Bangladesh’s gross domestic product (GDP) was assessed at US$6.29 billion by the World Bank in 1972, and it rose to $353 billion by 2021, with $46 billion coming from exports, 82 percent of which were readymade clothes. Bangladesh is only second to China in terms of clothing production as of 2016.
Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest exporter of fast fashion brands from the United States. In Bangladesh’s rapidly expanding economy, the textile and apparel industry is a primary source of growth. The primary source of foreign currency profits is textile and garment exports. Textile, apparel, and readymade garments (RMG) exports made up 77% of Bangladesh’s export value by 2002.
How it all started
Bangladesh’s garment industry began in the 1980s and has since progressed to its current position. Nurool Quader Khan, the late founder of Bangladesh’s readymade garment industry, was a pioneer. He had a vision for how the country could be transformed. He dispatched 130 trainees to South Korea in 1978 to learn how to make ready-to-wear clothing.
He established the first factory, “Desh Garments,” to create garments for export using those trainees. At the same time, the late Akhter Mohammad Musa of Bond Garments, the late Mohammad Reazuddin of Reaz Garments, MdHumayun of Paris Garments, Engineer Mohammad Fazlul Azim of Azim Group, Major (Retd) Abdul Mannan of Sunman Group, M Shamsur Rahman of Stylecraft Limited, the first President of BGMEA, AM Subid Ali of Aristocrat Limited also came forward and established some of the first garment factories in Bangladesh.
Other cautious and diligent entrepreneurs followed in their footsteps and established RMG plants around the country. Bangladesh’s garment sector hasn’t had to look back since then. Despite several challenges faced by the sector in recent years, it has managed to carve out a niche in the global market and maintain a strong performance.
Various sources of impetus have contributed to the development and maturity of the industry at various points since its inception. We first discovered about child labor in 1994, and in 1995, we were able to eliminate it from the industry.
The MFA-quota was a boon to our sector, allowing it to grow, develop, and mature. Many people expected that when the quota was about to expire in 2004, the phase-out would cause a significant disruption in our export.
The post-MFA age, on the other hand, is a success story. We overcame the post-MFA issues by proving all the predictions wrong. Bangladesh’s garment industry is now the country’s largest export earner, with shipments worth more than $27.9 billion in the 2019-20 fiscal year.
How it is going currently
Despite our RMG industry’s phenomenal expansion and promising future, issues remain. One of our RMG industry’s main challenges right now is ensuring workplace safety and better working conditions for the millions of garment workers.
The Tazreen fire and the Rana Plaza collapse have brought the problem of worker safety to the forefront, prompting all stakeholders to take appropriate action. Following the tragic events, different forums such as the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, and the National Plan of Action were developed to improve the garment industry’s building and fire safety.
After inspections, all members of the BGMEA and BKMEA are working tirelessly to implement the corrective action plans recommended by the Accord, Alliance, and National Plan of Action, even investing large sums of money.
Furthermore, factories that were put up in a haphazard manner and housed in dangerous structures have begun to relocate to safer structures. A proposal has also been launched to build a well-planned garment industrial park across the Dhaka-Chittagong Highway, where structurally deficient textile companies can relocate.
However, establishing workplace safety in all clothing manufacturers is a massive undertaking that will take time. However, we think that with the help of global brands and international development partners, the government of Bangladesh, BGMEA, and BKMEA will be able to safeguard the safety of the RMG industry and preserve the country’s socio-economic growth momentum.
With obstacles on one hand, the Bangladesh ready-made garment sector has a brighter future ahead of it; at least, that is what statistics and data have led us to assume. We are more hopeful about the potentials of our RMG business because of a recent study undertaken jointly by the United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA) and the University of Rhode Island (URI).
According to the survey, in the next two years, US-based fashion companies will increase their sourcing from Bangladesh. Bangladesh has been dubbed “the next hot area in clothing sourcing” by McKinsey, a multinational management consulting organization.
Although the BGMEA, in collaboration with the government and other international organizations, has taken steps to improve worker skills, more of these activities are needed to fulfill industry demand and boost productivity. The government’s funding allocation for skill development also has to be raised.
Students can pursue graduate and post-graduate degrees in fashion design, knitwear technology, and garment merchandising at the BGMEA University of Fashion and Technology (BUFT). Nonetheless, fashion, textile, and industrial merchandising-related departments should be formed at all of our major public and private colleges to address the current shortage of qualified experts in the mid-level of our garment factories.
T-shirts, sweaters, trousers, men’s and women’s shirts are the primary products produced in Bangladesh. Furthermore, we are mostly reliant on two markets: the EU and North America (the US and Canada). Though we reduced our reliance on these two markets from 93% to 85% in the last five years (from fiscal 2009-10 to 2013-14), we still need to diversify our apparel export destinations and focus more on high-end products like suits, lingerie, and other high-end products to ensure our apparel industry’s long-term growth.
It is our collective responsibility to safeguard the interests of this industry, which has given our economy a solid foundation, produced work for millions of people, particularly women, pulled them out of chronic poverty, and provided them with a dignified life. Now we must address all of the issues that our garment sector faces in order to pave the way for its continued growth.
Foreign buyers would refuse to put orders in Bangladesh if individuals do not do so, which will be a severe blow for the country’s RMG sector. People want the government of Bangladesh, the BGMEA, and the BKMEA to be able to guarantee the RMG industry’s safety and maintain the country’s socio-economic growth momentum with the support of global brands and international development partners.