Industry insiders fear for the worst if situation remains same before Eid
The brick and mortar stores of Bangladesh's local retail fashion industry is in a state of extreme uncertainty about recuperating their cost ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr, after the countrywide lockdown in face of rising Covid-19 infections caused dismal sales before Pohela Boishakh.
Pohela Boishakh is the second largest festival for the fashion industry in the country after the Eid-ul-Fitr as the sector people largely depend on the sale of these two festivals.
Biplob Saha, owner of Bishwo Rang, said that Bangladesh's fashion industry is characteristically different from other countries in the world.
The industry of other countries is seasonal, whereas the local industry is mainly based on festivals and occasions.
“In our country, Eid sales usually begin a week before Ramadan. But this year, Ramadan and Pohela Baishakh began on the same day. The government-declared strict lockdown from the day of Pohela Baishakh 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 do not know how to repay all this,” he said.
Biplob also said that they work with local fashion artists for a long period. “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,” he also said.
“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.
There are around 5,000 entrepreneurs in the sector, who employ over 500,000 artisans.
Industry insiders also said that the domestic fashion industry faced a loss of nearly Tk5,000 crores amid the strict lockdown declared on April 14, the day of Pohela Boishakh.
Devastated, they have nothing but hope to recover their losses ahead of Eid, despite slim chances of markets opening anytime soon.
They usually spend the 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, a week has already passed in lockdown, with another weeklong extension approved by the cabinet.
Shaheen Ahmed, president of Fashion Entrepreneurs Association of Bangladesh (FEAB), and CEO of Anjans, said that they sell more than 50% of their products during these two festivals.
"If we fail two catch these events, it affects the entire industry. The fashion houses were taking 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,” he also said.
Shaheen also said that fashion stores should be opened anyway. If businesses are closed for years, it will have an adverse effect on the fashion industry and later, on the national economy.
“Government and businesspersons should enforce strict health rules before reopening fashion houses. They can be opened by synchronizing with the opening hours of offices, garments and banks. Authorities and businesspersons can discuss and decide on how to adhere to hygiene rules more strictly,” he added.
Top fashion houses including Bishwo Rang, Kay Kraft, Anjan's, Sadakalo, Rang Bangladesh, Nipun, Bibiana, Deshal, Banglar Mela, etc are operated with at least 400 salaried employees.
In addition, each has 200 to 250 producers with more than 4,000 workforces.
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.
While brick and mortar stores are seeing steep decline in sales, online retailers are reporting that their sales are consistent but the lockdown will affect their manufacturing process if it goes on longer.
Nasima Akter Nisha, founder of Women and E-commerce Forum (WE), said that entrepreneurs have not yet faced a drop in orders as they have sufficient products in stock.
“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 Nisha.
“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,” she further said.
Asking about delivery channels, Nisha said that they already have created a delivery channel called “WE Delivery” with a combination of several delivery channels and assistance from UNDP.
“The delivery channels face some difficulties in rural and marginal areas but not in urban areas. So, entrepreneurs deep in the country face problems,” she added.
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,” he also said.
“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,” he added.