Fashion retailers in Bangladesh are having a very tough time since 2020. The Coronavirus pandemic has hit their business very, very hard! The lockdowns and restrictions that ensued to arrest the spread of the disease ever since it was first detected in Bangladesh, have had a devastating impact on the sales, to say the least.
To start with, notwithstanding all the preparations, it was a damp squib last festival season — the Bengali New Year and the holy festival of Eid-ul-Fitr together constitute the main season for the brands and retailers operating in Bangladesh — as far as sales are concerned.
It may be mentioned here that after almost two months of countrywide shutdown — the first case of Covid-19 was detected somewhere in the early part of March last year and by the end of the month, the Government imposed a lockdown which virtually brought everything, be it manufacturing or retail (except for the commerce), to a grinding halt — businesses reopened on 31 May last year and even though the Government allowed businesses to operate in May considering Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr but it was on a very limited scale and with strict restrictions in place.
“All Miniso Bangladesh and Noir stores remained closed from 25 March 2020 and reopened on 10 July 2020. The health and well-being of our customers, colleagues and community is and always will be to be our top priority which is why we had opted to keep our gates closed during the peak seasons and resumed operations after taking the time to carefully implement strict safety protocols to ensure a comfortable and safe shopping environment,” underlined Shah Rayeed Chowdury, Director of Evince Retail Limited, speaking earlier to Apparel Resources.
The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, had changed the very dynamics of the fashion retail sector in Bangladesh, which would continue for quite some time to come with almost all major players suffering sales blues during the festive season as consumer spending on fashion and footwear hit an all-time low.
However, brisk business during the Eid shopping season helped traders breathe a sigh of relief. Following requests from various economists and trade bodies, the Government relaxed public restrictions, allowing traders to reopen their stores 15 days ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr, the biggest religious festival in Bangladesh, and as was perhaps expected, businesses witnessed a somewhat good customer turnout during this period, which came as a much-needed respite following a year of poor sales due to the advent of Coronavirus pandemic in March last year.
Almost all the major players in the country’s retail landscape reportedly registered some decent business after a prolonged lull. According to reports, sales for Aarong, which has 21 outlets across Bangladesh, reached 70 per cent of its pre-pandemic levels during the run up to the Eid this year even as Yellow, another big name in Bangladesh fashion retail sector also witnessed better business than expected.
Aarong is a chain of stores specialising in Bengali ethnicwear and handicrafts, and is owned by the non-profit development agency BRAC, and employs thousands of rural artisans across Bangladesh even as it operates its production units in rural and semi-urban areas as a part of its social enterprise model and provides the market linkage through its own retail outlets.
Yellow on the other hand is a Bangladesh-based fashion brand and clothing retailer owned by the leading business conglomerate BEXIMCO — according to reports, the largest of the Yellow stores are located in Bashundhara City Shopping Complex, Sanmar Ocean City Chittagong and Jamuna Future Park. There are several of its stores located in Pakistan and in 2014, BEXIMCO also announced the opening of new outlets in Dubai, Toronto and New York City as well — which is mostly distinguished for its true international quality designs and fabrics. Kickstarting its operation in in 2004, Yellow now reportedly has 19 stores across Bangladesh and Pakistan and a 24/7 online store even as its product line includes a wide range of fashion clothing, fragrance and accessories for men, women and children apart from textiles for home decoration; avant-garde ceramic items; paintings; books; and many more.
“Had the second wave of Covid-19 not taken place, business would have been even better,” maintained Chief Operating Officer of the lifestyle brand Aarong who underlined that they are grateful to the Government for acting for the betterment of businesses by relaxing the restrictions while pointing out that people turned up to shop even amid the crisis, who further went on to call upon the Government then to allow shops to remain open for extended hours ahead of Eid.
“…every business benefited more or less,” added the Chief Operating Officer of Aarong while the Head of Marketing at Yellow, Raihan Kabir, on his part maintained that the lifestyle brand witnessed better business than expected, within the short span of time.
“Yellow’s online sales have increased greatly and many of our products even ran out of stock,” underlined Raihan while adding that new outlet in Khulna registered sales equal to those in Dhaka and attributed the increased sales to the brand value and a loyal customer base even as the number of customers started to slowly increase in the 15-day lead-up to Eid.
Meanwhile, speaking to the media, Owner of Anjans, Shaheen Ahmed said traders had feared shoppers would not come to shopping malls and retail outlets amid concerns over contracting the deadly disease but luckily, that did not happen as customers came to shop and business was not bad at all, he claimed even if in terms of overall sales volume, Anjans’ sales reached about half of its pre-pandemic levels.
I initially thought we wouldn’t be able to reach even 20 per cent sales of normal times, underlined Shaheen, who is also President of the Fashion Entrepreneurs Association of Bangladesh.
It may be mentioned here that Anjans is one of the leading fashion and lifestyle brands in Bangladesh, which started its journey on 15 February 1994 with the aim of creating a large market for indigenous clothing even as it always tries to give importance to the quality of the product, design and above all customer service.
Anjans also worked with Bangladesh Hockey Federation as wardrobe partner of Bangladesh National Hockey team and has been the wardrobe partner of first two-time Champion Dhaka Gladiators in the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) and has 23 outlets across the country.
Despite the pandemic, Khalid Mahmood Khan, Co-founder of Kay Kraft, had anticipated sales would reach 40 per cent of previous levels and did surpass that as well. “… it improved significantly towards the end of Ramadan to reach 70 per cent compared to 2019,” claimed the Co-founder of Kay Kraft, which is a leading name in the fashion industry of Bangladesh.
Meanwhile, speaking to the media, President of the Bangladesh Shop Owners’ Association, Helal Uddin said the return of capital was more important than profit for traders under the current circumstances as many businesses had been idle for the last 14-16 months and so, they just wanted enough capital to survive.
I want to thank the Government for its timely decision to reopen the businesses, shopping malls, markets and shops for us before the prime spending season, added Helal Uddin to wind up on a positive note.