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T-shirts are in short supply, leaving small businesses scrambling to find merchandise

tshirt shortage
Posted at 11:48 AM, Jul 20, 2021

The only time that Paul Nesbit has been able to get a break this summer is when he sits down for lunch and locks the front door of his t-shirt store located on Commercial Street in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Business has been so good this year that Nesbit, quite literally, cannot keep up with demand.

Nesbit owns MATE apparel in Provincetown. This picturesque coastal community is home to around 3,000 year-round residents. But during the summer, the population here often swells to about 60,000 people. It’s the tourists who flock here from around the world who Nesbit relies on to keep his business going.

“This place lures you in quickly. There’s a magic here,” he said standing inside his store.

This summer, though, there’s been a problem with business. It’s been good, too good.

Nesbit is selling so many of his custom printed t-shirts and hats that he cannot keep up with demand. He estimates that he likely has enough inventory to make it to Labor Day and then may have to close for the remainder of the year.

“Supply is just outpacing demand right now. I just don’t have enough of what I need. I’m constantly chasing product,” the 57-year-old business owner said.

The problems Nesbit is facing are not unique. Retailers nationwide are currently struggling to navigate a broken global supply chain that is still trying to bounce back after COVID-19.

Small businesses owners like Nesbit have spent the last year shifting where they purchase products from. Over the winter, he was constantly on the phone with different suppliers trying to order t-shirts and hats. He even got an extra storage unit to store some of the extra merchandise he was able to secure.

But it likely won’t be enough.

“If I can’t get mediums, then I can’t get mediums. I have to let customers know, and they understand that,” he added.

Jon Gold with the National Retail Federation explained that consumers will likely see impacts of a global supply chain shortage at least through the holiday season.

“This really started last year when COVID hit and factories overseas were forced to shut down. Trying to get everything turned back on to meet demand has been a challenge,” Gold said.

Across the globe, there’s also a shortage of shipping containers and chassis, the equipment used to move shipping containers. There’s also a shortage of truck drivers, making it difficult to move what product is out there.

In Nesbit’s case, his t-shirt manufacturer switched to making masks for the last 16 months. All of it makes for a difficult landscape for retailers to navigate.

“The supply chain is global in nature, and if you have one thing that knocks it off course, it trickles down and impacts everything else,” Gold said.