One of the most fundamental parts of a living history impression, at least a military one, is that you need a uniform and the 2 Chevauleger is no exception. And, like many people in the living history game, I am not a tailor so I must rely of on the offerings of a vendor. For some periods such as American Civil War, this is fairly easy and there are a variety of vendors offering products in varying degrees of quality and authenticity.
For periods that are not as widely reenacted such as the First World War, finding a decent (or any) vendor can be a major challenge. For years, First World War reenacting was pretty much of a “steady state” period with its core group. The numbers might have varied a bit but for the most part it has held stable up to recently. Along with this there were a small number of vendors whose offerings were, for the most part, fairly decent in quality and price. It was a pretty closed system and did not see a lot of vendors coming and going like with American Civil War nor was there the constant tension from “authentics” pushing vendors to improve their offerings, for good or ill.
However, in the past few years the situation has begun to change as we enter the Centennial of the First World War. First, there’s been an influx of new members joining, many of them outside of the established networks and not having a lot of knowledge about the period. At the same time, many of the established vendors have been withdrawing from the business of supplying the hobby and this has created a void of sorts.
Nature abhors a vacuum and thus new vendors have begun to enter the market with offerings of varying quality. To be honest, a lot of it is of questionable value made overseas by outfits who have done little, if any, basic research and quite often reverse-engineer items obtained from other vendors, The better ones will reverse-engineer from originals but omit a lot of the details. There are even vendors that will drop ship so if you order from Vendor X, you would never know that Overseas Manufacturer R is actually making it. Needless to say, the quality control can be pretty questionable.
Not that all overseas manufacturers are necessarily bad but there are a few who seem to have jumped into the market hoping to make a profit by churning out uniforms and equipment of indifferent quality and which, to be honest, are a complete waste and to put it bluntly, are garbage (stronger words come to mind but I’ll try and maintain some decorum here).
On the other hand, there are a few vendors that I’ve run across that are quite decent but who need to be educated in what’s correct and what’s not. Unfortunately, this is not always helped by various language barriers. It’s can be a struggle but it can also have a rewarding pay-off.
And now we come to the other side of the coin in regard to vendors- price. Reenactors are some of the most notorious when it comes to not wanting to spend money. Yet, at the same time, they demand spot-on quality and accuracy but are not willing to pay the price that it’s worth. At the same time, you have vendors charging high prices (justified or unjustified) and then complaining that nobody is buying and that they just can’t compete, especially against overseas imports. While some of the complaints are absurd, there is a grain of truth to each.
One other major issue is that many vendors are solo operations, usually run on a part time basis in the evening and weekends while the individual has a regular job; essentially they are cottage industries. While this can be a good thing, often the scenario plays out where ta vendor with a quality product will then overwhelmed by orders as their reputation grows and consequently, they get further and further behind. These vendors struggle hard to catch up but often they’ll simply collapse. The more organized ones will earl on call a halt to taking new orders. Also, many vendor operations are so poorly financed that they’re literally financing (i.e. buying materials et al.) current orders with money taken in on future orders. It’s not a way to run a business, trust me.
Even worse is when you have some variant of the above scenario but they make an item that’s critical to a specific impression. If they go under or get backed up, anyone attempting that impression will have to wait a long time, often months, if not more, to get their order. This in turn can adversely impact recruiting, especially when word gets around that one might be waiting for over a year for a uniform. Not a good situation and not one that’s going to help this hobby grow.
Then there are the authenticity wars and the quest to find the “one true X item”…sometimes there’s no clear-cut answer and often several vendors each make a quality version of the same item. That’s all right, market choice and all that…and then there’s the “fan boys” who uphold one vendor as being “it” while denigrating all others. Discussions with such types are a waste of time.
The above are just some observations based on having been a reenactor/living historian for over 25 years and having reenacted the First World War era for a good 15 of them. I am optimistic that a lot of the issues facing our period and vendors will eventually work themselves out but it’s going to be a rough ride.