Sudden sewing boom shakes up sewing machine sellers

Sellers are doing all they can to cope with a sudden surge in demand, but they still can’t keep up.

As housebound families looking for ways to pass the time turn to old-fashioned crafts like sewing, a more obvious trigger for the sewing boom is the coronavirus-fueled need for face masks.

“The sewing fervor really erupted in April, almost immediately after the CDC said everyone should wear face masks,” said Jeff Fuller, Tacony Corporation’s vice president of marketing. “It was a Friday when the new guidelines were announced. On Monday we saw the biggest surge in demand for sewing machines we have ever seen.”

Tacony Corp., in St. Louis, Missouri, is a wholesale supplier of Baby Lock sewing machines to hundreds of independent sellers nationwide.

Fuller said demand jumped “five to eight times” in April. Over the past few months, he said, the push has eased somewhat, but the run on all kinds of sewing machines — from entry-level to high-end — continues to be strong.

“No one in our industry expected this huge increase in sales,” Fuller said.

As suppliers were caught off guard by demand, they ran out of inventory.

Same walmart (WMT), the world’s largest retailer, scrambled to go from a 100-day supply of sewing machines to just five days of inventory in just 24 hours, according to the retailer. Walmart said demand continued to be high and it was working with suppliers to increase its inventory of sewing machines.

Tacony sells affordable to high-end machines in its portfolio, for home crafters as well as commercial-grade users, with prices ranging from $99 to $30,000.

Fuller said entry-level sewing machines, $1,000 and under, are flying off the shelves, leading to backorders, some of which remain unfilled.

“It typically takes 12 weeks from placing an order with a manufacturer to delivering a sewing machine,” Fuller said. Sewing machines sold in the United States are imported from China, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam and elsewhere. Manufacturers, he said, face higher orders in the United States and around the world.

Tacony customers are still likely to see a one to three month delay for some models of its low-cost machines. “Overall we’re in a much better position than we were in April, but it’s still a battle,” Fuller said. “We are racing to meet the demand.”

George Moore runs Moore’s Sewing Centers, a fourth-generation family business that sells sewing machines and other household equipment, and offers on-site sewing classes at its six Southern California stores.

When his suppliers told him they were out of stock in April, he got creative.

The company always kept a stock of refurbished sewing machines, but did not advertise them to customers. Moore changed this policy amid the supply shortage.

He also quickly ordered far more inventory than he normally would, expecting the sewing machines to continue to be top sellers in the next six months.

“I just received 20 pallets of sewing machines. I usually order three to four pallets at a time,” he said. “We have a waiting list but people have been very patient.”

Based on what he and his staff have heard from customers and people who take the chain’s sewing classes, Moore said he thinks the race for machines has to do with more than just the explosive demand for all manner of reusable masks and face coverings, although he acknowledged that was a dominant factor.

Ryliss Bod, a sewing teacher in Tacoma, Wash., said more young people and men have been signing up for sewing classes during the pandemic.

“In the first weeks [of the pandemic]there was a charity aspect,” he said. “People were turning to sewing to make face masks to donate.”

From there, quick-witted people spotted an entrepreneurial opportunity with face masks. On Etsy, one of the largest online marketplaces for crafters, face masks have become the hottest new merchandise. Etsy (ETSY) said as many as 110,000 vendors sold a total of 29 million face masks worth $346 million.

But self-isolation has also inspired many people to take up a new hobby or skill for more personal reasons. “Sewing has a therapeutic element. It can be very fulfilling,” Moore said.

Viem Lo, 31, who quit her job as a real estate broker last year, first enrolled in a sewing class a few weeks ago.

Sewing instructor Ryliss Bod has started a one-hour face mask sewing course.  It quickly became one of his most popular courses.

“I really enjoyed it,” Lo said. “It was peaceful, fun, and I got lost in the process of creating something.” Lo, who lives in Maple Valley, Washington, said he had a passion for fashion design but never had the time to pursue it. Now he has time.

This weekend, he’s taking a face mask-making class at the Sewing and Design School in Tacoma, Washington. “I want to learn how to make masks for myself because I don’t like the way some masks fit my face,” he said.

Ryliss Bod is a sewing instructor and director of the Tacoma School of Sewing. She’s seen couture become much trendier since the coronavirus outbreak.

“These are young people, men, taking lessons. Many of them have never sewn before,” she said. Her socially distanced in-person classes fill up so quickly that she sometimes teaches seven days a week. Her one-hour face mask-making class is among the most popular, she said.

“One of the things that excites me the most is seeing this wave of new sewers who never would have thought of sewing before,” Fuller said. “I think it will create sustainable additional demand for sewing machines that didn’t exist before.”

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