If the Bengali New Year (Pohela Boishakh) last year was a forgettable one from the perspective of retail fashion industry in Bangladesh thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic, this year too, it was no different.
It may be mentioned here that apprehensions were writ large well before the Pohela Boishakh this year as well amidst rising number of Coronavirus cases in Bangladesh and the Government imposing various restrictions to prevent the spread of the dreaded virus.
As per estimates, the size of the local fashion market is over Taka 30,000 crore, with Pohela Boishakh and Eid accounting for around 75 per cent of sales. Naturally so, like small boutique owners, big fashion brands of the likes of Deshi Dosh, Kay Kraft, Rang, Yellow, Gentle Park, etc., have reportedly been making preparations well in advance for the grand season of sale this time around too!
Speaking to the media, Bashundhara Branch Manager of Kay Kraft Shahjahan Firoz underlined they were offering more varieties this year even as he went on to add that sales were bit down and there is increased concern over the fresh restrictions while Hadi Chowdhury, Head of Retail Operations at Yellow said he was expecting better sales this year as people did not spend much on clothes in the last one year due to Covid-19.
Preventing Covid-19 infections is not in our hands, but the new restrictions will certainly have an impact on sales, said Hadi earlier, while Monirul Haque Parvez, the Head of the Elephant Road branch of Rang Bangladesh, said they were offering the highest number of varieties ahead of this year’s Pohela Boishakh compared to any other year. And why would they not, after all everyone wants to have good business more so considering the damp squib of last year.
But it’s not that they were unmindful that a lingering Coronavirus pandemic can prove spoilsport again.
Shahin Ahmed, President of the Bangladesh Fashion Designers’ Association and Owner of Anjans, thought fashion brands will incur losses of Taka 6,000-7,000 crore if Pohela Boishakh and Eid-ul-Fitr were held in a muted manner like last year but underlined the association members’ Pohela Boishakh’s sales target was Taka 3,000 crore this year.
“But if we allow 50 per cent of workers to make clothes complying with new restrictions, we will not be able to reach our sales target,” said Shahin then, adding, “Big brands are preparing for the upcoming festivals. There is concern over the rising cases of Covid-19, but I hope the situation will not go out of control like before.”
But it was not to be as Bangladesh had to soon impose a seven-day lockdown to stall the spread of the virus, which was extended subsequently by another week as things failed to show any marked improvement.
Now, after the dismal sales before Pohela Boishakh, fashion retailers feel sales before the upcoming festival of Eid-ul-Fitr, could return same results as did the Bengali New Year.
Biplob Saha, Owner of Bishwo Rang, said that Bangladesh’s fashion industry is characteristically different from other countries in the world as the industry of other countries are seasonal while in case of Bangladesh, it is mainly based on festivals and occasions.
“In our country, Eid sales usually begin a week before Ramadan. But this year, Ramadan and Pohela Boishakh began on the same day. The Government-declared strict lockdown from the day of Pohela Boishakh has dampened the mood of fashion entrepreneurs and retail traders. With the income of these two festivals, we arrange all the plans for the whole year – bank loans, other creditors, utility bills, employee salaries and bonuses. I really don’t know how to repay all this now,” wondered Biplob, who went on to add that they work with local fashion artists for a long period and if they switch to another profession as a result of the closure of the fashion house, it will cause irreparable damage to the local fashion industry.
“I think the shops should be opened to save this fashion industry. People in our country are yet to be accustomed to online shopping. We want the shops to be open with strict hygiene rules,” Biplob added.
It may be mentioned here that there are around 5,000 entrepreneurs in the sector, who employ over 500,000 artisans even as industry insiders claimed the domestic fashion industry faced a loss of nearly Taka 5,000 crore amid the strict lockdown declared on 14 April, the day of Pohela Boishakh.
Even though they are holding on to the last sliver of hopes to recover their losses ahead of Eid, but chances of markets opening anytime soon, seems slim.
According to industry people, they usually spend their busiest time in sales between Pohela Boishakh and Eid-ul-Fitr, as the gap between the two festivals is only a month. But this time, more than a week into the lockdown, with another weeklong extension approved by the cabinet, things look grim from the perspective of the fashion retailers.
“If we fail to catch these events, it affects the entire industry. The fashion houses were taking up the necessary preparations for the upcoming Pohela Boishakh and Eid-ul-Fitr. But, after the surge in Coronavirus infection cases and consecutive 2-week strict lockdown, all shopping malls and brand stores began to shut down and anxiety began to spread. If we cannot sell properly during Eid, it will be difficult for us to pay the salary of our workers, pay utility bills, bills of suppliers and other supportive industries,” claimed Shaheen Ahmed of Anjans, before going on to add, “Government and businesses should enforce strict health rules before reopening fashion houses and stores. They can be opened by synchronising with the opening hours of offices, RMG industry and banks. Authorities and businesspersons can discuss and decide on how to adhere to hygiene rules more strictly.”
As per reports, top fashion houses including Bishwo Rang, Kay Kraft, Anjan’s, Sadakalo, Rang Bangladesh, Nipun, Bibiana, Deshal, Banglar Mela, etc., operate with at least 400 salaried employees. In addition, each has 200 to 250 producers with more than 4,000 workers.
Even medium and small houses have the required human resources and a number of supportive industries are also related to this sector, said industry insiders even if bricks-and- mortar stores are seeing a steep decline in sales but some online retailers were reporting that their sales were consistent but the lockdown, they apprehended, will affect their manufacturing process if it goes on longer, which unfortunately it did after the Government decided to extend the lockdown by another week.
“From last year’s experiences, our entrepreneurs have enough products in stock, so we have not faced drops in orders. However, we are on the brink of it if the lockdown extends. We have already received some data where the entrepreneurs said that there is unavailability of raw materials,” said Nasima Akter Nisha, Founder of Women and E-commerce Forum (WE), adding, “Production and marketing of products is impossible without the availability of raw materials. If lockdown continues, we will face shortage of raw materials and would not be able to receive orders.”
Meanwhile, Mohammad Shahab Uddin, Vice-President of e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (e-CAB), said that this year’s orders are comparatively more than last year. However, it cannot be considered to be high either.
“People’s purchasing capacity has been reduced during the pandemic and entrepreneurs have also reduced their production accordingly. We receive orders but not as much as we could have,” said Shahab Uddin, adding, “If the Government relaxes lockdown directives and allows shops to reopen, I hope orders will increase ahead of Eid. We will enforce strict health directives once the Government allows reopening of markets.”
So, hoping things will improve soon and the fashion retailers are able to do some decent business before the holy festival of Eid-ul-Fitr. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!