There are more than 4,000 RMG factories, 250 big markets, 5,000 showrooms in the area
Ayesha Akter, a young lady, works in a small garment factory of Al Madina housed at Alam Tower in Keraniganj on the bank of the River Buriganga.
Around 1:00pm, amid a haze of heat, she was found working on the design of some dresses along with a group of other women in a room having piles of clothes here and there.
They have hardly any time to spare as they have to finish the work at hand in time. This is how the garment village of Keraniganj, the biggest wholesale market for local readymade garments, is responding to the increased pressure of work ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr.
“We have really been very busy for a month. Earlier we worked from 9:00am to 9:00pm. But now we have to work from 9:00am to till 3:00am every day. We cannot rest except the lunch break. And it will continue till Ramadan 20,” said Ayesha, still doing the work at her hand.
Thousands of workers like Ayesha are now working days and nights. It is their labour that has given the garment hub a firm footing.
A silent revolution
Through their labour, Keraniganj clothes business has caused a silent revolution in the country, meeting around 70 per cent of the demand for readymade garments.
Covering an area of more than one kilometre between Agarnagar and Kaliganj unions, the garment village has around 250 markets employing 2,50000 workers. They handle traders from dawn to late into night.
A huge number of traders crowd these markets including Alam Tower, Islam Plaza, Century Complex, Asha Complex, Zila Parishad, Mahbubul Alam Market, Mosque Market, Hannan Market, SR Shopping Mall and other markets.
They make different denim and woven items including T-shirts, three-piece, jeans, shirts, panjabi, burqa, undergarments, children’s wear and other product items.
“There are more than 4,000 RMG factories, 250 big markets, 5,000 showrooms in this area. Besides, there are 2,000 small factories and 200 washing factories here," said Shadhin Shekh, general secretary of Keraniganj Garments Traders and Shop Owners' Cooperative Association.
“We’ve already met our target of production. Traders from across the country come here. This year we’ve brought out new designs to create more demands of the products. We hope the crowed of traders will stay till 20th to 25th Ramadan and the shopping frenzy will gradually grow,” he said.
“In Ramadan, 3,000 to 5,000 traders come to the market every day, which is 10 to 15 times more than other time," Shadhin Shekh added.
Speaking about the sales target, apparel makers said they were hoping to sell clothes worth up to Tk3,000-5,000 crore in this season.
“Around 80% of our products have already been sold out but the crowd of traders will remain till towards the end of Ramadan," said Muslim Dhali, proprietor of Muslim Collection selling jeans, pants and T-shirts.
The price of jeans depends of its quality, varying from Tk100 to Tk1,500 per piece," said Shahadat Hossain, owner of Toyaba Garments.
Traders, who came from different parts of the country, said products from Keraniganj garment factories enjoyed good demand during festivals.
Aminul Islam, who came from Barisal, said: "I can get from here all what my village customers want at wholesale price."
Hazi Uzzal Mia, owner of a factory, said: "Buyers from various districts came here. We have already sold products worth Tk10 lakh."
Overtimes go unrewarded
But there are allegations that the workers doing overtime do not get their dues properly.
Workers complain that they do not get proper salary and bonus during the Eid festival. Despite the labour law in place, they work more than eight hours.
"Even they have to work 18 hours a day during Ramadan with no extra pays," said Mohammod Jewel, manager of Al Madina Products.
Fire safety is another big concern in the area.
Denying the allegation of deprivation, Shekh Kawsar, treasurer of Keraniganj Garments Traders and Shop Owners' Cooperative Association, said: “Workers here do not grumble as they are paid for overtime and get their bonuses on time. There is also no fear of extortionists."
Most traders and owners demand that this area be announced as industrial area since it meets 70% demand of the country.
"If it is declared as an industrial area, all problems including fire safety will be solved. The quality of our products is better than other countries. But because of not having proper branding, customers go for foreign products," Sekh Kawsar said.