From modest beginnings in 1965 in the apparel trade ‘Experience Group’ has evolved with the times to occupy a leadership position in the garments manufacturing industry of today. The Chairman of Experience Group Mian Maqsood Ahmad started his journey in 1965 at a young age in London, UK.
Experience Group has come to Bangladesh with their third factory Experience Clothing Co. Ltd. At present there are six factories under the Experience Group of Industries aiming to lead the fashion apparel manufacturing industry in Bangladesh. Experience Group builds growing relationships with their customers and clients to create fashionable and affordable solutions using state-of-the-art technology and equipment to ensure efficiency in their production process, low waste, and low cost.
Recently Usama Maqsood, Director, Experience Group, was in a conversation with Textile Today where he shared the journey of Experience Group, their weaving project, retail brand AMIRÁ, challenges of accessories sector etc.
Textile Today: Experience Group commenced its journey in London before the liberation war of Bangladesh. Please share us the journey of the company from beginning till now.
Usama Maqsood: First of all, I want to express my thanks to Textile Today and its ‘innovation hub’ initiative. It has been a very good media partner for not just Experience Group, rather for the whole Bangladesh textile and apparel industry. My father, Mian Maqsood Ahmad started Experience Group back in 1965 in London, UK. In the 1980’s, Mian Maqsood Ahmad bought the well-known Experience London Clothing brand. Then he started a few manufacturing units there. The company use to cater the wholesale and we also had a few retail stores – under Experience Group name.
Then in the 1990’s, in the face of UK’s economy slow down- my father had to look for cost effective alternative sourcing destinations like Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, etc. but eventually we settled down in Bangladesh. That’s how the Experience Group initiated its journey. So far Bangladesh has been a blessing for us – in terms of effective business as it is cost effective.
Textile Today: As an investment destination, you had number of options like Cambodia, Vietnam or even Pakistan – What aspects did inspire you to invest in Bangladesh in particular?
Usama Maqsood: My thoughts about Bangladesh are that I intrinsically feel that it is my country as I grew up here. I understand the people and most importantly despite having a lot of challenges in the infrastructure, energy and other facilities – people are really hardworking and dedicated. That is one of the prime reasons for Bangladesh to do well economically and for us to do business here.
Although due to the recent rising of prices of energy and other essential materials the country may not remain as cost effective as it was before. Still, it is one of the top choice destinations for sourcing textile and garments globally.
Textile Today: We know that you have started a weaving project. What is the status of the projects? How do you see investment and product ranges of your woven projects?
Usama Maqsood: We decided to move into the weaving business in the second wave of COVID. It was a surprise investment because we were still struggling due to the pandemic. But my father took the initiative of manufacturing our own fabric. As he wants to make Experience Group to be fully vertical; so that we can offer faster lead time to our customers.
The weaving project is near completion. Hopefully, within two months we can go into production. Initially it has the capacity of 50 looms. But we will increase its capacity up to 200 looms in couple of months.
In addition, we have plan to invest in knitwear with circular knit machine which will arm Experience Group to cater both knitwear and woven products. As for product ranges, we will make cotton, cotton blend, cotton spandex and viscose. This vertical expansion will give us the advantage of providing our customers with A-Z solutions.
Textile Today: How the textile industry of Bangladesh can address the current order crisis, is this situation temporary? Is this only due to recession in the west because of Russia-Ukraine war or anything else?
Usama Maqsood: I will put the current order crisis is a symptom emanated from the global economic turmoil as the whole world is experiencing inflation, energy crisis, etc. Thus, consumers around the world are buying less which is leading to stockpile in fashion buyers and retailers’ end. I think this impact is being felt in the Bangladesh textile and apparel industry.
There are some internal challenges as well – for instance local energy shortage is hampering the textile and RMG industry’s production. My industry colleagues express their disarray of this situation. This is a common phenomenon across all the local industries who uses gas.
To be frank, I don’t see any single solution to this problem because there are many aspects to this energy crisis. I will definitely hope that the government supports the industry in any way they can – like providing uninterrupted supply of gas. At the same time, the country needs to market itself as a champion apparel manufacturer, our good practices, our USGBC LEED Certified factories to the globe. This is the way forward for us.
Yes, the order crisis will not go away overnight and in the current global scenario, this scenario might prolong. As it is totally dependent on end-consumers and market situation. For instance, one of our prominent export destinations, the UK is experiencing a record high inflation, as well as, high fuel price. As a result, consumers are focusing on buying essential items like food and paying energy bills. Resulting a slowdown in clothing purchase.
But eventually the order depression will go away just like in past and garment is a necessity for people. What I see, is that shoppers will move to mid-low to low-end clothing retailers to save cash. But eventually, we will experience growth again.
