Though Bangladesh is the second largest exporter of apparel items, most of the work orders still come through agents, including buying houses and other third parties, says former apparel trade body chief Md Atiqul Islam in an interview with the FE.
To bag the orders directly, the country needs to improve knowhow about fashion, design development, market trend and the product-wise market demand. It also needs to do research on those pressing issues, observes Mr Islam, who is incumbent president of the Centre of Excellence for Bangladesh Apparel Industry (CEBAI) and also former president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).
According to him, the exporters get about 40 per cent of the work orders directly from global apparel buyers, brands and retailers while the remaining 60 per cent are fetched through agents.
Terming the receipt of orders through agents one of the major challenges and blaming it for the low apparel prices, he said the agents come up with their latest innovation, design and value-added products and show those to the buyers and take orders from them. Then they contract the local makers to deliver the orders thus cutting their profit margin.
If we, the entrepreneurs, could show our own designs and sample of value-added products, that could help get the orders directly paving the way for better prices for the apparel makers, he says. Skill development of not only workers but also the mid-level management officials and entrepreneurs is also important in this case.
The former BGMEA chief sees the backward linkage of the garment industry strong enough to supply the required raw materials. He now stresses the need for focusing on forward linkage.
Keeping this reality into consideration, the CEBAI was established in 2014 to help the apparel sector grow further. The industry has an enormous scope to improve productivity through skill development and by doing research on the current issues and challenges that the sector is facing.
The CEBAI is an initiative supported by the International Labour Organisation, the Swedish government, Swedish fashion retailer Hennes and Mauritz (H&M) and the BGMEA.
One of the major tasks of the CEBAI is to address the challenges the RMG sector faces to help raise its exports and contribute to more rapid economic development of the country. The objectives of the CEBAI are not only to impart skill training but also prepare the sector to meet the ever-changing challenges to remain among the top RMG exporters of the world, says Mr Islam.
The sector needs to have updated and relevant information on all countries involved in RMG trade, research findings and in-depth studies on issues affecting the sector, he opines. The sector needs to analyse the world statistics on garments and the demand.
The CEBAI is expected to be a one-stop hub of information on RMG. The CEBAI has already taken a move to conduct two researches on foreign employees currently working in the sector as well as the industry's requirement of gas and the impact of uninterrupted gas supply, he discloses.
"It is time to brand the country, especially after the Rana Plaza building collapse as the sector has undergone significant improvement in terms of workplace safety, compliance and other related issues," Mr Islam suggests.
The country also needs to focus on apparel diplomacy in attracting foreign buyers and showcasing the country to the international community, he hastens to add.
After 2013, Bangladesh is the only country that maintains transparency in garment trade, he claims. Any buyer or anyone else involved in the trade can go through the factory information. But it is not possible in the event of other garment manufacturing countries, he laments.
The two platforms of western apparel retailers-Accord and Alliance-have inspected the garment units and have made public all the inspection-related information on their respective official websites. Information about the units which were not covered by the platforms is also available on the website of the DIFE (Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments). The DIFE has also been strengthened by hiring additional inspectors after the Rana Plaza building collapse.
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