Innovation within the garment supply chain can offer huge benefits in terms of sustainability and the environmental impact of the industry
Bangladesh has a proud history of manufacturing garments resulting in an industry that is now the biggest single contributor to the national GDP. The readymade garment industry (RMG), which is considered the backbone of Bangladesh’s economy, also acts as a catalyst for the development of the country by fetching billions of dollars as export earnings and creating jobs for millions of people. Bangladesh exported RMG worth about 29 billion in the last year, which accounts to about 82 percent of the country’s total export earnings. In its journey of around forty years, the “Made in Bangladesh” tag has brought glory for the nation.
However, since the inception of the industry, due to its reputation as a manufacturing hub of basic apparel, Bangladesh still mainly does orders of mass-market retailers, especially from the USA and Europe. Whilst these order quantities are undeniably attractive, the average price per piece is very low.
A big-volume order is usually easy to produce, but nowadays it has become a daunting task to make profit off of it as the price of basic apparel has not increased in the global market, rather it has drastically decreased in the last 10-15 years; while in the meantime, the cost of production increased manifold. Moreover, at present, there are several apparel-producing countries in the world which are competing for the lowest rung in the ladder. So, the pertinent question is, how far can Bangladesh sustain its position when buyers now have several options to shop from when it comes to sourcing basic garments? In a climate of increased prices of raw materials, labour and power, how can the industry best prepare for the future? The answer surely lies in innovation.
However, innovation is a word with many connotations. What are the benefits to be gained through innovation? What does innovation for the Bangladesh apparel industry actually mean?
Firstly, one must consider the garment in its basic form – as an idea in a designer’s head or often a blank sheet of paper that needs to be filled up! Innovation at this stage can lift the product from a run of the mill basic article to a product of integrity that will, ultimately, command a higher retail price and a more advantageous purchase price for the manufacturer.
The importance of innovation at the development stage cannot be understated. From fabric development through to finished product, an apparel that satisfies the buyer’s needs will lead to greater respect for the manufacturer and, ultimately, higher unit prices, as the product will be elevated from a perceived basic item to a higher-end one, thus seizing the attention of customers.
Secondly, investment in innovation throughout the manufacturing chain offers advantages in cost reduction as well as elevation of the overall product in terms of perceived value, and efficiency of speed to market; which ultimately enables the manufacturers to gain a higher price ticket and the opportunity of repeat orders.
Lastly, innovation within the garment supply chain can offer huge benefits in terms of sustainability and the environmental impact of the industry on our planet. Innovations in dyeing methods, manufacturing processes and garment processing techniques offer huge reductions in terms of water and power consumption, with the added advantage of minimizing the inherent negative health and safety aspects of the industry upon our employees.
It is crystal clear that it would be foolish for us to ignore the benefits to be gained from innovation at this juncture of the Bangladesh RMG industry. Innovation will extend our horizons and give us the room to escape from the shackles of only being perceived as a low-cost apparel manufacturing hub. It will help us to gradually build the reputation of a global leader in producing high-end apparel, not just as the second largest RMG exporting country in the world. In order to achieve this, creative talents within our industry need to be nurtured. They should not only be equipped with the latest design tools but also be exposed to the wider international market to gain a proper understanding of the end consumers’ needs.
Mostafiz Uddin is Managing Director of Denim Expert Limited. He is the Founder and CEO of Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE) as well as Bangladesh Denim Expo. He can be reached at [email protected]