LAKELAND – As the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation approaches, businesses, individuals and organizations who have not already acquired orange shirts to show their support will likely be left shirtless on Sept. 30, according to Lakeland embroiders and printmakers.
The creation of a new holiday was one of the 94 Calls to Action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 and came into legislation on June 3 of this year. Slowly the federal holiday is being adopted by provinces, businesses and school districts.
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation coincides with another commemorative day, “Orange Shirt Day,” which has grown in popularity since 2013, and also focuses on Canada’s dark residential school history.
According to the Government of Canada, the symbol of the orange shirt reflects the “stripping away of culture, freedom and self-esteem experienced by Indigenous children over generations... We encourage all Canadians to wear orange to raise awareness of the very tragic legacy of residential schools, and to honour the thousands of survivors.”
Now, different groups and organizations are rushing to get orange shirts with prints donning unique designs or the phrase “Every Child Matters” in preparation for the last day of September.
However, this is becoming a challenge says Jaymie Martiniuk, an assistant sales manager with Thinkwerx, a screening and printing shop in Bonnyville.
“We don't have any (orange T-shirts), we can no longer get any honestly, they’re sold out pretty much everywhere we try and order them from, and we've reached the timeline to have them ready by that date,” said Martiniuk.
The last order of orange shirt prints fulfilled by Thinkwerx was 270 custom T-shirts on Sept. 10.
“We have been scrambling for a while ordering them from wherever we could,” she said, adding, the company had to rely on their own stock to complete their final order. “We were actually only able to order about 110 for the customer and then we just supplied them what we had here already.”
Even two weeks out from the holiday, staff are still receiving calls from people wanting to place an order with the hope it will be ready in time for the 30th.
The current shortage doesn’t however, reflect the large quantity of orange paraphilia that has already been purchased, printed and delivered to customers earlier in the summer.
Thinkwerx has completed several orders specifically for Orange Shirt Day. The most notable was a 2,500-piece order of orange hoodies and T-shirts.
Although, the company had orders come in last year, she says there was a substantial increase this year. Higher demand coupled with long shipping timelines and stock back orders, has exponentially affected print businesses’ ability to bring in stock quickly and get it out the doors to customers.
Shipping containers and COVID
By Sept. 8, Darren Happner, owner of the Stitchin’ Man, a print and embroidery shop that operates in Lac La Biche, told Lakeland This Week that he hadn’t been able to source orange T-shirts for weeks. His suppliers are also unlikely to be restocked until January or February.
Describing the lengths his business has had to go through to complete orders, Happner said, “For example, right now we're doing a price quote on some T-shirts... It just finally came in and instead of ordering from one company, we're ordering from three companies just to make up 90 T-shirts.”
“A lot of people don't know that this is the situation and you could talk to every single business in town,” said Happner, explaining that not only are orange shirts on back order but so are most products that arrive on shipping containers from overseas.
“Everything and anything, it is incredibly difficult to find,” he said.
Happner attributes these shortages to both delays in international shipping and the pandemic.
“Anything - you name it - it's all coming with an increased cost."
In March, a large shipping vessel ran aground in the Suez Canal in Egypt for six days blocking one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, creating a backlog for months and causing other ships to change course travelling around the southern tip of Africa instead.
“That's all part and parcel of what happened 18 months ago and now you're seeing it in different parts of the world — it's getting worse and worse. It's putting more strain on your shipping and your goods coming into different stores,” elaborated Happner. “Anywhere in the area, including St. Paul, Bonnyville, Cold Lake, wherever, everybody will have the exact same problem that they're short on finding product and pricing is going up.”
Further exasperating shortages is the ongoing challenges caused by the pandemic.
Happner has been receiving updates that a main manufacturer that he relies on has been closed due to a COVID outbreak, as well as a port in China has been similarly closed.
“There's stuff that can't be loaded on the containers, so nothing can be loaded onto ships,” he said. “The situation is going to be worse and worse as we get into Christmas.”