Shorter period of lockdown, early reopening of supplies from China and the government’s stimulus package helped the country’s apparel sector to stay afloat amid cancellations of orders and suspension of payments from export markets. TBS reporter Jasim Uddin has talked to some leading exporters to know what they think about the new year
Second half of 2021 will be better
Fazlul Hoque, Managing Director, Plummy Fashions Ltd
2020 was one of the toughest years of our business career. The year had a good start, but the pandemic has changed everything.
We see some hope in the export market by April if vaccines are available in Western countries.
However, our export is not returning to the pre-pandemic era soon. We can at best hope that the second half of the new year may be better, if the Covid-19 scenario improves.
Entrepreneurs should focus on product diversification with their existing buyers and markets. But market diversification is not a matter of short time.
We have to produce diversified and high-value products to offer our customers alongside the existing business.
We believe workers are a part of our family. We may face some challenges next month to prevent layoffs as a new Covid-19 strain has added to the worries in our key export markets in Europe.
Our priority should be to protect workers' jobs. The government has also talked about further stimulus package to face the second wave of pandemic.
If we get policy supports for the next three to six months to prevent factory shutdowns, latter half of 2021 will be better.
We should focus on improving the efficiency in managerial level and productivity as we are still stuck in mid-level.
After 40 years' journey, we have not yet attained the capacity to produce varied apparel items.
The country has not got enough entrepreneurs who are comfortable with producing products for online platforms which are growing rapidly.
We have to move forward with hope
MA Jabbar, Managing Director, DBL Group
The pandemic has changed everything, the country's apparel export experienced its biggest shock ever.
From the middle of March 2020, we had been in deep uncertainty.
But we have to move forward with hope. Skilled workforce is our great strength to brave all difficulties.
We hope the new year will bring some good to the apparel and textile sector of Bangladesh, if entrepreneurs can make the right investment decisions.
It is high time to invest in production of import-substitute raw materials to reduce dependency on China.
We should strengthen our backward linkage industries -- not only for readymade garment or textile, but also for other industries to have a solid footing.
Recycled products have a good demand in the international market, as many buyers are now planning to reduce carbon emission and promote zero discharge of chemicals in sourcing factories.
In near future, the companies, which will not be able to maintain all types of social and environmental compliances, will face more challenges to survive.
New strategies key for survival
Kutubuddin Ahmed, Chairman, Envoy Group
The export sector might face difficulties in the next year considering the second wave of Covid-19 which hit western countries badly.
Some of the EU countries isolated themselves from the rest of the world to protect their people. Those people have not even celebrated Christmas. That must affect their sales, which will hinder our export earnings.
Major markets reduced their orders placement ratio while prices of apparel items dropped significantly, sometimes going below the average cost of production.
Some apparel entrepreneurs are running their units at 60% to 70% production capacity. Many others have orders below that level.
Those entrepreneurs now need to adapt new strategies for their survival. Otherwise, they will be out of the race.
They must increase their efficiency and productivity, and be more careful while taking orders considering production cost.
Entrepreneurs may talk with their banks for another period of moratorium on interest payments to prevent unwanted cuts in jobs and wages.
As a need-based low-value apparel manufacturer, Bangladesh enjoys an advantage. During pandemic we saw some brands like Walmart having huge sales and they also placed more orders in Bangladesh.
Covid vaccines have come more quickly than previously thought, raising hopes of global recovery.
If it can be made available for senior citizens, frontline fighters and essential service providers in western countries, their businesses will return to normal gradually.
We are heavily dependent on business normalisation in western countries, which depends on the availability of Covid vaccines.
New investment to bring new hope
SM Khaled , Managing director, Snowtex Group
Apparel exporters are optimistic about a positive trend in their business if the US and the EU countries are able to vaccinate their people by February to March.
Hopefully, their markets will remain open thanks to the rollout of Covid vaccine.
Bangladesh is also supposed to get Covid vaccine by February.
If there is no third or fourth wave, the global economy would not face any further closure, and Bangladesh's apparel export will see gradual increase.
We are reeling under pandemic shock.
We are running our units only for 8 hours a day and facing many hardships due to a shortage of orders, while it was about 10 hours in the pre-Covid period.
We are hoping to go back to 10-hour full production at the end of the winter season.
The factories that already invested in expansion will have to proceed with their plan.
Our group has also planned to recruit some manpower- about 1000, each month from March to April.
If the situation does not go worse, we will execute our plan as we already secured some orders for that capacity.
Apparel exporters have some ongoing investment processes -- some have plans to increase capacity and some have prepared production floors requiring to hire new manpower.
However, those who have not made fresh investments yet, they might give a second thought in this situation.
If the economy turns around, the expansion process will gear up naturally and that may create more employment opportunities. In this process the country's export earnings will get momentum.