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“People still have to wear garments and no one can beat our price” 

While Tipu Munshi, Bangladesh’s Commerce Minister, was asked about the situation of Bangladesh he confirmed the slowdown in clothing exports, but noted that people still have to wear garments even during leaner economic times and no one can beat our price

Asia’s factory output weakened in October as global recession fears and China’s zero-Covid policy hurt demand. Global factory output also weakened in October as inflation soared globally as supply chains still healing from the coronavirus pandemic were hit again by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The situation is forcing consumers to rein in purchases, said a report published in Reuters.

Figure: Bangladesh produces quality apparel products with a reasonable price and exports across the world.

This has predictably affected Bangladesh’s readymade garment (RMG) industry, as insiders are wary about the upcoming months. Though they are expecting that Christmas sales may boost their outputs, however, also fearing it may not boost their exports.

According to various projections, European shoppers are likely to reduce their Christmas purchases by up to 22% which will disallow the top brands, importers of Bangladeshi apparel products, to clear their whole stock.

Industry insiders said that the situation may not change this year and if the brands can clear most of their stocks during Christmas, only then they will place more orders.

According to the Reuters report, further US interest rate hikes are also expected to force most Asian central banks to prevent sharp capital outflows by tightening their own monetary policies, even if it means cooling already soft economies, analysts say.

Manufacturing activity shrank in South Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia in October, and expanded at the slowest pace in 21 months in Japan, highlighting the pain from slowing Chinese demand and stubbornly high import costs.

While Tipu Munshi, Bangladesh’s Commerce Minister, was asked about the situation of Bangladesh he confirmed the slowdown in clothing exports, but noted that people would “still have to wear garments”, even during leaner economic times.

Figure: Tipu Munshi, Bangladesh’s Commerce Minister.

“Maybe you buy two out of four [garments], but you still have to buy it,” he said. “And no one can beat our price.”

Recently the Financial Times (FT), world’s leading global business publication, published a report saying, “Clothing is piling up at warehouses in Bangladesh as consumers tighten belts in the US, Europe and other big markets.”

The Financial Times said this quoting some manufacturers and government officials.

Manufacturers said the Financial Times that orders in the world’s largest garment exporter after China had been slowing since July because of the war in Ukraine and sanctions on Russia, and their impact on inflation, interest rates and mortgages across the world.

“Everything has gone up, so the clothing budget has squeezed,” said Faruque Hassan, President of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

“That’s why some of the brands, some of the importers have slowed down their orders.”

Hassan said that some retailers had asked Bangladeshi suppliers to stop making garments or to delay shipments for up to three months.

“That is having a huge impact because all our factories . . . have bought fabric to produce the garments and now they are having a serious crisis.”

The downturn in global clothing demand comes as Bangladeshi government, which will face an election next year, contends with higher prices for imported gas, leading to power cuts that have hit some garment producers.

The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist party has staged large rallies in recent weeks in a bid to capitalize on discontent with a weakening economy ahead of the poll.

The report — which was filed by John Reed, South Asia bureau chief of the Financial Times — also mentioned that this month, Bangladesh turned to the IMF for help, and secured a $2.3bn credit facility and another $1.3bn from its Resilience and Sustainability Facility, meant to help poorer countries address climate change and other long-term challenges.

Unlike its regional neighbors Sri Lanka and Pakistan, Bangladesh has not faced a full-blown liquidity crisis. But its foreign exchange reserves have fallen this year against the backdrop of a strengthening dollar and pressures on prices and consumer demand.

Clothing and textile production is by far the biggest industry in Bangladesh, which profited from surging sales when Covid-19 lockdowns eased and consumers indulged in ‘revenge buying’.

The south Asian country exported garments worth $42.6bn and textiles worth $2.6bn in the 12 months to the end of June, accounting for about 85 per cent of total exports, according to the BGMEA.

Making clothes for Walmart, Primark, H&M, Target and other global chains is a cornerstone industry that has helped lift many of its more than 160 million people, primarily women, out of poverty.

According to Ranjan Mahtani, Chief Executive of Epic Group, which has a factory in Bangladesh and a large business in the US, clothing sales “really spiked post-Covid because there were so many stimulus cheques”, but were now falling again, leading to “huge” inventories at retailers.

In the first months of the pandemic, Bangladesh’s garment makers were hit hard when many retailers cancelled orders. Some responded by pivoting to making masks and personal protective equipment as demand for those products climbed rapidly.

“In a country that looks chaotic from the outside, everybody was really focused,” says Vidiya Amrit Khan, Director of the family controlled Desh Garments, which supplies brands including Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger in the US, and Crew Clothing in the UK.

“This was because we had to survive.”

Hassan, the BGMEA President, said that in the latest slowdown, retailers were not cancelling orders outright. Instead they were asking for discounts or factoring warehouse charges into what they paid manufacturers whose clothing they could not sell immediately.

He added that the industry had asked the Bangladesh Bank, the country’s central bank, to press lenders to defer suppliers’ loan payments so that factories could give priority to paying wages and utility bills.

Power cuts have caused further problems at manufacturers. “Energy is a problem and because of that, a very large section of the industry is going through terrible months,” said Syed Naved Husain, Chief Executive of Beximco, one of Bangladesh’s largest companies, whose customers include Target and Zara owner Inditex.

Husain said that he thought the industry should “buy energy at the cost it’s available”, even if it meant the cost of a garment shot up.

In a fiercely competitive industry with thin margins, clothing producers in Bangladesh are especially vulnerable to changes in global consumer tastes and demand.

As clothing chains respond to pressure from shoppers and shareholders to improve their sustainability practices, garment-makers have invested in machinery and equipment aimed at reducing the use of water, power and other resources.

“What’s happening now is that fashion is under attack,” said Husain, whose company has installed solar panels, new denim washing machines and other equipment.

However, sector people also said that the sector needs a few more months, at least till March of 2023, to recover from the current losses.


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