Country’s garment business has stumbled over many times from its beginning. However, the industry has overcome all the obstacles and recently, Bangladesh has moved forward a step in terms of working environment index. As a result, buyers rely on Bangladesh as a strong hotspot for sourcing, which helps Bangladesh to hold the second largest apparel exporter position in the world. However, to uplift this industry many pioneers and dedicators are working continuously.
Sawpan Kumar Ghosh is one of them who is now working at SM Knitwears Ltd (SM Group), the leading company in Bangladesh RMG sector as an Executive Director (Marketing & Operation). Sawpan Kumar Ghosh, one of most dominating noteworthy RMG leader and business icon in Bangladesh, has 26 years’ versatile experience and in-depth knowledge on knitwear industry.
In a recent conversation with Abir Basak, Research Assistant and Reporter of Textile Today, he shared about his company’s development, sector’s challenges, obstacles, sustainability issue, fashion business etc. Here is the illuminated part of the discussion for Textile Today readers.
Textile Today: Tell us about the journey of SM Knitwears and what is the present condition of this company?
Sawpan Kumar Ghosh: This company started its commercial operation in the year 2001 at Shirirchala, Bhabanipur, Gazipur by setting up one joint venture knit composite plant under the umbrella of SM group in Bangladesh. We are a large business conglomerate engaged in domestic and overseas business maintaining full compliance. As a part of the natural growth of business operation, we are now spreading over from retailing fashion wear to the housing business. Basically, we make all kinds of knit apparels for both women-men and kids. SM Knitwears has recently achieved sustainability certificate from NKD along with ACCORD, Sedex, Okeo-Tex, BSCI, GOTS, ISO 9001:2008 etc and this company one of the best five factory supplier in the world and the only one in Bangladesh for Li & Fung. Zara, Next, Bench, Kmart, NKD, Carrefour, Toray, Primark along with other European and American buyers who are working with us. They trust us much because of on-time delivery of qualitative products. We are manufacturing a maximum 3.5 million garments per month with modern sustainable equipment’s. I can remember when I joined here, the company’s turnover was US$ one million per month only, but now our annual turnover is US$ 70 million. It is a real achievement for us and we are gradually growing as a team.
Textile Today: What type of policy has SM Knitwears taken for sustainability growth?
Sawpan Kumar Ghosh: Sustainability is now a hot topic. Our whole apparel industry is working very hard on it. Keeping in mind on this issue, SM Knitwears gives the highest priority to ensure its best using. We had a chemical ETP plant before, but now effluent is being treated in a modern biological plant by canceling previous one. The present capacity of ETP is 200 m3/ hour. For Accord inspection, we have our own sustainability team who monitors regularly as an internal audit. We are working towards Zero Discharge at ETP. For highest sustainability, we use power saving lights, servo motor in the sewing machine and exhaust gas boiler.
Textile Today: From which angle SM Knitwears is different from others? What type of privileges is SM Knitwears giving to their workers and staffs?
Sawpan Kumar Ghosh: We give 600Tk attendance bonus to the workers whereas others give 400Tk. Salaries are given on time, within the first 7 days of a month. Working time is fixed, daily 8 hours. We strictly follow international labor laws, that’s why we don’t get any complain from our staffs and workers. Our mid-level management is trained up in the factory’s internal training center to be highly competent. They participate in BGMEA’s regular training programs. High officials are also sent abroad. We arrange fire drill program in every month.
Diversified product making in large quantity is our strength. We have a plan to build a high-class design center soon.
Textile Today: Bangladesh has moved forward a step in sustainability and compliance issue. What do you think about it?
Sawpan Kumar Ghosh: Building green factories and developing sustainability cultures are taking Bangladesh at the unique height. There are 13 LEED Platinum factories including 67 LEED green registered factories in our country. This is undoubtedly a real breakthrough for our RMG sector.
However, to make a green and safe factory, not only Bangladesh, buyers should also pressurize to all the neighboring clothes manufacturing countries. This is a competitive market. To build a green and safe factory, the owners have to invest a lot. All the members of BGMEA invested a huge amount of money to upgrade workplace safety in terms of fire, electrical, structural issues, production process and new machinery. New automatic, semi-automatic and resource efficient machinery have been added. Meanwhile, the investors want to bring back the invested money. But the buyers are not paying the expected price considering that.
