Denim, a fabric synonymous with versatility, durability and timeless appeal, is constantly evolving through innovative fabric technologies. With approximately 15 billion metres of denim fabrics manufactured globally each year, translating to about 10 billion garments, Bangladesh has established itself as a pivotal player in denim production, alongside countries like China, India, Pakistan, Mexico and Brazil.
However, it was only in 2023 when the industry faced tough times, though the manufacturers predict these challenges are short-lived.
From January to August 2023, the US denim import data raised two stark facts. The data shows significant decrease in the total US import values from Bangladesh, which reduced from US $ 718.90 million in January to August 2022 to US $ 432.85 million in January to August 2023, representing a substantial decline of 39.80 per cent. The decline in value translates to a drop from 92.31 million pieces in 2022 to 58.50 million pieces in 2023. This equates to a decline of 36.62 per cent, highlighting that not only the value but also the volume of exports has decreased significantly. This sharp decline could be indicative of various factors, such as changing consumer preferences, increased competition from other markets or economic challenges in the USA.
While the industry faced challenges in terms of volume and export revenue, it managed to maintain relatively stable unit prices which is somewhat positive news for Bangladesh’s manufacturers. Despite the drop in total export values and units, the unit prices saw a more modest reduction, decreasing by only 5 per cent during the same period. However, when compared to UVRs registered in 2021 – one of the best apparel exporting years for Bangladesh – unit prices upped by 16.19 per cent in 2023, which shows the country is moving more towards producing value-added denim products.
This data brings up two essential questions: (1) Is the industry geared up to produce value-added denim to sustain in the face of reduced demand?; (2) Are the denim manufacturers in the country diligently focusing on value addition through finishes and incorporating more cotton blends into their product ranges? The answer to both the questions is Yes!
To sustain profitability and global visibility, some factories are investing in backward-integration plants, while others believe that importing a portion of denim for crucial products remains necessary.
As of 2022, reports indicate that nearly 45 denim mills are actively engaged in Bangladesh in the production of approximately 35 million metres of denim fabrics. Bangladesh’s annual demand for denim fabric stands at a staggering 900-950 million yards, reflecting a remarkable annual production growth rate of 15 per cent. This growth is even more impressive when compared to figures a few years ago, where it had surged by nearly 40 per cent. Industry insiders assert that denim fabric manufacturers in the country maintain an insatiable appetite for further expansion.
In a candid conversation with key players in Bangladesh’s denim industry, including Azim Group, MBM Group, Shasha Denims and Pacific Jeans, Apparel Resources (AR) sought insights into the evolving landscape of denim manufacturing. These discussions encompassed various aspects, from raw materials and consumer needs to sustainability and washing set-ups, revealing a diverse range of perspectives from industry leaders striving to maintain an edge in the global denim arena.
Syed M. Tanvir, Managing Director of Pacific Jeans Ltd., cracked the operational psyche of denim manufacturers in the country. Despite being the largest denim apparel manufacturer in Bangladesh, Pacific does not have its own mill. Tanvir believes that to actually evolve in the global landscape, it’s important to partner with fabric suppliers across geographical locations which gives them price, quality and helps in timely delivery. Pacific has a dedicated design and development team that works closely with its customers to create unique and trendy styles that meet their specific requirements in the denim segment. This has helped Pacific Jeans to establish itself as a reliable and preferred supplier to many leading brands and retailers worldwide.
“The value creation within locally produced fabrics, driven by collaborative efforts between fashion brands and Bangladeshi mills, has significantly enhanced local fabric sourcing for Pacific Jeans by at least 60 per cent,” averred Tanvir adding, “I give a lot of credit to the fashion brands who are working in tandem with the Bangladeshi mills to develop right kind of fabrics and now they have increased the sourcing of products made out of local fabrics. That’s a huge shift!”
Bangladesh’s denim industry has come a long way with remarkable transformation over the past decade, acknowledged by apparel retailers and manufacturers alike, who credit fashion brands in the denim game of the country. Farhan Azim, Managing Director of Azim Group, Bangladesh’s second oldest export-oriented RMG manufacturer, shared ,“The brands today are asking for wider variations of styles, colours and washes over a given season, which requires us to tweak and adjust our production effectively.”
Farhan also discussed challenges in the washing plants that are very exclusive to denim manufacturing. Innovations, such as laser machines replicating traditional denim washes and ozone machines reducing chemical discharge and water consumption, have propelled denim manufacturers in Bangladesh to reach new heights. These breakthroughs, combined with the advent of sophisticated technologies, have pushed the industry to stay dynamic while preserving traditional values and legacies that make Bangladesh an authentic global denim manufacturer.
Bangladesh currently exports denim jeans, shirts, jackets, playsuits and sunsuits, amongst others, to the international markets even if the major global retailers to which Bangladesh garment makers supply denim products include H&M, Uniqlo, Tesco, Walmart, Levi’s, Diesel, Wrangler, G-Star, s.Oliver, Hugo Boss, Gap and many more.
“Denim retail materials, the impressive stretchability and hand feel of Cotton-Lycra blended fabrics are evolving. The rise of fibres with durable and sustainable properties, such as hemp and the emergence of unconventional fibres like banana and pineapple leaves, which can produce quality fabrics and fetch greater export revenues, is inevitable,” mentioned Farhan.
Endorsing the need for producing different denim fabrics, Shams Mahmud, Managing Director of Shasha Denims Ltd., said that his company currently has a production capacity of 2.10 million yards per month to produce different types of denim fabrics and has perfected the art of making all types of denim fabrics from 4.50 oz to 15.00 oz, providing its global customers with a range of colours from the lightest shades of indigo to the darkest hue and range of effects and textures such as the smooth indigo surface and the salt effect, recycled polyester and stretch materials.
To leverage the opportunities on offer, Shasha is planning to increase capacities while also getting into new and unchartered territories apart from adding a state-of the-art commercial washing facility.
“We have already made some investments to this end in the EPZ to increase our production in twill as well as denim fabrics,” underlined Shams.
However, every booming industry goes through a range of challenges. Apart from going out of fashion, denim has its own set of contests. Addressing these challenges, Mohammad Mehroz Jalil, Deputy Managing Director of MBM Group stated, “We cater to a diverse segment of clientele even if our focus is more on the premium segment where opportunities are more because many premium brands have now come to Bangladesh to fulfil their sourcing needs.”
However, he also expresses hope that the prices will improve in the days to come along with the earlier perception of Bangladesh as a cheap sourcing destination transform. This is getting further boost by the country’s shifting focus on clients that are ready to pay ethical pricing for quality products.