How the supply chain stole Halloween

There is a classic costume – a ghost, a witch, a fairy.

There’s a gift of pop culture – Marilyn Monroe, Tony Soprano, The Matrix.

Then there are the festive ways to embody a zeitgeist, a socially acceptable method of dressing a dress that says “look at me, I’m smart” – a meme costume, a vague reference, or a Netflix phenomenon that no one has seen (if I look at you, “Tiger King “and” Squid Game. “)

Even now, it was difficult to predict and procure a costume in an instant, as viral trends often overtake the time frame of production. This year, due to supply chain problems that make the shelves empty, the actual twisting or treatment is more difficult than ever.

Spirit Halloween stores are working hard: the national, seasonal retailer has 1,400 stores this year appearing in abandoned malls and even a former Barney flagship in Manhattan. But there it is difficult to find a dress “Eternals” or “WandaVision”. Amazon is risky, too. In mid-October, consumers had to pay $ 60 postage for a green tracksuit inspired by the “Squid Game,” $ 26 to arrive on time for Halloween.

“I think the hardest part of it all was that there was nothing on the shelves,” said John Shea of ​​Hazlet, NJ, a Halloween costume enthusiast who wants the holidays to be “24/7, 365 days per year.” Last weekend, Mr. Shea won the annual costume contest in Salem, Massachusetts, a historically gruesome coastal town that turned an unfortunate part of history (Puritans drowned and burned women on the mounds for “witchcraft”) into a tourist destination (for people dressed as witches) .

Although he opted for what he described as a more timeless costume – a 1930s starlet depicted in the grip of the devil – Mr Shea said it was difficult to find even small pieces such as cloaks or masks this year. He made his own, with the help of YouTube tutorials.

Problems with the supply chain affected everyone from Cheerios to toilet paper more expensive since the beginning of the pandemic. At the same time, Halloween fans have a long demand for celebrations after last year’s holiday was tamed by Covid-19 restrictions. Consumers are expected to spend $ 10.1 billion on Halloween this year, compared to $ 8.05 billion in 2020. according to the National Retail Federation. And an estimated 65 percent of Americans plan to celebrate, up from 58 percent last year.

Julie Niederhoff, a professor in the supply chain management department at the University of Syracuse, explained why this year is a complete storm for costume shortages. There are all the reasons why the supply chain runs from port to warehouse with less capacity – including a shortage of truck drivers, warehouse workers and other workers, Covid closures, natural disasters and a shortage of containers.

Typically, Professor Niederhoff said, Halloween costumes are shipped in late summer and retailers may not necessarily capture the latest trends in a cost-effective way. Obtaining and making a costume usually takes at least three months if the company is willing to pay for a certain speed. In the current situation, this should be done six to nine months in advance.

The supply chain isn’t well equipped to handle trends, especially when a show or picture becomes unexpectedly popular overnight – “Ted Lasso,” for example, the resurgence of Britney Spears or the full black body of the Balenciaga Met Gala Kim Kardashian.

“Trends continue very quickly,” Professor Niederhoff said. “They come from nowhere, so we have very little advance notice and very little stamina, which makes large-scale production difficult in a short amount of time, like Halloween or Christmas.”

In her own household, her expertise is clear in their holiday plans: “I am always a skeleton. The kids go like an eclipse, Young Link from ‘Zelda’, Luz from ‘Owl House’ and the unknown, “she said.” But we make homemade costumes so we’re safe from this specific supply chain error. “

Previously, it was easier for retailers to predict which costumes would be popular because large studios would release long-awaited films, and creating costumes and other merchandise would be part of these launches. Now, what’s popular is more of a surprise.

Even for Andrea Bell, director of insight at WGSN Trend Forecasting Company, trends sometimes seem to come from nowhere.

“The challenge in predicting Halloween costumes is twofold: there is an aspect of secrecy promoted by virality,” she said in an email. “Apart from the element of surprise, there are so many more cultural inserts that influence the choice of costumes.”

In the 1980s, popular costume choices were largely driven by movies, music videos, and TV shows. “These days, we have memes, influencers and cultural moments that provide endless costume food,” she said.

Although the pandemic has exacerbated supply chain disruptions, they occur to some extent on a regular basis due to bad weather or accidents. When this happens, manufacturers can contact retailers, explain to them that they are short of certain products, and encourage retailers not to advertise or promote them online.

“It kind of works on its own behind the scenes and customers don’t really notice it,” Professor Niederhoff said. “With something like Halloween candy, retailers can’t say, ‘Hey, let’s not advertise Halloween candy this year.'”

Mr. Shea said he visited the Spirit Halloween store and was able to find some classics – cowboys, doctors, “sexy nurses.” He looked at some pop culture costumes, but they were more evergreen than current ones, such as dresses inspired by the 90s films “Hocus Pocus” and “Nightmare Before Christmas”.

After all, he took a Halloween stance, half full.

“I think it was kind of good and bad that the chains didn’t have a lot of stuff,” he said. “Because of that, people thought a little more creatively about what they were giving there.”

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