When Bangladesh gained freedom in 1971, it was one of the poorest countries in the world. There were no major industries, and rebuilding the war-ravaged country with limited resources was a challenge. The textiles and apparel industry rose to the occasion, in leading from the front. The readymade garment (RMG) sector is the single biggest export earner for the country, and accounts for over 81 per cent of total export earnings for Bangladesh. The largest trade association in the export-oriented apparel industry is the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA). The association started with only 12 members in 1983, and now has over 3,000 active members, and works towards developing the RMG sector. In an exclusive interview with Fibre2Fashion, BGMEA president Md Siddiqur Rahman talks about the country's textile manufacturing sector, its efforts towards achieving environmental sustainability, and the country's target of exporting apparel worth $50 billion by 2021.
How many companies are members of BGMEA? Roughly, how many of these have their own brands? What is being done to help companies create their own brands?
There are around 3,000 active member factories of BGMEA. Our progress on doing own labels/brands is still not mentionable. We are primarily producing for global brands. Our factories are now preparing themselves for the next leap forward. In-house design development, presentation of collections to buyers, investments in high value added production capacity, etc are now happening in our apparel industry.
Bangladesh is known for its apparel exports, but nothing much is known (to the outside world) about its domestic retail market. Please throw some light on the volume and annual revenue of domestic clothing retail in Bangladesh.
BGMEA represents the export-oriented apparel industry in Bangladesh. Since we do not deal with
the local market, we barely have any information on this. However, the purchasing power and per capita income has been growing in Bangladesh, thereby leading to increasing consumption and growing retail market size in the country.
Bangladesh is the second-largest apparel exporter in the world, but it is still dependent on import of raw material (fibre, yarn, fabric) and accessories. Do you foresee Bangladesh decrease its dependency on imports?
There has been significant capacity-building in the area of yarn and fabrics manufacturing, especially for knitwear items. Around 80 per cent of our knitted fabrics are produced in Bangladesh. Denim production capacity too has got a significant boost in the last decade. Almost 50 per cent of the demand for denim fabrics by our export-oriented garment industry is being fulfilled by our local denim mills. Besides, Bangladesh produces almost 100 per cent of its accessories needed locally. However, the country is still dependent on external sources mostly for fibre, because we do not grow cotton or produce petrochemical products. We are lagging behind in woven fabric production, where we see a potential for investment.
A concept of awarding special economic zones (SEZs) to countries like the UK and China is said to be under consideration. What exactly is this concept, and how will the Bangladesh garment industry benefit from this?
This is more of a question to be asked to the government. However, investors will invest in industries, which are more viable in the longer term. The garment industry in Bangladesh has a clear prospect to grow further. This indicates the need for planned industrial zones where factories can be set up, because we have scarce land. SEZs will be a vital force to make this industry flourish further in a more organised way, resolving the issue of land availability to a significant extent.
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