Demand for handmade shoes has been decreasing as Chinese and Indian shoes made in mechanised factories flood the local market
Inspired by the emerging footwear industry in Brahmanbaria, Deen Mohammad learned to make shoes from a very young age.
Currently, he is working at a footwear factory named Disha Shoes in the Peer Bari area of the city. As a skilled worker, he knows all about making a complete shoe using his hands.
However, the golden days of the Brahmanbaria footwear industry that emerged three decades ago is over.
The demand for handmade shoes has been decreasing day by day as the market is being flooded with shoes made in mechanised factories, mostly imported from India and China.
As a result, workers like Deen Mohammad are losing their jobs.
"In 1990, I started working for a factory named Deluxe Shoes, where I learned all the ins and outs of shoemaking," he recounted.
Deen later worked at different factories in Dhaka and Chattogram. The demand for handmade shoes was high at that time but that is no longer the case.
"A machine can produce more shoes than a worker. As a result, a lot of footwear workers have switched their profession. If the situation demands, I will also have to look for another profession," he added.
Currently, more than 100 factories are active in different areas of Brahmanbaria including at Peer Bari, Natai, Bhatpara and Rajghar, where several thousand workers work.
Wholesalers from different areas of the country come here to buy shoes as the prices are relatively low – ranging from Tk180 to Tk400 – compared to the quality being offered.
A worker gets Tk160 for making a dozen shoes. One makes five to six dozens of shoes per day on average. But a lack of demand in the market has decreased their production rate. Nowadays, a worker produces only two to three dozens of shoes per day.
Several factories have installed machines to compete with the low-priced shoes imported from India and China. Factory owners said mechanising lowered their production costs.
But the mechanised factories now require fewer workers. As a result, many workers in the industry are losing jobs. The owners said a factory that used to run with 150 workers now needs 30 to 35 workers after installing machines.
"The industry now needs fewer workers because of the introduction of mechanical production. Many workers are getting unemployed. Some of them are pulling rickshaws. Many others are working in the brick kilns," said Shibu Rishi, a footwear worker.
"I have been making shoes for 20 years. But the demand for handmade shoes has decreased for the last one and a half years. I never experienced anything like this," said another worker named Md Sohel.
Md Nadim, the owner of Disha Shoes, said footwear imported from China and India have flooded the market in the last two to three years.
"We are failing to compete with them with our handmade shoes. We have been at a constant loss since last Ramadan. If the situation continues, we may have to shut down the factory within a year."
Rakibur Rahman, owner of Active Footwear, said they need more workers for handmade shoes.
"But a machine can produce more shoes than several workers. It also lowers production costs," he added.
However, Hanif Mia, the acting general secretary of Brahmanbaria Shoe Industry Owners Association, said the decrease in the demand of workers has nothing to do with technology.
"Only shoe soles are made using machines," he said, adding, "Every other part of the shoe is still made by hand. However, the handmade shoe factories are facing problems as they are being unable to produce enough shoes as per the market demand."
The footwear industry of Brahmanbaria was inaugurated by a man named Mahmud Al, who came from Patna, India in 1963 and established a shoe factory in the Kumarshil area of the city.
Later, other people got interested in the business and the industry flourished during the succeeding decades.