It’s not often that one would come across a garment manufacturer who has hands-on knowledge of buying, retail and how to make garment products. And if it happens to be in Bangladesh – predominantly known for its manufacturing prowess – the chances are even more remote.
Abdur Rahman, Managing Director of Chittagong-based Byzid Apparels Private Limited and NGF Corporation, has managed to come up through the ranks, albeit in the reverse order – from retail to buying to manufacturing, with in-depth understanding of each.
Having launched his own brand way back in the mid-2000 when fashion retail was yet unheard of in Bangladesh, it did not take Abdur long to realise that retail calls not only for market maturity but also massive investment and big set up to stand any chance of tasting success.
“One must have at least 15-20 stores to establish a brand,” shares Abdur with Apparel Resources, taking through his journey over the years from a wannabe retailer to a successful garment manufacturer today. The challenges that launching and sustaining a brand presented Rahman then, forced him to make a course correction and try his hands in buying.
Thus, NGF Corporation was born – the flagship entity, which would in coming days encourage him to take a plunge into garment manufacturing as well. “I am in the buying business for almost 10 years now and NGF is my buying house,” maintains Abdur, who connected with global buyers through NGF to bag orders from them and place to different manufacturers in Bangladesh. However, with time, Abdur felt it feasible to come up with his own unit to ensure better services, after all certain parameters, be it quality or time, can be better managed in-house.
“When I felt that that we have to take complete ownership of what we cater to the clients and none else, did I get into manufacturing,” claims the MD of NGF who established his 210 machine-strong apparel manufacturing unit at Sholakbahar area of Chittagong to make an array of products with specialisation in kidswear.
“We produce all kinds of apparels, even outerwear and jackets. Right now my main market is the UK, but we also export to Canada, the USA and Australia in smaller quantities,” underlines the jovial owner of Byzid Apparel, equally mindful of the challenges that changing times have brought on manufacturers like him, the biggest being perhaps the trend of dwindling price margins that has made apparel manufacturing an even more difficult proposition for entrepreneurs, who are already burdened by spiralling overheads and increased workers’ wages.
“I feel it’s time for BGMEA to step in and fix the base prices for all product categories. Else, things are going to be even more difficult for garment makers in the days to come,” cautions Abdur.
Such an initiative, though not a full-proof solution to arrest the falling prices, could be of great help to the garment makers of Bangladesh, Abdur feels. “I am not saying that there won’t be any manufacturers who would not try to offer less than the base price to bag orders, but it would be a difficult proposition,” says Abdur. Given the fact that workers’ wages are fixed and manufacturing cost is also comparable, manufacturers do not have much of a scope to undercut in such a scenario, for sure.
Lack of marketing strategy and overdependence on buying houses for business is another reason why some garment makers in Bangladesh are unable to get sufficient orders, and thereby, settle for lesser price points when the orders come by, feels Abdur. “The problem is that most manufacturers in Bangladesh have no marketing strategies, and they depend on buying houses, agents, etc. for business. The big catch here is that buying houses and agents deduct a substantial percentage as commission which ultimately has a bearing on the product pricing,” explains Abdur while guaranteeing that with proper marketing strategy and mechanism in place, garment manufacturers could witness an increase of price by at least five per cent, if not more.
There’s also the inherent challenge of lack of raw materials locally which makes it even more difficult for Bangladesh in today’s age of fast fashion to take on its competitors head on. “Bangladesh is into garment manufacturing for more than 40 years now. But not enough attention is paid towards fabric manufacturing; we are still dependent on India, China and other countries for raw materials,” says Abdur explaining why countries like China and Vietnam have an upper hand compared to Bangladesh still. After all, speed to market and lead time are big factors in today’s changing retail landscape.
The buyers’ preconceived mindset as to the so-called strengths and weaknesses of different manufacturing destinations is also a big concern for Bangladesh. “Customers have a mindset that Bangladesh is for basic products, China is for quick deliveries, and Vietnam is for high-end products,” explains the Managing Director of NGF Corporation, adding Bangladesh’s lack of interest towards moving up the value chain and making more value-added and critical product categories further add to the woes.
There’s perhaps only 20-25 jacket factories in the whole of Bangladesh today, says Abdur to cite an example while underlining that such challenges impact the business significantly, more so for entrepreneurs like himself who are operating from rented buildings and have to shell out big amount as rent every month.
Abdur, as such, is now planning to construct a new unit, which though compliant would not be completely green one as has been the trend in Bangladesh lately. “I don’t have plans for a green manufacturing, as it would be time taking and would need massive investment. We will rather have a compliant factory in green and sustainable environment,” says Abdur who has already submitted his design to the concerned authorities for approval, subsequent to which construction would start in full swing.
“The new unit would be around 24 km away from the main city. Our target is to start with 15 lines and increase further as per the requirement,” informs Abdur to conclude the conversation on a positive note, adding that retail is also very much in his scheme of things but would take some time to materialise. Till then, it would be all about manufacturing for Abdur.