Bangladesh needs to adapt, rejig system: IAF president

Bangladesh wants to be a top exporter – moving goods worth $100 billion by 2030 – but this ambition comes with the caveat of graduating from status of a least developed country, necessitating a rejig in the country’s business model, Cem Atlan, president of the International Apparel Federation (IAF) has said.

Atlan, speaking to The Business Standard at the 37th IAF World Fashion Convention said that Bangladesh’s biggest rival is Vietnam. But their business model is very different.

Vietnam focuses on the US market and high volumes. He said that if they don’t modify their model, they will not be able compete with Bangladesh.”

According to him, it is time to invest in textiles production and textiles.

Bangladesh needs to invest in raw materials and go for synthetic or recycled production. Fabric production is essential, as relying on imported materials will prevent the country from reaching their $100 billion target.

The president of the IAF, an international trade association whose membership includes national clothing associations and companies, suggested a concerted effort to reshape the prevailing systems in place and realign with the new global ambitions – carbon emissions in this case.

“Because new drives for sustainability, and the need to decrease carbon emissions, the world is gradually moving away from fast fashion. Cem indicated that the slowdown in fast fashion is imminent.

Bangladesh, the largest fast fashion supplier, will see its demand drop. He added that the people want tailored-made, value-added clothes.

“In Turkey we accept orders for 500-1,000 units, but we add embroidery print, use different sewing techniques, and value the garment. We can’t compete against Bangladesh on basic items. Atlan stated that this is how Turkey has operated for the past 10-15 years. “We made the transition to more value-added clothing in Turkey.”

Bangladesh should also explore this area. He said that instead of making 20,000 pieces you can now make 10,000.

“Also we do not accept long-term contracts in Turkey. Our lead time is also very short – from six to a maximum of eight weeks. The process can be repeated within two weeks. He said that everything is prepared and that we had our raw materials, accessories, and fabrics ready in advance.”

Atlan stated that in such a situation, smaller businesses will not be able match the larger companies unless there is more value added. However, this requires other elements such as design backup. This will be made easier by digitalisation.

“On digital platforms, you can design much better. However, one needs to be educated in order to do so.

This is where fashion institutes can help. International teachers will be needed to demonstrate how designs are made in Bangladesh for America and Europe.

While you can make high fashion with your culture, international design is required in order to be successful on the international market. Every factory should have their own collection. When customers come to the factory, you can show the collection – different embroidery, print techniques, washing technology. Customers can see what’s available in Bangladesh. While they might always request modifications to the design, it is important to provide something. [first].”

He said that Bangladesh is doing great when it comes to green production investments.

“This will be the top of all things. Brands [earlier] We were asked about workers and working conditions. Now, the focus is on carbon emissions. Europe will be asking you how many carbon emissions have you made by 2030. The US will be following suit.”

He stated that Europe was aiming to achieve 55% carbon emissions by 2030, and zero by 2050. “So, if you exceed the limit, you’ll have to pay. It will increase the cost of products.

Atlan, whose organization has members from 40 nations, representing 150,000 businesses with 22m workers or 70% of global apparel supply chain, also mentioned dispute resolution.

He stated that the IAF’s mission is to act as a bridge between brands and manufacturers. He also highlighted how many brands cancelled orders during the pandemic, “left goods on the road”, or didn’t pay for what was received. This caused a significant loss to the industry, particularly Bangladeshi manufacturers.

“In our interviews for newspapers, we always mention them and when it comes out, brands become a little more responsible because we make this public.”

Atlan stated that one of the most important things being done by the IAF in the coming period was to standardize auditing rules. This would help to avoid “audit exhaustion.”

Atlan stated that no one knows what 2022 will bring, but everyone had to work together.

“People are now less able to spend money. They don’t buy clothing…it is the last thing. According to him, clothing is the most affected industry so that recession expectations slowed business.”

“The world has a large enough market. We can all work together to make it stronger. We are selling t-shirts which cost less than coffee…because of the competition between companies, they never say no to the customer. They must learn to say no,” he stated.

Atlan ended his remarks by saying the obvious, but it isn’t often acknowledged. “Without retailers manufacturers cannot survive. Retailers cannot survive without manufacturers. So we aim to bring them together. We are a part of this cause.


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