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Innovation is key for Bangladesh textile and apparel industry to meet the international standards

Barrister Shehrin Salam Oishee is the youngest Barrister to be called to the Bar from City Law School (CLS) at the age of 21. Shehrin Salam Oishee is now serving as the Director of Envoy Group and Envoy Textiles, one of the foremost textile and RMG industry in the country. Barrister Shehrin Salam Oishee is the youngest elected Director of the incumbent BGMEA board.

Shehrin Salam Oishee, a second-generation business entrepreneur in the textile and RMG industry and the only daughter of Abdus Salam Murshedy MP, former President of BGMEA, MD of Envoy Group and one of the pioneers of the T&A industry since the early 80s.

Figure 1: Barrister Shehrin Salam Oishee, Director, Envoy Group and Envoy Textiles & Director, BGMEA.

Shehrin Salam has an outstanding educational history. She excelled in her academic achievements in Business and Accounting as an equally important area of concentration besides Law and also has done MSC in Criminology and Criminal Justice from the University of Dhaka.

Recently Shehrin Salam Oishee shared her thoughts with Textile Today on the current context of Bangladesh’s textile and apparel industry.

Textile Today: Just like previous setback incident- in post Covid- Bangladesh’s textile and apparel (T&A) industry is again back on its feet and exceling rapidly. What are the factors leading this drive?

Shehrin Salam Oishee: Since the COVID-19 wave hit the world, as the textile and apparel sector is a business spread across the globe, so the effect was from all sides. Bangladesh, as a nation, stood strong against the effects of the pandemic. The timely decision of the government to lockdown, enabled the nation to control the spread, when many other of our competing nations were still operating in full capacity, i.e. Vietnam. Eventually, they had subsided by the effects of the pandemic, but that was the time when we had kept the textile and apparel sector open, facing all odds, and this could not have been possible without the dynamic leadership of our honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Her support for this sector is immense and all the health safety steps that were instructed from her government and from the sector as well, all being followed to the books under strict scrutiny allowed us to keep the rate of COVID patients to 0.05% in this sector. Following the measures taken for mass vaccination of the workers at their workplace played a pivotal role in further ensuring the safety and enabling the sector to cover up the newly spurred orders, moving to us from the nations which had not yet stood up to a normal state of working. The vaccination was actually the only crucial solution that led to a better condition in our buyer countries too, which helped the market demand to spur, subsequently leading to more incoming orders.

Besides this, the state of affairs in our competing nations did assist our growth to a great extent. The socio-political instability in Myanmar did fetch us orders from their end too. China, being the big fish in this market, had started concentrating on automation industries and high-end products, which further got us orders that would have otherwise gone to them.

Textile Today: How can Bangladesh T&A industry mitigate the impact of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and capture market share there?

Shehrin Salam Oishee: There have surely been many companies in the textile and apparel sector of Bangladesh that had exported to Russia and Ukraine. Only in the apparel sector, in the last fiscal year of 2020-21, there was an export of around $600 million which in the half fiscal year of 2021-22 was in itself approximately $480 million, which shall further increase in the latter half of the fiscal year.

Figure 2: Barrister Shehrin Salam Oishee is the youngest elected Director of the incumbent BGMEA board.

The trend is same in the apparel exports in Ukraine being around $11.75 million in the fiscal year of 2020-21 and around USD 8.6 million in the half fiscal year of 2021-22. With such growth in exports, the conflict between these 2 nations is surely meant to set a negative trend in exports in the coming days, and if conditions worsen, we are up to some continued adverse numbers for sure. Until present date, there has been ample cooperation from Russian companies to ensure the payment is made in possible alternative means.

Textile Today: Amid the LDC graduation buzzword what policy and decision should the T&A industry take to keep up the momentum?

Shehrin Salam Oishee: As per the data of 2020-2021, appx. 70% of Bangladesh’s exports enjoy Duty free access as LDC, which shall come to an end if the LDC graduation takes place. To tackle the loss of this facility, considering the importance of market access to sustain Bangladesh’s trade and economic growth, the transition time may be extended for smoother graduation. This will help us to build internal capacity.

Supports are required to prepare for taking the challenges of a developing country as we all as to make the supply chain more sustainable and resilient. Supports may include –

  1. Special financing scheme for SMEs.
  2. Technical and financial assistance for technology adoption, re-skilling and up-skilling of people, and internal capacity building for reducing emission and promoting responsible /cleaner production.
  3. Innovation development. BGMEA is establishing a Center of Innovation, Efficiency & OSH. We have also pledged to send 500 female RMG workers to the Asian University for Women (AUW). These initiatives may be supported.

Collaborative approach is required to promote investments bilaterally. We are focusing on diversification of products and fiber. Particularly, we have a capacity shortage to produce the raw materials like yarn and woven fabric. We are giving more priority on fiber diversification as 80% of our products are made of cotton whereas 70% of global clothing consumption is made of non-cotton. Bangladesh is a green field for investments in Textiles and High Value-Added Items. Policy realignment is required to facilitate the transition of the industry from subsidy dependence to a value-added industry.

