Apparel manufacturers on the bank of Buriganga at Keraniganj supply 70-80% locally-made clothing across the country
Muktar Dewan sells denim pants manufactured in his factory at the Keraniganj Zila Parishad Market just on the other bank across the Buriganga. He sold clothing worth around Tk2.5 crore last Eid. But the apparel factory owner is uncertain whether this year's Eid sales would amount to Tk10-15 lakh.
"The factory and showroom were shuttered for two months since March. I took bank loans and later spent a portion of my capital to support my employees and my family during the shutdown," said Muktar.
Though the apparel manufacturer has some stock produced prior to the pandemic, he is not finding any buyer now. "I do not know how I would continue the business after paying the rents this month," he said.
Like Muktar, an estimated 10,000 Keraniganj apparel manufacturers face the same uncertainty. The thriving apparel manufacturing hub for producing clothing for the lower-income and middle-class people usually plans sales centering the Eid.
Eid sales are vital to their humming activities and they stock up on Eid apparels round the year to grab the Eid sale bonanza.
Most of the factories are totally dependent on bank loans for working capital – to pay rents, salaries, raw material and machinery purchase. They repay the banks after the Eid sales and have enough saved to restart business the next year.
But the virus outbreak has upset everything this year throwing the readymade garment manufacturers in serious trouble.
The business owners say each of them has a special plan for the Eid. They produce clothing with new design and trends every year. But they neither could plan nor make a single dress this year due to the pandemic.
There were almost no buyers this year after the markets reopened on May 10. The buyers could not come to the market as public transportation remains shut down. Apparel producers said they received some orders over the phone so far, but those could be at best 5-10 percent of the previous year.
A local fashion house proprietor Awlad Hossain said he sold pants worth Tk20 lakh in the last Ramadan. "This year both the demand and production are far too low and the sales are not even likely to amount to even Tk5 lakh," he added.
Keraniganj jeans pant market offers a variety of apparels in both quality and price — from Tk130 to Tk1,000. Popular shopping malls also buy Denim products from the apparel hub.
The wholesale markets at Keraniganj offer fatuas at Tk110-130, Panjabis at Tk250-600, shirts at Tk150-1,000, kids clothing at Tk300-400 and women's wear at Tk300-800.
A survey conducted by Keraniganj Garments Traders and Shop Owners' Cooperative Association in 2015 showed that Keraniganj was home to over three thousand RMG factories, more than 5,000 shops and 250 malls. This number has increased in the last four years.
Some businessmen said currently the emerging apparel hub has 5,000 factories and 10,000 shops. Around 3-3.5 lakh people are employed in the factories and shops.
The area has nearly two dozen banks and 30 transportation companies. Besides, backward linkage industries like textile, fabric, button and polybag production units have come up centering the denim units.
Wholesale purchasers from businesses all over the country including from Dhaka New Market, Narayanganj's Gausia and Chattogram Riazuddin Market come to Keraniganj for products at least two months before the Eid.
But the pandemic has made all that activities come to a halt this year, said Muslim Dhali, a veteran businessman and the general secretary of the Keraniganj Garments Traders and Shop Owners' Cooperative Association.
The businessman said the main sales take place from Shab-e Barat to mid-Ramadan – in a 30-day span. The Eid sales fluctuate in between Tk2,000 to Tk2,500 crore.
"Around 90 percent of us depend on bank loans. We will be in big trouble without any government stimulus," he added.
Concern grows over salary payment
According to Keraniganj Shop Owners Association, the workers either get a monthly salary or get paid at piece rate or for per dress.
Factory owners are not so sure now over full salary payment to the workers as the garments were shuttered for two months.
The Keraniganj Garments Traders and Shop Owners' Cooperative Association urged the owners to pay full salary while the owners expressed their helplessness.
Dewan said he paid some of his workers with loans.
"I have 20 to 25 employees and they went home on factory closure. Now they are calling me ahead of the Eid for their salaries," said Muktar.
"How can I pay their salaries if I do not have any business?"
Another manufacturer Saiful Islam said he has six employees who get paid for per dress.
"They are at their home and will not get paid as the factory is closed," he added.