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Transformation of the textile and apparel industry of Bangladesh through innovation

The New Year starts with a new hope for development and sustainability for the textile and apparel sector of Bangladesh. With formidable improvement in the working conditions in the RMG industries now Bangladesh is becoming destination for more and more buyers looking to source readymade garments. Still there are lots of challenges to overcome and lots of areas to improve before we can ensure a sustainable business. One of the major challenges would be to introduce innovation in the textile and apparel industry to gradually transform from RMG orientation towards technical textiles, nonwoven and functional apparels. Because the future of textiles wouldn’t be the same and to capitalize the ever changing market we have to transform our industry through innovation and adaptation. This article is about the innovative capacity of our textile industry and the need of transforming the industry.

Introduction
The availability of cheap manpower and some enthusiastic entrepreneurs led the RMG industry to reach today’s position. The ever growing RMG industry is being assisted comprehensively by the Primary Textile Industry to maintain competitiveness as the room for profitability is shrinking day by day. With more emphasis on the OHS and compliance issues and with the emergence of more and more potential competitors around the world, the dynamics of the RMG business is bound to change in the near future. Fortunately, Bangladesh is still holding a top place firmly amid multifaceted weaknesses and threats. But business is becoming very tough in the upcoming days as the costs are inexorable rising in parallel with the buyers’ crave for low prices. That’s why the transformation of the textile and also the apparel industry is a call of time. An effective balance between low-tech RMG and hi-tech textiles could be the right portfolio of business for the industry in the next decade; and for this there is no way but to introduce rigorous innovation and elective adaptation of appropriate technologies and products.

Why and How to Transform
A woven RMG industry that sources fabric from abroad can export a basic shirt yielding up to 10-15% profit on its FOB price. A knit RMG industry can produce a T-shirt or a Polo-shirt yielding profit at most 15-20% of its FOB price and a knit composite industry can retain up to 30% profit. Whereas, a blazer or a suite can yield up to 40-50% profit.
This is how profitability rises with more sophisticated products. Interestingly many of the transformations need no major up gradation of technology. The profitability is even higher with functional apparels, technical textiles and nonwoven products.

This is why the industry needs to transform slowly but steadily towards sophistication unless it would be really tough for industries to retain enough profit in the upcoming days to remain competitive.

01

An industry making only low end RMGs like T-shirts, Polo-shirts or shorts (FOB less than $10) have really a small room for margin and often they have to cut their operational costs. In such circumstances, they may have to sacrifice with their working conditions or compliance or building safety issues.

But it’s also true that for a country like Bangladesh, basically laggards in technology usage, it’s hard to transform overnight to hi-tech products. That’s why a gradual transformation has to be initiated right now.
Gradual transformation will come into play when the industry would start embracing innovation; innovation in technology, innovation in design, innovation in process for which customers will pay. To be called an innovation, an idea must be replicable at an economical cost and must satisfy a specific need. And innovative capacity in an industrial context is defined as the ability of a firm to innovate, that is to introduce a new product, method or process that is new to them, that creates value and the customers are willing to pay for it.

02For example, a RMG industry that only produces low-tech consumer apparels like shorts, polo-shirts or tank tops decides to do suits and jackets for the first time. This is innovation for that particular factory. Making suits and jackets may not be a new thing to the world for that factory as they are introducing the products for the first time, it is innovation for them.

This is how gradual transformation can take place as industries will start to compete searching for the appropriate product or technology or process to innovate according to the their indigenous capability and industry framework.

Functional Apparels, Technical Textiles and Nonwoven
03The future of textiles is trending towards technical items and nonwoven products and the future of apparels towards functional wearable. New technologies are being introduced every year designed to manufacture variety of functional products in the field of technical textiles, functional apparel and nonwoven. In fact, technological innovation has become the driver in growth of the textile industries in the textile value chain.

Apparel in known to perform multiple functions – from basic protection to aesthetics. Function apparel can therefore be defines as a generic term that includes all such types of clothing or assemblies that are specifically engineered to deliver a pre-defined performance or functionality to the user, over and above its normal functions.The industry has to learn exploiting technical textile technology to design functional apparels gradually so that the immense pressure on basic apparel to yield the required profitability is optimized.
04Functional apparels have a huge market and it is increasing every year globally. The global market for functional apparel rose to $162.2 billion in 2014 and it has a higher range of profit retention compared to basic apparels.
China has been transforming their industry gradually for 8-10 years and they have already developed their indigenous capability to produce range of functional items in textiles and apparels.

Though this is early days for Bangladesh, but the conceptualization should start from now on as the academic and industrial innovation and adaptation capability is quite weak compared to China.
When the textile industry is in concern, Bangladesh has gained self-sufficiency in basic knit fabric production, dyeing and finishing. Now the industry should concentrate on warp knitting and the range of warp knitted technical products to innovate. There are range of technical textile areas to look for as shown in the above info graphic.
The woven industry is still in the developing stage although some denim manufacturers have already reached world class quality. Woven industries should eye for double cloths, carpets, jacquards, cords and other high valued fabrics in the upcoming days.

Nonwoven industries are still at the stage of outset, as only few companies are producing linings, interlinings and some other low-valued products. But there scopes to produce value added items like diapers, nonwoven bags and functional parts of technical textiles.

Conclusion
Textile engineering is not anymore decades-old stereotypes of a labor-intensive, factory-based industry in which men and women toiled over looms and spinning jacks. In fact, the clang of the early production machinery is being replaced by modern computer controlled technologies that are able to produce revolutionary products with diverse range of functionalities.

05

So, there is no scope to develop as a textile producing nation clinging only to the basic apparel production. The industry must transform towards the hi-tech technologies and value added products gradually. But, the transformation must be in an optimized manner so that the business remains sustainable. Leapfrogging from a low tech RMG industry to a hi-tech technical textile industry is a bit too ambitious, but the roadmap should be there to transform the industry slowly and steadily in the upcoming years.

References:

1. The information are provided by senior merchandisers working in the RMG industries.

2.  Functional Clothing-Definition and Classification, Deepti Gupta, Indian Journal of Fibre & Textile Research, Vol. 36

3.  Performance Apparel Outlook, 20

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