Manufacturers and retailers of school uniforms have assured parents that the clothing they are awaiting to have their children outfitted for the new term will be here in a matter of days, and there is no need to panic.
The assurance on Thursday came amid reports that customers had been making unrealistic demands of businesses and even verbally abusing staff over the unavailability of uniforms for next Monday’s start of school.
Welcoming the Ministry of Education’s decision to relax the dress code until at least the end of September, the uniform providers said the items are on the way here.
On Wednesday, Minister of Education, Technological and Vocational Training Kay McConney said that following complaints about the unavailability of either pre-made uniforms or uniform fabric, students who do not yet have uniforms will be allowed to wear a plain-coloured t-shirt or polo shirt and jeans pants for now.
Dean Straker, Managing Director of Barbados Industries Limited, one of the island’s largest manufacturers of school uniforms, said he was “very happy” that Government had given people extra time to get the required clothing.
He said he was expecting a shipment of fabrics and uniforms next Wednesday. However, with this requiring clearance at the Bridgetown Port, it could take up to a week for items to reach customers.
“My advice to parents is ‘do not panic, be civil and hospitable despite the fact that you may be disappointed. It is not the end of the world’. Whereas manufacturers and retailers should be about three months behind due to what took place, we are only going to be about two to three weeks behind,” Straker said.
“Don’t reduce yourself to cursing, swearing, and ’busing people that are trying their best. This is something outside of Barbados’ control. It is tantamount to blaming Bajans for COVID. You can’t blame Barbadians for COVID, so don’t blame Barbadians for the fact that you can’t get your uniforms in time.”
Explaining the delays, the garment manufacturer said that shipments that would normally take about three months to reach the island were now taking twice the time due to shipping challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Additionally, he said, ships were having to remain at sea while awaiting permission to berth in transit countries before coming to Bridgetown.
“These are the realities we are dealing with and when you have a situation like that there is absolutely nothing we can do,” said Straker.
The businessman said the situation was compounded by the uncertainty, up to about May this year, about whether students would return to the classroom after two years of mostly online instruction due to the pandemic; as well as work and electricity disruptions in China, the main supplier of the products.
“So nobody was really willing to put their neck on the line and say ‘yes, we are going back to school in full’. Similarly, manufacturers and retailers ordered but perhaps they did not order as much as they would have because it was hard to get it right and know exactly what to do,” Straker explained.
Importers of uniform fabric would usually order as much as 3,000 yards per colour and per design from January or February so that stock could reach the island in time for summer when parents are doing back-to-school shopping.
In light of the challenges of shipping via sea, some retailers and manufacturers have been flying in a portion of their orders to satisfy some of the demand.
Among them is Abed’s, whose Managing Director of Eddy Abed told Barbados TODAY that items will be on the island next Sunday and Thursday.
“I would like to suggest that parents and guardians who have been waiting on materials come in as soon as they can to get it, because we only brought in 500 to 600 yards per colour and per design just to get us over this hump. The rest will be coming by ocean by six to eight weeks,” he said.
“We have taken the decision that regardless of what it costs us for these shipments we are going to absorb the difference and retail at the same price that we have for the entire season.”
Saying the delays were the result of “unbelievable circumstances”, Abed said he has already placed orders for next year “to make sure we get goods in time for December, and if there is a surplus we will carry it over into next year”.
Rosita Hunte, a small garment producer based in Wildey, St Michael told Barbados TODAY she was confident she would meet all her deadlines over the next couple of weeks.
“The shortage of fabric did impact me a little bit but not as extensively as the bigger factories. So, I will finish my production on time,” added Hunte, who has been in the industry for over a decade.