Attendees of QuiltCon in Austin, Texas this weekend weren’t able to buy the commemorative show pin as they have in years past. The pin, which is typically included in a pre-sold swag bag for early ticket holders, and is available for sale on the show floor, is manufactured in China where factories are currently closed due to coronavirus.
“Our QuiltCon 2020 pins that were ordered months ago were not produced or shipped due to quarantines in the area of the factory. We were notified late the week before QuiltCon that we would not be receiving the pins in time,” says Karen Cooper, Executive Director of the Modern Quilt Guild (MQG). $10 coupons to the MQG shop were included in the swag bags instead.
The MQG is not the only organization in the crafts industry facing product delays. In fact, craft businesses large and small are now experiencing supply chain disruptions due to the impact of the coronavirus. Just after the new year the novel coronavirus, which originated in WuHan City in the Hubei Province of China, and is highly contagious, began to spread.
Factories begin to shut down
On January 30 the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a global emergency. The Chinese government imposed factory shutdowns for an additional 10 days after the Lunar New Year celebration to try to control the spread of the virus. Factories were supposed to reopen on February 9, but bureaucratic hurdles have made it nearly impossible and many remain closed. Craft companies that rely on Chinese factories to manufacture their products are now beginning to experience the effects of those closures. Production has come to a halt, shipping from China is uncertain, and US inventory levels are dropping.
Checker Distributors, a leading distributor of quilting and sewing products that carries 125,000 SKUs from nearly 1,000 brands, is beginning to feel the effects of the disruption. President Brad Krieger, President of Checker Distributors says that some of Checker’s in-house brand of notions are now depleted and reorders are delayed due to factory closures in China. 12,000 units of one of those products were scheduled to go into a popular sewing subscription box this month but were unavailable.
Nichole Schneider, Proprietary Brand Manager for Checker, says the factories she’s working with in China are still closed. Some may reopen this week while others are saying early April.
“While the factory to make the product may be open, the factory that supplies the labels or packaging is still closed, meaning a complete product will not ship until all resume business as usual.”
“Office personnel have been working remotely since Chinese New Year ended, but shipping brokers have remained closed due to lack of workers to do the shipping.”
She says when factories do reopen production will not ramp up to normal levels immediately. “When production resumes, the backlog will be great for actual production and also capacity to ship.” Schneider says FedEx Air from China is supposed to reopen this week, but she hasn’t yet heard when boat shipments will resume.
For very small craft businesses not being able to source supplies from China means searching for alternatives at a significant cost increase. Coral Furrow sells handcrafted jewelry on her Amazon Handmade shop, Absolutely Coral Dee. She typically orders jewelry supplies from shops on AliExpress, but over the past few weeks, she hasn’t been able to get what she needs. “I’m unable to order my basic findings from factories in China, such as headpins, simple metal spacers, and split rings,” she says. “I placed an order, they took my money and then a few days later I get an email message saying my order is on hold due to factory shut down from the coronavirus.” She’s begun sourcing supplies in the US at a significant price increase. “They cost me 500 percent more. So my prices will have to go up and some of my funds are held up and not returned.”
Some craft business owners wonder whether supplies they’re ordering from China could be contaminated. Khara LaFontaine makes sporty headbands for women and girls and sells them online through her site, BeachGirl Bands, and on Amazon. LaFontaine orders fabric, ribbon, velvet, and elastic from China. She says her cost to source the same supplies in the US is significantly higher. “50 yards of velvet sourced in China is $4.00. That same product in the US at wholesale is $24,” she says.
Most worrisome for LaFontaine, though, is the safety of the supplies when they do resume shipping. “I’m hesitant to order at all as no one seems to have solid information on how the virus is passed,” she says. “Scary times.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it may be possible for the virus to spread through indirect contact, although it’s spread primarily from person-to-person.
Craft businesses that routinely work with Chinese factories knew to stock up on inventory before the Lunar New Year holiday. The fact that factories didn’t reopen, and now some are still closed, though, has meant that stock levels are now beginning to run low. “We had ordered shipments before Christmas to get before the Chinese New Year so we’re well-stocked and have had no trouble so far,” says Janelle MacKay of the sewing pattern and supply company Emmaline Bags. “I think it was a bigger problem for anyone who didn’t know to order before Chinese New Year and found out that they couldn’t get an emergency order after they had returned from the New Year, as the holiday was extended.”
MacKay also expressed concern about the safety of the items she’s receiving and is exercising extra precautions. “We have received shipments that were sent since the 17th, and are actually holding them for 10 days before we open them and they are not from near Hubei at all, but we just want to be cautious,” she says.
Moving out of China
When the tariffs on Chinese imports were first announced in the summer of 2018 some companies in the crafts industry began moving production out of China and into other countries in Asia. Jaftex, the parent company of A. E. Nathan Company, Blank Quilting Corporation, and Studioe Fabrics, was among them. “With the tariff situation in China, we were fortunate to have moved almost all of our production away from China,” explains Scott Fortunoff, President of those divisions. Jaftex also owns Free Spirit which now has just one product produced in China, a 108” cotton sateen backing fabrics. Managing Director of Free Spirit, Nancy Jewell, says their mill is not running. “About a month ago, we received word from the mill that they were closed and reopening was delayed. This past week, the mill informed us that office workers are back to work, but production workers will not be back to work at the end of this month.”
Jewell at Free Spirit expressed concern about the virus spreading to Korea where the majority of Free Spirit fabrics are printed.
“Listening to the news I’m hearing that the virus is detected in South Korea,” she says. “This would be a real issue for our entire industry if the virus gets to epic proportions like in China.”
This week the US government issued a Level 2 travel advisory for South Korea.
