Published:  07:08 PM, 16 October 2021

Brighter future for Bangladesh apparel industry

Brighter future for Bangladesh apparel industry
Bangladesh textile industry has very bright future with its robust demand in garment sector. But it is true that there are some challenges that Bangladesh has to face to survive in this sector. We know that availability of abundant natural gas, cheap labor, energy is the backbone of this industry. But in recent years this thing turned into hostile. Raw cotton and synthetic fiber for sipping sector also not produced in Bangladesh.

The garment manufacturing industry began as a local business and this worked well, with local consumer demand, a local labor force and local raw materials. Industrialization brought the shift from hand-sewn clothing to a production model in which clothing was made in factories with help from machines. Even with sewing and cutting equipment doing more of the work, however, the dexterity required to handle the fabrics for example, to fold seams and guide them under a mechanized needle for sewing, or to smooth a wrinkle in fabric before a piece was cut incorrectly continued to be an important factor in the success of the human workforce. As globalization gained traction and international trade agreements opened new possibilities for global value chains, brands searched for new locations where people with nimble, dexterous hands could be taught to make clothes for a fraction of the cost of a Western worker. Infrastructure including ports, roads, technical colleges and unions grew, and soon, a crop of Asian countries became home to the leading seamstresses to the world. In 1971, after liberation war Bangladesh economy was agriculture oriented. At that time Bangladesh adopted "export" oriented industrialization by focusing on textile sector.

If we say more accurately it is ready made garment (RMG) sector. Though the history of textile industry in this country is very rich. From 16th to 18th century under Mughal rule bangle was one of the most important places for textile production. For example, bangle produced more than 50% of textile and around 80% of silk imported by Dutch from Asia back then. Now a day's modern textile industry plays one of the most important roles in Bangladesh economy. Between 2011/2012 and 2017/2018 the growth rate of textile export was 60% and it is about 85% of countries total export. Now Bangladesh is 2nd largest RMG exporter in the world. They are aiming to earn $50 billion from this sector in 2020/2021. In FY18 (fiscal year) Export Promoting Bureau (EPB) registered 8.76% growth in garment sectors. Which was 1.51% higher the set target. In this article I will discuss future of textile and apparel industry in Bangladesh. There is a strong argument for nudging RMG manufacturers towards MMFs for instance, by financially incentivizing them to shift towards their usage. One option, which has already been discussed, is for policymakers to introduce an incentive on export receipts from MMF garments to encourage investment in non-cotton garment production and export. I would firmly support such a move. In fact, there is evidence that China views textiles as the sunset industry at present, and is looking at other high-end sectors to take their place. At the same time, many Chinese investors are now putting their money into other textile sourcing hubs. These investors are cash-rich as China has been generating a huge trading surplus for years.

They have funds to invest, so why not in Bangladesh? Joint ventures between Chinese and Bangladeshi entrepreneurs are another opportunity we should consider. Aside from bringing in investment, China's major textile owners can also offer expertise in different types of textile production, including technical textiles, for different uses e.g. outdoor clothing. Our biggest customer, H&M, has a mission to only use recycled or other sustainably sourced materials by 2030. This goal is just over nine years away. H&M and other retailers that have set similar targets will only achieve these goals via huge investment in recycling infrastructure in apparel supply chains. Bangladesh needs to take a lead in this area to meet the future requirements of the industry. This will include major tie-ups with recycling technology providing companies and the development of recycling infrastructure within Bangladesh, such as clothing collection, sorting, and recycling facilities. There is much to do in this area, and we need to start now if we want to become a global leader in this arena which surely must be the goal. Concerted efforts are needed to build bridges with the media and to put out the right messages about the RMG industry in Bangladesh. This includes correcting misconceptions and mistruths about our RMG industry that have been implanted in the Westerners' minds over many years and are proving difficult to dislodge. We still see many stories in the foreign press about the Bangladeshi RMG industry which simply do not reflect the reality on the ground. For too long we have been passive by-standers amid a tide of unfair negative publicity for Bangladeshi garment manufacturers.

As we move beyond the LDC status, we will need to control the message about our remarkable RMG industry and, in doing so, truly take our destiny in our own hands. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has released a new report which looks at how the economies of the least developed countries (LDCs) have progressed during the past 50 years. There is good news for Bangladesh: our country is ranked as one of only seven LDCs that are in the catching up category, as defined by the UN.What does this mean? Well, the report grouped the LDCs into three categories: falling behind, muddling through, and catching up. The countries that are in the catching up category are defined as such because their growth rate per capita has exceeded the world's weighted average by more than one percent over the past 50 years. To be in this category is impressive for Bangladesh. Our annual GDP growth has consistently outpaced many major economies in the last few decades, thanks in large part to the success of the ready-made garment (RMG) sector our largest export sector. But now, more than ever, is the time to kick on. There will come a time when we no longer have some of the preferential trading terms that we have been given because of the LDC status. We will need to stand on our own two feet, and to do that our largest export industry and the key driver of our GDP growth needs to evolve. But how? Five ideas come to mind. The first is to begin the gradual shift to higher-value apparel products. A key feature of textile-producing countries is that they begin with low-value clothing, including basic staple items, before moving to making more sophisticated apparel products with higher values.

We should seek to become a source of choice for high-value and luxury brands. Leading US luxury brand Ralph Lauren and Disney are already sourcing from Bangladesh; there is no reason why many more should not open and/or extend their sourcing operations in Bangladesh. A key capability increasingly recognized by managers is automation technologies to support human and machine collaboration. It's no surprise garment manufacturers pinpoint digital literacy's as critical skills for the future of work. Digital literacy's in apparel manufacturing should center around digital models: reading, changing, evaluating, troubleshooting and, at the top skill tier, creating. Now, 3D digital models (CAD) are necessary building blocks for producing a larger number of styles and sizes, and to support the ever-shrinking manufacturing timeline in the era of trend-focused shopping. Digital models are also necessary to bring sustainable apparel design to scale. Currently, most workers in CAD departments in Bangladesh are male. They went to technical colleges or were promoted to digital jobs internally. Women are typically concentrated in the lower tiers of the supply chain, primarily clothing construction, and not likely to receive technical training. As a result, women are being left behind. But because they comprise 60.8% of the apparel supply chain, the industry must take care to ensure access to training. It is true that Bangladesh one of the major players in textile industry. But the main question is will Bangladesh be the same place after 20-30 year? Bangladesh apparel industry is nearly 40 years old. But textile industry is not same as past. Industry is changing day by day. With this many opportunities arise.

Rayhan Ahmed Topader is a writer and columnist. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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