More and more apparel manufacturers in the country are devoting themselves to the implementation of product development
Moving from making to designing – and even imagining – will enhance Bangladesh’s capacity to compete in the global apparel market, industry insiders told the Dhaka Tribune.
Investing in design studios, research and development is one strategy manufacturers are implementing to hold their ground and gain an edge in the famously competitive apparel sector.
Bangladesh is considered one of the biggest manufacturers of mass basics, but apparel makers are trying to cope with the fast-changing international market and to analyze the trends, culture and fashion of buyer countries.
More and more apparel manufacturers in the country are devoting themselves to the implementation of product development, despite the high costs of setting up design and innovation centres.
Industry insiders added that if the move towards design takes hold among manufacturers, it will help offset short-term drawbacks and pave the way to long-term competitiveness.
Moreover, the economic changes created by the pandemic have also shown the growing demand for creative, innovative designs beyond the basics, they said.
Consequently, in-house design and product development is now emerging in an industry previously sustained on the traditional cut-and-sew approach.
According to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), there are currently more than 100 apparel factories having in-house design studios, research, and innovation centres and at least 25 of them are modern and world-class design studios.
Why in-house design studio?
The stronger the design developer, the more profit the apparel factories can make. Depending on the innovation of the design liked by the buyers, a factory can make 20% more profit than the basic cut and sew products.
A number of factories have their studios and skilled designers abroad. Moreover, a number of companies that are currently selling clothes in the local market also have innovative design centres, said the industry insiders.
Chattogram-based Denim Expert Limited has had its own in-house design and development studio for more than 12 years now, which employs 25 skilled designers.
Mohiuddin Rubel, director of Denim Expert Limited, and also one of the directors of the BGMEA, said that the manufacturers of the country used to manufacture the basics based on the pictures of the design sent by the brands earlier.
“We didn't have much capacity and we had no chance to show our creativity and innovation. But there is no substitute for improvement in the research and development sector to show creativity and to shift from the basic cutting,” he said.
“Buyers have some signature products that they never change the design of. These are called the basics. They also provide some designs based on their demand, and the rest depends on the research and development capabilities of the manufacturer,” he added.
He also said that the manufacturers need a dynamic team to understand the changes in the rest of the designs, do research on the trends, seasons, and choices of the buyers.
“If a factory has a world-class design studio, he can develop innovative designs and offer them to the buyers. But there are many big factories in our country who have not been able to develop any design studios yet,” said Mohiuddin Rubel.
There are many factories like Denim Expert that offer their own designs to the buyers. It has been seen that, when offering 10 product designs, 2-5 offers are picked up by the buyer. And it is possible to make maximum profits from these products, he added.
“The profit made through 100,000 pieces of traditional products is the same profit made through 10,000 pieces of in-house designed products,” he further said.
Jashim Uddin Chowdhury, vice president (garments division) of KDS Group, told Dhaka Tribune: “If one wants to do sustainable and long-term business by producing products according to the passion, demand and choice of the ultimate buyers, then he has no choice but to set up a design studio.”
“It is very difficult to survive in the market in this age of competition by only cutting traditional and basics. So, there is no alternative to innovation and creativity which lie in the setting up of a design studio,” he added.
He also said that an in-house design studio is the main endeavour to cope with the challenges of the sustainable market.
“We felt that and set up our design studio in the UK in 2016. The studio is run by a team of officials with long experience in the design industry who can analyze data to understand the demand, trend, colour of the buyers,” he added.
He also said that an in-house design studio is one of the selling points in the current market.
“However, an in-house design studio is a very expensive project. This project has to be established by accepting that no return of investment (ROI) will come from the design studio, but it is the future endeavour, which will secure and sustain your business for a long-term,” he added.
Apparel factories with world-class design studio
According to the industry insiders, Epyllion Group, Viyellatex, Snowtex Group, Ananta Group, Sparrow Group, SM Knitwear, Sharmin Group, Team Group, Denim Expert Limited, Pacific Jeans, KDS Group, Square Fashion, Vintage Denim Studio, SQ Group, TAD Group, Fakir Fashion, Sonia Garments, Urmy Group, Meghna Knit and Interstoff Apparels Limited have world-class design studios.
While contacting officials of Epyllion Group, Snowtex Group, and Pacific Jeans, they also expressed the same thoughts.
They said that product development has become the business strategy for the whole supply chain in the present global scenario and fast fashion era.
Being contacted, an official of Puls Trading Far East Limited (H&M), one of the buyers of Bangladeshi apparel, said that now they are also getting adequate design input from the manufacturers.
“Then we review them and choose some designs. This is how some good designs are being developed from the local design studios,” he added.
However, the journey on the way to the setting up of design studios is not very easy, there are many challenges.
Problems, prospects with in-house design studios
Industry insiders said that a factory has to invest a huge amount of money to set up a design studio with skilled manpower. A world-class design studio requires an investment of $2 million or about Tk17 crore or more without ROI.
Moreover, there are also regular expenses including maintenance and upgradation.
Khondakar Golam Moazzem, research director of the CPD, told Dhaka Tribune about the problems, prospects and institutional reforms regarding setting up design studios.
“If the design of a factory is accepted by the buyer, then there is an opportunity to bring more money,” he added.
He also said that the studios need to know the relevant market and global fashion trends and to gather knowledge by attending fashion shows.
“We have to keep in mind that a single jump doesn’t take us too far, it is a gradual shifting,” he also said.
If a factory has its own design studio, it helps to reduce lead time. Moreover, the time gap is reduced by producing fashionable products, as these remain in the market for a short time but gain the highest profit margin, he also said.
“We should move forward gradually. For now, we can start by collaborating with global fashion houses,” he added.
He also said that an institutional change must be brought. However, the government should inspire big companies to establish design studios.
“If necessary, the government can support them. It has a technology upgradation fund in Bangladesh Bank, from where support can be given,” he added.
He also said that the government can give policy support to those who want to open a house abroad.