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Back-to-school season could be hit by Covid and Brexit supply issues

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Beware of potential school uniform shortages this autumn. Supply chain issues bought on by coronavirus-related production and transport problems could hit the back-to-school selling season.

That’s according to specialist retailer School Uniform Direct (SUD), which supplies more than 100 UK schools. 

SUD has written to thousands of customers urging them to place their orders by the end of July, so it can “resolve any major setbacks with stock”.

The sector has been one of many caught up with stock issues as the flow of goods into UK retailers is affected by disruption in overseas factories and a shortage of shipping containers, together with the fallout from Brexit.

Alex Gani, a director of the London-based family clothing firm, told the Guardian newspaper that the situation was “a perfect storm”, with problems caused by the pandemic being overlaid by shipping companies offloading containers at mainland European ports to avoid any hold-ups at UK customs.

And its suppliers had told him they were now “experiencing major production interruptions”.

He said: “This is for several reasons, from shipping and container shortages to lockdown and restricted working conditions in manufacturing countries.”

Although 70% of orders placed last autumn for this year’s back-to-school season arrived on time, it was proving difficult to predict when the remainder would arrive, Gani said.

“A lot of our production is done here in the UK; it is the more technical stuff that tends to be made in places like India or Bangladesh”, Gani added.

A hold-up at any stage means the “whole chain ends up having the problem”, he told the newspaper. 

He noted the squeeze was most acute for harder-to-sew pieces, such as blazers and trousers, as well as sportswear made out of specialist technical fabrics.

Matthew Easter, the co-chair of the Schoolwear Association, also told The Guardian that manufacturers and retailers in every sector were facing supply chain challenges, and the specialist industry had “not been immune”.

However, with the vast majority of stock in place, Easter said the industry was confident it would be able to “clothe children as normal in time for the new school year”. 

The organisation has encouraged its members to “maintain good communication with schools and parents in the event of slight delays in stock becoming available”.

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