The Ever Given is one of the world’s largest container ships and often carries apparel from China to Europe as part of its cargo. Since it became stuck sideways on Tuesday, blocking the Suez Canal, billions of dollars in trade have been halted.
Now, more than 150 ships, at least some of them also carrying apparel manufactured in Asia and bound for the European market, have clogged the 120 mile canal. No-one is yet sure when traffic will be able to resume, making it likely that delays will stretch on for further days and maybe even weeks.
About 19,000 ships reportedly transited the canal last year and American Shipper reported that 983.4 million tonnes of cargo were transported on the Suez Canal in 2018.
The fashion industry was already struggling with supply strains caused by a slowdown of production during the worst of the pandemic last year, followed by a ramping up of apparel manufacturing in Asia as vaccine rollouts get underway and consumption is expected to resume in earnest for major fashion markets, including Europe and the US.
Getting this apparel from manufacturing hubs in the East to markets in the West, however, has proven to be a difficult undertaking. Shipping containers are in short supply worldwide and major ports are struggling to process the number of ships waiting to unload their goods. In the US, Southern California’s massive container ports (where many of the goods imported from Asia come into the US) have seen particularly severe bottlenecks.
Brands ranging from Gap to Kate Spade have cited transportation problems as a headwind and they will almost certainly be joined by others, particularly those in Europe, which are likely to be impacted by a prolonged Suez blockage.