Whither Shonar Bangla?

 Published in: The Daily Star on February 15, 2015
Whither Shonar Bangla?

Times are stranger than expected. The entire nation has turned towards “dangabaji”. Enraged protestors chasing innocent people, aggressive police force coming down on people with uncalled for attacks, endless front page news and vivid photographs of blood stricken bodies and a riotous scenario….

With all of that added to the anticipations and fears of the garment exporters, and with the trade body elections coming up, we are all treading on uncertain grounds.

Every statement is wearing the garb of a political affiliation.

I am wondering whether the basic need to survive has been subdued by our need to rule.

Let’s go hungry, nation…but let’s wear the crown!

Let’s go hungry, nation….but let’s fight back on every possible opportunity and prove our opposing strength.

I wake up every morning with the South China Morning Post. I surf the net and look for this particular daily at ungodly hours in the morning as well. All this is done …just to be ahead of the race. The first challenge is to counter my partner and have answers ready for him when he springs up with: ‘Where are the margins? At this pace, we won’t see any meaningful business anymore.’ But, China is slowing down on purpose and with Big Mac, Kentucky, Walmart culture, that nation is truly focusing on dominating the globe and the Chinese era will not only give rise to Chinese Ego, but hopefully the Chinese will not slave away at garment manufacturing and will move on to higher plains !

And in the process, we will be saved.

The next challenge is the office…where 60 colleagues wait for me to walk in with a winning smile every morning and believe me that smile is supposed to speak volumes.

To them , it means their livelihood, the survival of the 7000 people at the factories that we have with us. Every day is supposed to be a sunny Sunday where I have, by miracle closed deals to our benefit. But have I done so? Has this season been promising?

My mailbox is jammed with queries from all over the world and I am wondering why on earth has Iceland missed us out..? After all, the terrific jackets and the winter wear that we produce are The Best.

In fact, I am wondering whether we should be brave enough and start selling a national brand: The Best to all our friends in the EU and the U.S

But, suddenly another realisation dawns on me…Haven’t I received almost over a hundred queries from a single retailer this season and haven’t I simply been given a pathetic 6000 pieces as a trial order and have been assured that the next season the orders will come down on us like avalanches and we should be planning capacities accordingly?

Oh, yes…that is the sole reason why I decided on increasing sewing lines and at this point, I have more than 100000 pcs of open capacity effective April ’05.

“There goes my only possession, there goes my everything!” There was a time when this was a favourite from Engelbert and truly, today, my possession is a sound sleep at night.

So, over this anxiety, for the next couple of weeks, my rest at night evaporates into the thin air and till I find the perfect partner to fill my open capacities in, I lose my lovely 6 hours and settle down for a measly 3.

Anyway, back to the office.

Office has other appointments going for me. ..a couple of buyers visiting our facility and evaluating our technical and HR compliance. On this meeting depends our next couple of seasons and therefore, I am totally focused and begin the meeting. But, right at the beginning, I gape at the most complicated garment that I have ever seen in my life…you name any component or embellishment and that garment has it.

Truly it is the most wonderful and the most challenging garment that I could ever dream of handling and if I took this order in and closed the deal, either my General Manager, productions or my merchant who has to arrange and link all the missing pieces, would throttle me to death. So, India beats us here. With the ability to manufacture even 200 pieces per style with the most complex design and optic, they have beaten us hollow and have sucked up the margins that the niche market could ever offer. Therefore, the fast turn around product that changes with every season, which makes a higher fashion statement, is , most certainly not our cup of tea. Besides, even if we venture out with this order, we would end up with lots of quality problems as these garments would not be uniformly manufactured.

But of course, India gets away with it. They coolly put up a tag which is in the form of a disclaimer and which would simply tell the customer not to expect excellent care instructions out of that garment and that it would fade after 2/3 washes and that its tearing strength would be compromised if the consumer did not carefully wash the garment. But then, why do I complain? The Indians, probably, deserve this lead and this advantage. After all, they have hundreds of designers coming out of NIFT and after all, these designers know, at least how to surf the Net and follow the trends. So, they give the best and get some back. But, of course!

At this point, I must mention my frustrations with our designers (not haute couture, but simple commercial and industrial designing). The other day, while I was interviewing a head designer-cum-a lecturer out of BIFT (Bangladesh Institute of Fashion Technology), I wasn’t only hoping to see some light, but I was actually hoping to hire her..simply because I have had a space empty as a design space crying out to me everyday…

.and simply because I feel the necessity to at least try and give some design inputs to our customers. I only asked two questions and I was given two, very embarrassing answers.

I asked her if she could name a couple of fashion fairs in the world. She named one: BATEXPO(the local fair that hardly attracts any clients and it is the same fair which has problems naming the spot sales figures to the press after the fair has ended !)

Then I wanted to know what, in her eyes, would be a good product to export(mind you, I had lowered my level of query) and she confidently answered: Silk!

Totally baffled by her answers, I ran to my next room, to my Chairman (he is in the board of BGMEA) and asked him what did they think they were doing with that institute? Needless to say, I was promptly dismissed as there are things which are better discussed at better times.

My question is, when are we ever going to have the time to think about this industry?

Seminars may raise alarms, statistics may frighten some of us into putting up world class infrastructures, random world travel may win our buyers’ trust and we may win some and lose some, but what are we doing to clean the track? This is a track which Indonesia, Korea are not even bothered to attempt, this is a track that is far removed from the Sri Lankan niche concept, this is a track which the Indians cannot even be bothered to consider as their backward linkage, their fashion concepts, their RAJ styled hotels (talking of which I am wondering when the Radisson is going to be completed!) are far beyond our mundane reach, this is a track that China does not even see (we are mere dots in the horizon in terms of their capacity offers).

Then what does this track comprise of? Efficiency at all levels including communication, production, house keeping, transparency, automation (mind you, the Blackberry must work!)…this much can definitely be ensured by private sector.

But what about the beyond..what about the policy support from the government with regard to the central bonded warehouse, the relaxations of rule of origin, the support to the sick industries…what about them?

How can we, the struggling specie even dream of moving forward with our production plants and even dare to make our ends meet without any meaningful help from the establishment?

How can anyone not pay any attention to the fact there are actually lesser and late placements this season and any factory that is booked till May’05 should be eternally grateful to God and should thank Him for His infinite mercy?

When are all going to realise that this is the Final Call and if we go unheard, it will be the Final Cut (Pink Floyd, remember?) for the 2 million workforce?

And judging by the last couple of days, the only direction seems to be suicidal.

Let sanity prevail and let self interest be laid to eternal rest.

While I finish my piece, I am staring at the MSN user name of my daughter who’s 19 and who aspires to be a politician one day ..her name reads: “no heroes in our skies” and I end up writing to my son, who’s in a business school 10,000 miles away from me.

.Amader moto manush hoyo na, manusher moto manush hoyo.

God bless our trade and God bless our shonar bangla.

Rubana Huq is a freelance writer.