PPE production has helped mitigate some of the pandemic's impact on the textile and apparel sector
Sourcing from Bangladesh began to recover last month following an influx of orders from the European Union and United States.
According to a survey by supply chain compliance solutions provider QIMA, inspection and audit demands for the country increased 49 percent year-on-year in June.
South Asia could also see more American business as almost 95 percent of US-based respondents of the survey said they had plans to change suppliers, with 30 percent opting for Bangladesh and India.
Meanwhile things are looking up for the apparel industry as sales of clothing and clothing accessory stores in the US have increased by 105.1 percent month-over-month in June, shows data of the National Retail Federation (NRF).
But the Bangladeshi apparel industry insiders are not optimistic yet.
"The US retail market is not coming back to normal; 105 percent growth is unusual as shops were closed for three months," said Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, former president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and a lawmaker.
"We have to observe the situation, as Covid-19 is still out of control in their country, "added Mohiuddin, who is also an exporter to the US market.
SM Khaled, managing director of Snowtex Outerwear Ltd – a leading jacket exporter to the US market – also echoed Mohiuddin's view adding that thiswas not "real growth."
PPE keeps apparel sector propped up
Throughout the first and especially the second quarter of 2020, personal protective equipment (PPE) production has helped mitigate some of the pandemic's impact on the textile and apparel sector.
By now, a number of countries, including China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Myanmar, have repurposed a share of their apparel manufacturing capacities for PPE production, reports Just Style.
Between January and May 2020, QIMA inspection volumes on PPE items increased 30-fold, with over 1.2 billion face masks inspected in the second quarter.
Entrepreneurs in Bangladesh said making PPE is a seasonal business, but it requires huge investments. Besides, design, development and obtaining the required certification for PPE is a lengthy process.
That is why large-scale export of PPE gowns has not started in the country yet, although a lot of face masks are being exported.
"Producing PPE is a new business for Bangladesh, but some of our entrepreneurs are already exporting," said Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin.
He said the government should monitor the quality of these products since they are for export to protect the "image of the country."
Snowtex Managing Director Khaled said they have received orders for 2.6 million masks from French buyers, 2 million of whichwere shipped between May and June. The remaining amount will be shipped within the next few weeks, headded.
"We also gotorders to supply 1 lakh PPE gowns to the H&M Bangladesh office, which they will donate as part of their CSR activity. JICA has also asked us to supply 3,000 PPE gowns for its Bangladesh office," he added.
However, all these PPE gowns are intended just for the Bangladeshi market.
"Besides, buyers asking for millions of pieces of PPE gowns, which require FDA certification. We will consider that for future as now we are in the peakjacket production season," Khaled added.
He also said the Canadian ambassador to Bangladesh has shown interest in importing PPE gowns from Snowtex Outerwear.
Asif Ashraf, managing director of Urmi Group, saidthey have already exported about 1 million masks to France and some to the US.
"PPE testing and certification process is costly, but hopefully we will get a certification from the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] soon," he added.
Asif said they are in talks with some US and EU buyers to supply masks and the company is also developing a PPE gown for the export market.