s apparel production from China to Vietnam over the past decade — a shift not noticed by most consumers.

Indeed, at Kitsbow most of our apparel (85%) was made by contract manufacturers in Vietnam until 2018, because we wanted the best, and some of the best sewers in the world are in Vietnam.

Vietnam escaped the 2020 Pandemic with only 3,000 infections and 15 deaths, according to the New York Times. For the most part, goods shipped from Vietnam as expected throughout 2020.

But in 2021 Delta has infected over 770,000 people in Vietnam and killed 19,000. As a result, much of the manufacturing in Vietnam is shut down.

And as you know by now, that means brands such as Everlane (40% of their goods made in Vietnam), Nike (51% made in Vietnam), and Lululemon (33% made in Vietnam) are in trouble as we enter the 2021 holiday apparel season.

In fact, retailers are already in trouble since they should already have holiday apparel in hand by now. The missing clothes may be in container ships waiting off California, stuck without labor to unload and a shortage of trucking capacity. Other product may be stuck in Vietnam, in factories that can’t ship for lack of labor. Or even worse, not yet made.

It is going to be very difficult to get the apparel you want this holiday season.

Where Your Holiday Gifts Are Right Now

Taking A Different Path

At Kitsbow, we haven’t solved this problem but we’ve put a big dent in it. We made the decision in 2018 to stop sending money overseas (except for gloves and socks), and instead make everything here in the U.S.

It was a bold move, and for many observers in the apparel industry, they may have even thought we were reckless. To be sure we’ve encountered many speed bumps along the way — the absence of a premium apparel industry in the U.S. (98% of the apparel sold in the U.S. is imported) plays out in many ways.

For instance, it isn’t just people who can sew that are in short supply, we also struggle to hire technicians that can repair sewing machines, operators of cutting machines, and pattern-makers. All skills that haven’t had a home in America over the past 30 years.

Yet in two short years, we’re making solid headway. We now make 40+ different styles in Old Fort, NC. None of our holiday product is sitting on a ship off California, and none of it was made in Vietnam. Americans made all of it, and our team is making more of it right now, so you can buy clothes made right here in the U.S.

What About This Holiday Season?

Amazon launched their Prime service (“free” 2-day shipping on everything) 16 holiday seasons ago. That trained many of us… to cut it pretty close on sending gifts (and snagging gear we wanted for ourselves). Even December 22 wasn’t too late to shop for Christmas, in the Before Times.

That’s over. Even when product is in stock, ready to ship… getting it to you is going to be much tougher this year.

Fedex has already notified all of its commercial customers that 4 weeks from now, they will impose an additional fee of $1.50 per package on Fedex Ground shipments. And this will jump after Thanksgiving to $3.00. UPS and the US Postal Service have both announced similar “Holiday Fees”. Fedex is reported to be trying to hire 90,000 seasonal holiday workers this season. Hmmm, wonder how that’s working out?

The mayhem is already apparent, with many delays — caused by about 10% of all packages being re-routed around labor shortages. And all of this is before the holiday season shipping traditionally begins.

So let’s recap:

  • Less apparel was made this year, due to COVID
  • The apparel made isn’t necessarily what you want for the season
  • There are lengthy transportation delays to brands, worldwide
  • More transportation delays from the brands to you, the consumer

The Solution

If you’ve read this far, then you hopefully have come to the same conclusion that we have. Namely, your holiday gift-giving strategy for apparel should be: buy U.S. made apparel.

And above all, order now.

Fedex and others are shipping slowly. Kitsbow is making apparel in the U.S. as each order is placed in our Made to Order process — you may wait 2 weeks or 2 months. We’re ramping up new sewing talent every day (literally). But quality is paramount, so it isn’t an instant solution.

And both of those factors will only get worse as the holiday season arrives. So, don’t wait.

We you wish you the very best in this upcoming holiday season. Don’t hesitate to reach out to the Kitsbow crew if you have questions or need anything. Best of luck.

Kitsbow One-Piece-Flow Factory

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