The reality is that manufacturing today for many craft companies involves a complex, interdependent supply chain coming from more than one country. Ehsan Alipour, Founder and CEO of Oliso, a popular iron company, says that although their irons are manufactured in China, “it’s all interdependent. We have component electronic parts in our products coming from Korea. We’re keeping our eye on transportation, shipping, and labor. There are so many factors.” Still, Alipour says, now is no time to be pushy. “It’s a time for sympathy. A time to be patient, to reach out and offer help where we can.”
I am interested to see how we all shift to a different market for our supplies and how that we ultimately benefit our end products. I would question the equivalency of American or European made supplies to that of the cheaper Chinese product. We might very well find our craft products will be of an improved quality when sourcing materials from the USA or other suppliers instead of China. I have seen some price gouging but after markets settle, I look forward to the enjoyment of working with superior goods.
This situation is very worrisome of course. For all involved. Concerning small companies in the US that rely on these products and don’t have the large influx of money to sustain them through situations like this. It shows our extreme reliance on China . Perhaps this is what we need to be able to release our reliance on China and move back to our personal countries. Bringing jobs back. Perhaps if the unions stay out of it, our domestic companies could make it work and still be solvent without over pricing and provide safe and fair work environments. A lot to ask, as it will be painful, but maybe with hope and prayers we can get it done.
This is definitely a risk of ordering from outside the US, but honestly, a virus could break out anywhere. I’m thankful that the Chinese government quickly acted to contain the virus – yes, we need goods, but lives are at stake!
It’s so important to have alternative sources in multiple locations and to have a plan for switching gears in purchasing quickly should the need arise.
Fortunately for us we source almost everything we need for making our batting in the US and we make the batting here in the US, in Waco, Texas. This is something we’re very proud of – this has not only contributed to our producing the highest quality products, it’s resulted in ongoing brand loyalty from our customers.
I do hope the virus is soon eradicated, before it spreads and any more lose their lives, and that business can resume for everyone in our industry and beyond.
Thank you, Abby, for this timely article. The following statement is only my own personal assessment of my own buying practices, it is my own personal opinion, and makes no judgement on anyone else:
Speaking only for myself, as one American woman and lifelong maker, it is about time that I stop exploiting workers of China and other Southeast Asian countries with my seemingly insatiable appetite for cheap craft goods, and the more the better at that.
Crafting of all kinds, especially those activities done mostly by women, in my opinion, has historically been a “make it work with what you have” kind of activity, and I’ve lost that in my unsustainable drive for “more, more, and cheaper.” I am of the opinion that nothing comes cheap without someone else paying the price. With this potential pandemic foremost in my mind, I am now committed to going back to living a simpler life, so that others on the planet can simply live. This sentiment makes a nice bumper sticker, yes, but it is time for me to start living it. I realize this may not be a popular idea or an ideal strategy for supporting a runaway capitalist economy. But already I have been seeking out products made responsibly and sourced locally by other small, independent makers, wherever they are in the world, and I am gladly paying much more for far less stuff. If it’s too expensive, I just don’t buy it, and like my grandmothers before me, I will make do with something else.
The people of China are facing a health crisis that we ourselves may ultimately face, and that is what should be front and center in my mind.
That was a beautifully written comment. Thank you for bringing to light the lives of the workers in China and our insatiable need for more. I am a self-professed craft supply O’holic and I am trying very hard to change my ways. I have been blessed with so many gifts of fabrics, crafting supplies, and clothing that cannot be donated due to stains or irreparable damage, that can all be reused, remade, and recycled in some way and I am committed to reducing my carbon footprint in my crafting as well as other areas of my life. Blessings to you and to all who take on the challenge of reinventing themselves, their businesses, and other aspects of their lives in light of recent events and a growing awareness of our responsibilities as members of the entire human race.
Thank you Peggy for putting into words what all of us are either already thinking, or will have to come round to thinking very soon. A return to the origins of crafting needs to happen a lot more quickly than we’d anticipated!
And as well, the goods that the former “craft” or “fabric” stores now focus on instead of their original core product. I have made a commitment to looking at every plastic thing in my hand and analyzing whether or not it’s really needed. How many cheap plastic toys does one little girl actually need? How many “Welcome” signs can one person use? These items damage the environment both in their production (Covid 19 is exacerbated in China due to their horrendous air pollution) and when they are discarded.
Thank you for your thoughtful and thought provoking comment.
We all need to be aware of our global world. We do not live in a world of isolation anymore. All of our lives are intertwined through this globalization.
Our ecomomies are intertwined. Our food souces are intertwined. Our lives are intertwined.
As outbreaks happen I think of the people in North America who were imigrants (our history of become nations was based on imigration) who have family members in the out break areas or who have been caught in the country of out break while visiting.
I also think back to the flu epidemic that took so many lives at the end of World War 1 and its profound effects on people after that time do to the shear lose of lives due to that flu.
We have had epidemics in the past through out history. Now we have better science to help save lives for which I am thankful for.
We should be focused on what our countries can do to help further awareness of healthy practices and precautions.
Yes I might miss the dollar store ribbon or supply but I will live. Yes it would be nice if we had more manufacturing jobs back in our own countries or food from our own countries available.
SARs made a big impact on our world a few years ago… Maybe we will learn…
Lives and the way we live has changed… maybe we can Globally work together to find answers to make the world a better place.
Thank you for sharing this article. I have no anwers to the supply chain problem. It takes a long time to start up new practices and businesses. And big money to invest in factories in North America. Are our Billionaries ready to invest some of the money they have made in the past 40 forty years into their countires economies to correct the problem they created? That is the real question to solve.
Sorry for the mini rant…