Why it’s so hard to buy a Ukrainian flag right now

Around the world, blue and yellow banners fly in solidarity with Ukraine. As the Russian invasion enters its third week, flag manufacturers are scrambling to meet orders for Ukraine’s national symbol.

“We have a sewing room upstairs above our retail store and we’re sewing Ukraine flags in-house to try to meet the demand,” says Dave Anchel, CEO of Elmer’s Flag and Banner, an Oregon-based flag seller that’s begun limiting one flag per customer. Anchel tells Quartz that they’ve also sold their entire stock of Ukrainian-branded swag like decals, coffee mugs, patches, and lapel pins. Prior to the conflict, his company sold an average of two Ukrainian flags a year.

On Amazon, Ukrainian flags from Chinese vendors are shipping with several days delay.

Charles Ashburner, a vexillographer and owner of MrFlag.com, a family-run business in Wales, also reports of a spike in orders for Ukraine’s banner. “It would therefore be true to say that sales are good if that could ever be used to describe the situation the world finds itself in at the hands of Putin,” he tells Quartz. MrFlag.com has also begun producing protest flags with anti-war messages overlaid on Ukraine’s yellow-and-light blue.

Sellers like Flagmaker & Print in East Flanders, Belgium that didn’t stock the Ukrainian flag are racing to produce them. Vincent De Nil, Flagmaker’s founder, says orders for Ukraine’s symbol have “skyrocketed” over the past few days.

Similarly, a deluge of messages flooded Flags for Good, a flag company in Indiana with over 130,000 followers on TikTok. Michael Green, who founded Flags for Good with his wife Cassie, says they’ve sold their initial stock of 400 Ukrainian flags and have over 600 orders to fill. They’ve already donated a quarter of their expected profits to World Central Kitchen, one of several humanitarian aid organizations assisting Ukrainian refugees.

Where flags are made

Flags are priced based on size, quality, and provenance. Hand sewn banners can run in the hundreds of dollars and typically are reserved for commemorative purposes. The most common variety flown at rallies and homes are commercially-printed in China, which has a lock on budget flags.

Chinese factories are able to produce flags economically because of the high volume and cheaper cost of labor and materials, Ashburner explains. Those made outside China tout quality and eco-friendly inks and textiles, but they can’t compete on price. American-made flags are about three times more expensive than those made in China; Chinese suppliers for former US president Donald Trump’s re-election campaign were able to bring flag prices down to $1 apiece, Reuters reported.

“That price point is still impossible to achieve here in the US,” says Green, who is researching economical and ecologically-sound methods of producing flags.  Activists “might take their flag to a protest or a parade where it may get destroyed or ruined so I’m going to figure out a way to do it,” he says.

The conundrum of sourcing Ukrainian flags from a country that has been a long-time ally of Vladimir Putin’s government isn’t lost on sellers who are attuned to the geopolitics of the Russia-Ukraine crisis.

Ashburner says they’ve made it a point to distinguish imported flags versus those that they produce in-house. “So far, no one has referenced China’s friendship with Putin when making a flag choice with us,” he says. “In truth, if people started to not want Chinese-made flags for that reason, it would probably be a good thing for us.”

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