Worldwide Wetsuit Shortage and Why I Can’t Get a New One
There is a global shortage of wetsuits at the moment… and who knew! After Brexit we hear all too often about struggles to source materials and the difficulties in getting materials shipped to factories for them to process into the things we want to purchase. And then further hurdles in getting the goods shipped across the world form the far east to the UK. At Rooster, this is an all-too-real fact that we definitely loath and definitely are aware of. Over the last couple of years, super accessible water sports such as surfing, paddle boarding, open water swimming and kayaking have exploded onto the scene and the demand for more appropriate wet-gear has grown too. Last year (2021) we sold more of some garments, such as the All Purpose Boot, than we did in 2019 and 2020 combined. Demand is up for sure and at the moment, we can’t get hold of the materials for the factory and can’t get things shipped out to our lovely end users.
Surely this is a game of supply and demand? The material’s rarity must put the price up and we must have some happy farmers or material manufacturers, no? Well, here’s a fun fact that I bet you didn’t know this morning: The price of things like natural rubber is set by a group of brokers that determine the price of not only this but other materials such as gold, aluminium and fuels.
Natural rubber traditionally comes from tapping trees in palm-oil like plantations and is what makes up most of a “Yulex” based wetsuit. Harvesting from trees in recent years is becoming more difficult where climate change is making weather patterns less predictable and more volatile where the trees are grown in the far east. In addition, the pandemic has meant that migrant and seasonal workers can’t cross country borders for work and whole factories were temporarily shut down in response to covid.
“But Rooster wetsuits are made form Limestone Neoprene!” I hear you shout – well, yes… and there’s a shortage in this too, as well as consumer demand shifting between similar products where the Yulex version is not available. Limestone neoprene is made from polychloroprene rubber chips, melted and mixed with foaming agents to make a giant sponge that’s then sliced to the desired thickness and laminated with the appropriate materials and either blind stitched or stitched and glued/welded depending on your suit. There is a shortage in supply of the polychloroprene rubber pellets and a lot of quality control issue with its next best replacement which is slowing production further.
Another thing we’ve all heard about on the news is how the pandemic has changed spending habits. New cars (and car parts) were reporting a surge in demand last summer and materials such as natural rubber or derived from natural rubber are used throughout – from tyre to trim. PPE uses natural and synthetic rubbers and as you can imagine, there’s been quite some uptake in demand for this too. Alternatives are used where they can be and this adds pressure on the pipelines of supply for other materials.
Most manufacturing of our garments at Rooster is done in the far east, so where countries such as China went into lockdown ahead of the UK, a gap in the shipments formed and they’ve been playing catch up ever since. Transport times and costs have increased significantly and continue to do so, so that it takes a good few months by sea and is super expensive. A cost that can only be swallowed by any company for so long. At Rooster, we have seen delays, for example, where a ship was unable to land the container in Southampton and had to journey round to Essex as there was no space in the port. It then had to be moved by road (possibly past our very own warehouse) to be unloaded and clear customs back in Southampton to clear customs!
The long and short is that we’re going to need to look after our wetsuits a little better until the supply and materials can come up to speed again – “Make do and mend” as Grandad used to say. Wear Protection Shorts will help keep abrasion at bay, lessen any UV damage (think prevention over cure) and making sure your nicks and splits are patched up before they grow will extend the life of any wetsuit. Rooster do our own Neoprene Repair Kit, Aquafleece Repair Kit and we can supply Stormsure Flexible Repair Adhesive (wetsuit glue) to help keep you suited a little longer. Garment care is also a greatly underestimated way to keep your suit in tip top condition and our Design and Development Team have a page on our website for more info here. If the wetsuit is fine but it’s your child that’s grown a foot seemingly overnight, you might be able to find something nearly-new to tie you over on Facebook Marketplace or the group Outgrown-Me Sailing Clothes. Perhaps your local club does a Start of Season Swap Shop or Lost’n’Found auction that might yield some gems. If the growth spurt continues, then by next season thy may well be the next size up again!
The good news is that Rooster expect to have everything back in stock for September 2022. It’s bittersweet for anyone like me who didn’t get themselves in gear in time for when the water turned cold but there is a light at the end of the tunnel… and another patch on my bum!