PEI

Mi'kmaq printing company struggling with orange shirt shortage

A Mi'kmaq printing company on Prince Edward Island is gearing up for the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation on September 30, but a worldwide shortage of orange shirts is making it hard to keep up with demand. 

'It's been extremely overwhelming at times because of the amount of demand'

Yvette McKenna says Mi'kmaq Printing & Design has been receiving orders from all across Canada, as well as globally from China, New Zealand and England. (Alex MacIsaac/CBC)

A Mi'kmaq printing company on Prince Edward Island is gearing up for the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation on September 30, but a worldwide shortage of orange shirts is making it hard to keep up with demand. 

This is the fourth year that Mi'kmaq Printing & Design has been selling the shirts. The first year they sold 1,000, and doubled that number last year. This year, they say they have already surpassed 5,000 shirts. 

"It's been a big challenge," said Yvette McKenna, production lead at Mi'kmaq Printing & Design in Charlottetown. 

"We deal daily with our suppliers. They try their best to give us what we need, and unfortunately, at this point, it's been hard."

McKenna said her suppliers are saying the COVID-19 pandemic is a big part of why it's so difficult to get shirts.

"It's based on raw material and due to COVID, there isn't any raw material available," McKenna said.

"So it comes directly from the beginning, right to making and processing and delivering the product. It's been very, very hard."

There are empty spots on the shelves where the company has run out of some sizes and designs. (Alex MacIsaac/CBC)

The company also saw a surge in orange shirt sales prior to Canada Day, after hundreds of unmarked graves were found on the grounds of former residential schools in B.C. and Saskatchewan.

"I think it's brought to light everything what our orange shirts represent. For me personally, it's a history that we can now speak and be honest, more honest about," McKenna said. "People are hearing us now, they're hearing what orange shirt represents, to not only myself as an Indigenous person, but also to other individuals."

New design for 2021

The company is still selling its original design featuring an eagle, and has a new design this year featuring three people holding hands with the slogan "Every Child Matters" — available in English, French and Mi'kmaq.

The company temporarily paused orange shirt sales on its website this week to confirm inventory before taking any more orders. 

But McKenna said she's determined to fill as many as she can, even if it's after September 30.

She said customers have been understanding. 

McKenna reviews one of the large orders of orange shirts waiting to be mailed out. (Alex MacIsaac/CBC)

"It's been extremely overwhelming at times because of the amount of demand. It's been hard to get the same colour orange." McKenna said. "We can fulfil it with a different colour, and they've been very receptive to that. It makes our position much easier when we have the support of our customers." 

She said they are receiving orders from all across Canada, as well as globally from China, New Zealand and England. 

"I feel a great amount of pride because the orange shirt represents so much," McKenna said

"It makes me proud to know that other people feel the same, or are willing to understand what the orange shirt represents. So it starts the conversation," McKenna said.  

The new Kwe 2.0 T-shirt describes the meaning of the word Kwe. (Alex MacIsaac/CBC)

'A little bit more to talk about'

Mi'kmaq Printing & Design has also launched a new T-shirt they're calling Kwe' 2.0, to also spark more conversations. 

The original shirt featured just the word Kwe', which is Mi'kmaq for "hello". The new version features a guide on how to pronounce the word, and what it means. 

"I've had people stop me and ask me what it means. Now, with the 2.0 on, it just gives you a little bit more to talk about," said Shayne Stanger, who joined the production team at the company this summer.

"To just let the people know you're passing on the street, know that it's a Mi'kmaq word, and lets you say hello without even actually saying anything."

The original shirt featured just the word Kwe, which is Mi'kmaq for "hello." (Alex MacIsaac/CBC)

"I personally have just a little piece of the pie, that I am doing my part and help spreading the awareness of what the Orange Shirt Day is about." 

"I'm looking forward to the Orange Shirt Day and walking around and seeing a sea of orange on the streets." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog. Nancy.Russell@cbc.ca

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