When it comes to fulfilling orders, supply chain issues are still a challenge—for dancewear manufacturers and retailers alike. Here’s a look at how they’re coping.
Whether you’re trying to purchase pointe shoes, order recital costumes, or restock your shop’s inventory, it’s become commonplace to hear the phrase “supply chain issues” to explain why product delivery timelines are so unpredictable. “Backorders are nothing new, it’s just now they’re longer,” says Jon DeMott, president of DanceWear Corner, a large dance retailer in Orlando.
The COVID-19 pandemic halted production worldwide; now there are still significant challenges at play, including labor and raw material shortages, bottlenecks at ports and high demand. Until things return to “normal” (if there is such a thing), you’ll need to consider diversifying the brands you rely on, which begs the question: Do made-in-America boutique dancewear brands have a leg up right now over mainstay brands that rely mostly on foreign materials and overseas manufacturing processes?
Thriving During Chaos
Even “made in the USA” dancewear companies use fabrics sourced from abroad. “It’s hard to find fabric that is woven in the U.S.,” says Julia Cinquemani, owner of Jule Dancewear, in Dallas. However, her American-based fabric supplier sources fabrics from countries other than China, and all of the designing, sewing and distribution occurs in Dallas.
It’s easy to think that boutique brands like Jule Dancewear are struggling, but it just isn’t the case. Cinquemani’s company actually experienced exponential growth during the pandemic, thanks in part to its Meshie products—soft, sheer mesh tights or crop tops. At the start of the pandemic, Cinquemani was dancing still with the Miami City Ballet, but after producing more than 12,000 pairs of Meshies (thanks to Discount Dance carrying them and a large order from the Radio City Rockettes), she’s been able to retire to focus on her business. “We’ve had the same stitchers and fabric suppliers for over 10 years, but now we’re expanding,” she says.
Another small U.S. dancewear label that has unruffled supply chain feathers is Luckyleo Dancewear in Denver. “It’s been inspiring to see how little we’ve been affected, and that’s because we’ve focused so much on our local community. It’s a great testament for made-in-America dancewear,” says Heather Walker, one of the company’s founders and designers.
Luckyleo Dancewear hasn’t been impacted by any shortage of color options because it prints and dyes its fabric once it’s received from China. The only notice of a delayed shipment came for the very first time at the end of March. “We are unique in our singular custom leotards and small-batch designs, as opposed to larger wholesale orders,” Walker says, adding that she has about 10 wholesale accounts but isn’t looking to expand that area of the business, even though she’s seen an increase in requests since the pandemic started. The majority of its business comes from direct-to-consumer sales, and some bulk orders from studio owners who appreciate the four-day rush option.
How the Crisis in Ukraine and Big Brands Factor In
Dance retailers also point to the Russian invasion of Ukraine as an additional impact on the supply chain issue for ballet dancers. “The majority of products for ballet either come from China or Russia, and major brands have struggled and discontinued many items,” DeMott says. Russian pointe shoe maker Nikolay, however, has been proactive in communicating with retailers about shipment timelines: “They have a private Facebook retailer group to inform everybody, and they have worked hard with different shipment options,” DeMott says. “They went from UPS to FedEx back to UPS to DHL, and now they are trucking shipments out of the country and shipping them from Prague.”
Another issue: Fashion brands with deep pockets have bought up foreign manufacturers or outbid smaller businesses on materials. It’s one of the reasons DeMott questions whether smaller North American dancewear makers could keep up with sudden demand from retailers looking for wholesale accounts. “From our experience, boutique manufacturers aren’t set to replenish if we bring it into the store and the product runs out. They just can’t get to the restock fast enough,” he says.
But Jule Dancewear welcomes the opportunity to prove itself. “I’ve got three lines of revenue: my online site, all of my wholesalers and Discount Dance, and we have been able to keep up,” Cinquemani says. “We can handle the demand.”
Brand Variety Is the Key
The willingness to explore new and diverse brands, along with a healthy dose of patience, is key. Dance retailer and consultant Gilbert Russell, owner of Brio Bodywear in Ottawa, Canada, suggests opening secondary accounts now so you have a plan B in case you run into sourcing issues. “Zero in on the things you have to have and stock up, and do it with the most reliable companies,” he says. “Look first at who you can count on and then find an alternative in case you need it.”
Typically, Brio Bodywear hasn’t stocked as much from North American boutique brands mostly because they cannot match the prices of better-known labels. “We look at North American–made companies as icing on the cake,” he says. “But we are certainly looking at a stopgap, and I do think all of this supply chain talk taps into people’s awareness of how things are made all over the world.”
If you do tap into carrying more made-in-America boutique brands in a retail setting, invest in a special showcase area to illustrate why they are special. Vendors are often happy to supply marketing materials and visual merchandising tips. “There is a tendency to bring in these items and throw them on the rack,” Russell says, “but they need to be front and center—highlighting ‘buy local’ or the environmental aspect of the product.”
Hannah Maria Hayes has an MA in dance education from New York University and has been writing for Dance Media publications since 2008.