World needs to use or lose Bangladesh apparel industry

The Daily Star April 07, 2020

It has taken more than four decades of incredibly hard work to build up the Bangladeshi RMG industry. In fact, the first export-oriented RMG industry of Bangladesh began when Daewoo of South Korea established a joint venture in 1977, almost 43 years ago.

As I write this now, there is a very real and serious threat that those 43 years will be wiped out in just three short months. That is the scale of the challenge we are facing. It is without precedent in all our lifetimes.

Against the backdrop of the Covid-19 outbreak, orders are being placed on hold by buyers and retailers at a rate that we have never before witnessed. Business for the Bangladesh apparel industry has fallen off a cliff. Without orders, factories cannot pay their workers’ wages. Factories cannot remain operational. Factories will go bust.

And I am not just talking about one factory. I am talking about a whole industry, an industry which, as I say, took four decades to build from scratch.

There is a reason it took four decades to build our RMG industry. It required decades of learning. It required the development of new knowledge and new skills. Our human resources became global experts in the field of garment production techniques.

On factory floors, production techniques have been honed and fine-tuned in a process of continuous improvement over four decades. The net result is that the Bangladesh apparel industry is now the most responsive, client-focused producer of apparel in the world.

If the Bangladesh apparel industry is allowed to fail, we will lose all of the above overnight—and it will take years to come back from this. In a worst-case scenario, it may not even come back at all.

Be in no doubt, without Bangladesh, the global fashion industry will change as we know it. For years, major fashion brands have been getting designs from the catwalk into production and onto the shelves of shops within weeks. That’s in a large way thanks to the seamless operations of Bangladesh.

Want affordable, stylish fashion on a budget? Look no further than Bangladesh. Want high quality denim at competitive prices? Again, Bangladesh has the solution. A minor revolution has been underway in global apparel production in recent decades, and Bangladesh has been at the heart of it. Our country now exports apparel to more than 165 countries across the world.

The apparel industry of Bangladesh has shown amazing resilience to be where it is today. It has overcome huge crises, including Rana Plaza, following which it implemented an unprecedented safety overhaul which was supported by all leading international apparel brands.

Billions of dollars have been invested to make the Bangladesh RMG industry as safe as it is today. If our industry is allowed to disappear, all of that money, all that time and effort, will have been for nothing.

My question to the global community is, do they still want Bangladesh to have a garments industry in three months? Do they still want the iconic “Made in Bangladesh” label to be part of the world? If they do, then they need to support Bangladeshi factories now.

We need monetary support to keep the Bangladesh RMG industry alive. Organisations such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and International Finance Corporation should come forward and support the Bangladesh apparel industry at this critical time.

The world will keep turning after Covid-19 is beaten. And the whole world will still need apparel supply chains, unless people across the world decide to stop wearing clothing. Global industry could be getting back on its feet by the summer and, while there is no doubt that the apparel industry will take a huge hit in 2020, there will still be demand for good quality fashion at affordable prices. There will be a “bounce” in business at some point.

If the world wants Bangladesh to be part of that industry, we need support now before it is too late.

 

Mostafiz Uddin is the Managing Director of Denim Expert Limited. He is also the Founder and CEO of Bangladesh Denim Expo and Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE). He can be reached at mostafiz@denimexpert.com.

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