So I think, local investors will be bashed in the business if buyers buy clothes from non-compliance factories of the neighboring countries.
Textile Today: What is the condition of the Bangladesh apparel industry compared to the neighboring countries? From which sides this country is behind or ahead than others? How are the future prospects?
Sawpan Kumar Ghosh: India is very strong in textile, they have their own cotton, own chemical, yarn, and fabric. They are the largest cotton and woven fabric producer. They are the second largest manmade fiber producer in the world. India has observed double-digit growth in the apparel sector, which is very challenging for us. China is leaving their market share as they are giving more concentration on higher value items. This is the opportunity for Bangladesh to grab the chair. Despite being the second largest exporter of RMG products, the country is yet to build its own clothing brands with name recognition in the international arena.
On the other hand, China and Bangladesh started the business with low-cost clothing making at the same time. Today they are producing high quality and varied products and giving us the opportunity to access the market of their abandoned products. Like China, South Korea and Taiwan have similarly industrialized their country. Therefore, we have to change the strategy too. Instead of relying on cheap labor prices, the competition will be sustained by increasing productivity and quality. Along with that, diversification of the product is needed for the expansion of the market or parallel expansion. We need support from all the stakeholders and especially policy and financial support from our government and banks.
Textile Today: We know, SM Knitwears has own domestic brand named ‘Smartex’. Do you have any plans to go Smartex’s clothes in the international market? What should be done to increase the popularity of domestic brands in the international arena?
Sawpan Kumar Ghosh: We have no plans yet regarding on this issue. We started our own brand for the local arena’s demand in 2002. In order to contribute more to Bangladesh’s economy ‘Smartex’ has started 35 total shopping outlets all over the country. Beside capital Dhaka, we have attempted to provide service in the rural areas. Country’s many companies have their own creations like Sailor from Epillyon, Yellow from Beximco, SaRa from Snowtex, Klubhaus from Dekko etc. They are doing excellent. The only homemade brand can represent Bangladesh strongly in the world fashion place. Besides, we can get huge popularity by branding our own products.
Bangladeshi manufacturers need to showcase their innovative products as well as the industrial strength. A Bangladeshi manufacturer has to keep in mind that he is going to fight brands like Zara, H&M or Marks and Spencer. The key tool to fight is innovative fashion design and qualitative products at a reasonable price. Bangladesh has to have international exposure. It has to arrange more fashion shows and seminars to showcase product diversification and varieties, as well as need to participate in international events to learn about fashion trends.
Textile Today: Popular brands like H&M, Zara, GAP, Uniqlo opened their outlets in neighboring country ‘India’ or ‘Malaysia’. What are the reasons for not opening their outlets in Bangladesh? If started, then how will it affect the local brands?
Sawpan Kumar Ghosh: It’s a disappointing matter for us that no multinational brands have opened their outlets yet in Bangladesh although we make their products. This country has moved far ahead in the economic index. The purchasing power of mass people has increased than before; luxurious, attractive shopping malls are built. People go to buy clothes every year in other countries where the outlets are available. We hope brand authorities will concentrate on it and start their marketing by establishing outlets in Bangladesh in near future.
In case of conflicting with local brands, I think, quality works as the main catalyst. If local brands maintain their product’s quality, no foreign brand can beat them. Local brands have versatile experience on country’s people’s taste and demand. On the other hand, local fashion houses are expert to make and design traditional attires. This phenomenon and advantage will keep ahead of our local brands.
Textile Today: What is the reason for Bangladesh to lag behind in the designing arena?
Sawpan Kumar Ghosh: Yes, we are not so much rich in the designing sector. Actually, this sector needs huge investment. Who worked here earlier to accelerate, they did not get a good response from buyers. Buyers chose their own designs every time. For this reason, our factory owners did not get encouraged to develop this sector.
Hopefully, some factories such as Auto-Tex, GMS, Urmi etc have started to develop their design studio to speed up the product development process. If this sector is amplified in future successfully, we can get extra facilities on price negotiation policy.