Textile Today: Global fashion transformation from cotton to manmade fiber is eminent. How Bangladesh can adapt it quickly to cater the growing segment. And how can we mitigate the existing challenges?

Shehrin Salam Oishee: The non-cotton, aka man-made fibre demand in the world is growing each day. Data on Global Fibre Consumption in 2018 shows that non-cotton, synthetic items consumption was appx. 62.5%, compared to the cotton items consumption being appx. 25.30 %. The latter share is what the majority, appx. 80% of Bangladesh’s production is based on cotton. To cater to the global fashion transformation, Bangladesh shall now begin the change in the items produced in order to capture the nearly untouched market demand.

This shall surely mean concentration on a new phase of industrial change, where the subsidy of the government shall play a pivotal role in making existing buyers resort to non-cotton based items and also interest new entrepreneurs to take up new business ventures in non-cotton production. Incentives for the new industry shall be main here. Our incumbent government is very much inclined in enabling new business trends and with that objective have also allocated 100 economic zones. The new change in the production chain shall be made easier if some of these economic zones can be realised in fast track basis for this priority sector.

The next best expansion plan for Bangladesh is expansion in the areas which conquer the majority of market demand, and its high time to shift the trend as Bangladesh has nearly exhausted its existing capacity in the present market share of cotton-based products.

Textile Today: Being a mother, entrepreneur, and leader -kindly enlighten us how challenging it is for women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh’s socio-economic aspect.

Shehrin Salam Oishee: Bangladesh has come a long way since independence. The scenario of women’s empowerment in Bangladesh is exemplary and this textile and apparel sector has played a pivotal role in facilitating that. But in every way, the challenges faced by a women keen to work are innumerable and never-ending. Here I shall prefer talking about my own experience. Life has dramatically changed since I became a mother. I stand on 2 boats at all times, trying to balance the conscience where I have to make friends with the thought that even by being a working mother I can provide adequate quality time to my baby.

It is important we women face challenges with a smile, as there shall not be an end to any. No one shall make it an easy bed of roses for us to make our path to success. Facing all odds and fighting back is the real deal. Often I end up feeling I am not being good at either of the roles I am playing, but that’s when we need to be stronger. I am sure mothers who are female workers in our sector, feel the same as me, we are no different. But I strongly believe they have a much stronger drive to work for their own advancement otherwise they would never have been in the place where they are today. This sector houses over 65% women workers and this proudly presents our nation as one where women empowerment is not just preached but also realised.

Textile Today: At a recently concluded Textile Talent Hunt (TTH)’s 7th season grand finale event -BGMEA President Faruque Hassan stressed that innovation will be key to progress for the RMG industry. Kindly share us your thought on this.

Shehrin Salam Oishee: This is the 21st century and nearly all 1st generation businessmen, the pioneers, have possibly shown the best of their abilities in taking this sector ahead, but mostly in the traditional means, which was the accepted method back then. Now the 2nd generation is more so fully in swing to add the new dimension to the business that shall be adaptive of all the new changes that the buying practices have envisaged over the recent years.

Innovation doesn’t necessarily mean bringing in new venture plans, but modernising the existing methods too. Innovation is the best means of enabling this sector to meet international standards besides meeting the extending demands of the buyers.

Textile Today: Skilled labor force is the epitome of efficiency and success. What steps BGMEA is taking and how can we further enhance it?

Shehrin Salam Oishee: BGMEA has taken a number of initiatives, already in operation, to improve the skills of the labor force. Mentioning a few out of the many others, i.e.

  • Skills and Training Enhancement Project (STEP) with the intention to Produce Skilled Manpower, for their income generation, job placement for skilled operator and Residential Training in Challenged area;
  • Skills for Employment Investment Program (SEIP) with the objective of ensuring Skilled Workers, up-scaling of existing Workers and training of the trainers of Assessor;
  • Traditional Training on Best HR Practices, Collective Bargaining and Supervisory Skill with the objective of Research & Training, Up-scaling of existing Workers & Management, Skill Gap reducing, Creating Harmony and awareness in the workplace between the worker and the management.

Textile Today: Envoy is the 1st LEED Platinum Certified denim factory in the world. How is this Green transformation aiding Envoy?

Shehrin Salam Oishee: Bangladesh has by far the highest number of green garment factories in the world. US Green Building Council (USGBC) certified a total of 157 Bangladeshi factories as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), among them 47 are LEED platinum-rated. 40 out of the world’s top 100 garment factories are in Bangladesh.

Moreover, 500 more factories are in the pipeline for certification. Envoy Textiles Ltd. was the first textile in the world to receive LEED Platinum Certification.  In a world full of competition, where value is added to products by the accreditation of the institution itself, such certification surely made us stand out amongst the other similar industries of its kind. Surely it is a matter of collective pride that the whole Envoy Textiles family shares.

If anyone has any feedback or input regarding the published news, please contact: info@textiletoday.com.bd

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