Textile Today: Experience Group has a high-street retail brand AMIRÁ. Kindly share us the future plan regarding AMIRÁ.
Usama Maqsood: AMIRÁ is relatively a new startup – providing ethnic lifestyle and innovative high-street retail clothing. Currently, we have four store and the response we are getting from shoppers are huge. And given the recent challenging scenario persisting in the domestic market – AMIRÁ is rebranding itself. We are planning to open stores in the right places across the country. Soon we are opening a store in Mymensingh which is a hub due to the universities, hospitals and other communities. Simultaneously, we will open another store in Mirpur, Dhaka. Afterwards, we are looking at further opportunities to expand across the country.
Our target customer is mostly women aged between 18 to up to 40. Having said that, AMIRÁ wants to accessible to all age groups – men and women. We want to give our customers the rich design diversity, fabric innovation and quality.
AMIRÁ wants to diminish the import dependency from Pakistani and Indian made ethnic wear like kameez, Panjabi, two or three pieces. Instead, we do a lot of market research on Pakistani and Indian ethnic wear trendy items and make our own unique designs to provide the most attractive and stylish ethnic wear for our Bangladeshi customers achieving the highest quality possible along with affordable range. Utilizing high-quality fabrics with in-house designing, printing and manufacturing process, for the best outcome.
Textile Today: Accessories business has a big potential in Bangladesh and the business is booming here. As a leader in the segment, what is your observation regarding the challenges of the sector? What more the sector needs to grow in a sustainable way?
Usama Maqsood: Experience Group has an accessories unit in the EPZ. There we mainly focus on making garment accessories like hangtags, polybags, etc. From my observation I have seen that as the accessories is the last item in garment shipment – you must be top-notch efficient to deliver in short lead-time to be successful in this business. There is almost no room for error or we have to give a lot amount in penalties.
In accessories sector, some of the big names are doing really good. Accessories makers are holistically limiting the import of zippers, buttons, etc. from abroad. Which is a great boost for Bangladesh’s apparel industry. Garment accessories has a big role to play in Bangladesh’s market.
Eventually the order depression will go away just like in past and garment is a necessity for people. What I see, is that shoppers will move to mid-low to low-end clothing retailers to save cash. We will experience growth again.
Groupwise, our next move is to expand our investment in accessories and packaging. Experience Group will make all the high-end apparel accessories like the RFID tag for which the Bangladesh RMG market is not ready. At the same time, other value-added accessories and packaging products like leather PU, leather patches for denim jeans, shorts, etc. heat transfer is a big thing in the accessories business which we want to do.
Not just the garment items rather other industries like food packaging, stationary, etc. for the local market, as well as, for export. We want to diminish the import dependence on China.
So, what we are aiming to establish a compliant accessories unit within the next five years. At the same time, with all the necessary nomination from buyers – as this business is based upon nomination and we will emphasis on getting that.
Most importantly, our expansion will focus on making recyclable and high-end accessories and packaging items. We will export to leading markets like Europe and USA. We are confident that we can make our products as price competitive as like Chinese ones. Overall, we are focusing into market and product diversification in the accessories sector to make Experience Group more successful.
Textile Today: We know Experience Group is an innovation and R&D-based company. How innovation and R&D are leading the company towards success?
Usama Maqsood: The first thing I want to emphasize is technology. It has a vital role in Experience Group’s success. If anybody wants to stay competitive and on top, they have to invest in technology. The good news for Experience Group is that in this year we are going to finish implementing ERP for the whole group. And I personally pushed for a holistic implementation of ERP. For the first time, I can see the monthly, yearly analytics of my company. I can also see different teams’ performances and other necessary analytical viewpoints. As a result, we can do better business and be more competitive.
Besides, another vital aspect for our success is investing in people.
Textile Today: Bangladesh apparel sector is robustly working to diversify its market. What is your suggestion here? Which new destinations should get more focuses and how can Bangladesh move forward?
Usama Maqsood: In future, we have to move toward with high-end value-added fashion items and automation to offset the higher labor cost. Some of the RMG manufacturers are coming up and investing in value-added apparel factories. The transition is happening gradually which is natural. Because by overnight, we cannot change our bulk production of basic apparel making industry. The good news is that recently I am seeing a lot of high-end apparel orders are being placed in Bangladesh that would have been placed in China.
As for sourcing destination transition, a lot of talk has been going around for Africa. But unfortunately, Africa is not that developed to cater the apparel manufacturing in a massive scale. Because the continent lacks all political stability, logistics, well-trained workforce, etc.
Although, we are seeing manufacturing hubs sprung up in Morocco, Egypt and other African countries that are near to Europe due to shorter lead time. As for Bangladesh’s way forward – like I said earlier – investing in technology and people is the ultimate key.