For the Bangladeshis, By the Bangladeshis

With a population of almost 167 million, Bangladesh’s retail clothing market has the potential to be almost equal to that of France, Italy and the UK combined. The prospect of earning in millions have attracted many businesses to set foot in the industry and many have flourished creating the big homegrown labels we know and wear today. Yes, it is true that not every single person partakes in this market. Even if that’s the case, according to Abdullah Hil Rakib, Managing Director of TEAM who are responsible for Twelve Clothing Limited, it is still a market worth BDT 20,000 crores. These are the staggering figures behind Bangladesh’s fashion retail market and we had the opportunity to speak to some of its most influential figures.

How it all started
Bangladesh is known to be the producers and exporters of world class products. Be it Zara, H&M that lays the threads of foundation for their products. Yet, we have always lacked good quality products in our local market (until now that is). “Our step into retail was influenced primarily by the key fundamental factors that are addressed, essentially when starting any business, i.e. identifying a potential problem and coming up with a workable solution”, explains Shah Rayeed Chowdhury, Director of Noir.

Shah Rayeed Chowdhury
Director, Noir

“Streetwear will continue to be the leading force that determines all fashion. 2017-18 was the year when even luxury labels collaborated with streetwear brands to reach millennials by now it is evident that streetwear is more than a fad,France, Italy and the UK combined. The prospect of earning in millions have attracted many businesses to set foot in the industry and many have flourished creating the big homegrown labels we know and wear today.”

Brand: Noir.
Photograph from ICE Today Archives

Before, all the garment products that were available in the local market were either coming from China or in the form of leftovers from garments stock which were not good enough to export abroad, explained Maroofa Islam, Chairman of RAW Nation.

Maroofa Islam
Chairman, RAW Nation

“We will only be able to change people’s perception of our local products by delivering high quality and trendy designs that are equal to the foreign brands”

Brand: Raw Nation.
Photograph from Klubhaus

For Rayana Hossain, Chairman of Klubhaus the motivation behind getting into retail business was to make the best use of existing talents and provide them the much-needed platform.

Rayana Hossain
Chairman, Klubhaus

“Bangladesh still maintains its status as the second largest garments manufacturer in the world, and to cement this further it’s time for the country to move forward towards creating brands that are of that stature as well”

Brand: Klubhaus.
Photograph from Klubhaus

“We have the design talent  at DekkoISHO, and the best possible means to produce a global retail brand, so why not start one”, she elaborated. RISE also shared similar motives and wanted to make premium quality garments for the people of Bangladesh which are on par with foreign brands. “I wanted my brand to produce the same stuff for us that garments produce for consumers in abroad”, stated Faheem Mosharraf, CEO of RISE.

Faheem Mosharraf
CEO, RISE.

“Our brands will continue to evolve and offer stylings that global brands offer”

Brand: RISE.
Photograph from ICE Today Archives

This motivation was aided by the increasing youth and urban population of Bangladesh. “We saw that people were spending their money but weren’t really getting any value for it”, conceded Rakib. This gave rise to the need for local retailers to capitalise and create a win-win situation for all parties involved. All these pioneering brands foresaw the niche markets that will benefit greatly from their products. So, the prospect of retail growth and growing purchasing power of people combined with the existing expertise and resources stirred up the perfect recipe to introduce international taste and quality products in the local market. “We strive to fill the gap and create a market where customers can find their complete wardrobe solution under one roof”, Monnujan Nargis, CEO of Le Reve also echoed her echelon of taste-makers in fashion and retail industry of Bangladesh.

Monnujan Nargis
CEO, Le Reve

“We strive to fill the gap and create a market where customers can find their complete wardrobe solution under one roof”

Brand: Le Reve.
Photograph from ICE Today Archives

Among all of them have one thing in common: every brand has a strong record of manufacturing apparel items for global buyers and that expertise has enabled them to win hearts of a burgeoning new breed of consumers who want to look style be in streetwear or a kurta or ripped jeans.

A work in progress
Our superior knowledge and unparalleled expertise in the realms of textile would obviously mean that our product quality is on par with that of our international counterparts. But a good portion of consumers still prefer to buy foreign brands because it is human nature to always think that the grass is greener on the other side. However, Nargis from Le Reve believes that his is a problem that won’t continue to persist. “As we move forward, people will continue to become more aware of new trends and global fashion”, she added. On that note, Klubhaus’ Rayana addressed the need for us to start focusing on branding, not marketing. A few of the owners of local retail brands believe that it takes time to establish a brand and the whole evolution part shows the brand how to stand the test of time. “Our brands will continue to evolve and offer stylings that global brands offer”, said Faheem from RISE.

Abdullah Hil Rakib
Managing Director, Twelve

“You see fashion is something which is open to interpretation. Something I find fashionable may not be perceived the same way by you. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that either one of us is wrong. This is why the market need should have segmentation to cater to every individual’s needs and at Twelve, we have always fulfilled”

Brand: TWELVE.
Photograph from ICE Today Archives

But we would still need to raise awareness and create the mindset that “Yes, Bangladeshi products too are worth hundreds of dollars!” For that, we will need to continuously make sure that the style, fitting and comfort of our products are top notch, explained Maroofa. “We will only be able to change people’s perception of our local products by delivering high quality and trendy designs that are equal to the foreign brands”, she added. Obviously, changing the mindset of people will take some time but as long as we create our own identity and remain consistent, we will be able to fully utilise our competitive advantage. Such are the beliefs of Rayeed who also stated, “At the end of the day people opt for brands that are authentic and honest to themselves. For instance, I have lost counts on the number of times people had suggested that Noir should sell sarees, perfumes and so on; however, we continued to never change our beliefs or product lines. We wanted to maintain our brand identity.” With so many positive things going on, it is only a matter of time that people develop a genuine sense of loyalty towards homegrown labels. “I feel a revolution coming in the next 5 years”, added Twelve’s Rakib, “If we maintain the rate at which we are growing, we will soon be able to spread across the country. No longer will people living outside of Dhaka have to rely on non-branded goods online due to an absence of homegrown retailers.” Of course, this will also attract global players to try and penetrate our market in the future but Bangladeshi brands will be more than equipped to take them on.

Adapt, Overcome, Conquer!
The shifting the paradigm in local vs foreign brand dilemma that our market faces is an ongoing process. In order to do that, our brands will have to position themselves along with foreign competition which means keeping up with the global trends. That is easier said than done though because they will also have to cater to the need of the local market. Bangladesh has a tricky market and not all global trends sit well with us. But there is a solution to every problem and the market leaders of our great finesse. “First and foremost, the fact that global trends usually take 1 to 2 seasons to be adopted gives us the time to develop trend-right styles and understand what will and won’t work”, exclaimed Rayeed. This cushion allows our brands to think ahead of time. Keeping up with global trends does not necessarily mean that our brands have to copy everything that they do to the dot. “Le Reve factors in global trends but always interprets them in a local context”, informs Nargis. Setting up a design team that is accustomed to trends of the international market but has a good understanding of the local market as well plays a crucial role in how we prepare our collection for a season or occasion at Klubhaus, explained Rayana. “A very experimental and literal take of this practice can be seen in our pant sarees, that are doing very well at Klubhaus at the moment”, she added. Another example could be Noir’s ripped jeans. They introduced them but with sealed patches so that they could welcome a new trend with open arms but at the same time keep cultural values in mind. Faheem also believes in this practice and that’s why most RISE products display a strong fusion between traditional and international trends.
RAW Nation, on the other hand, believes in a slightly different approach. While most of their products are crafted in a way that caters to our culture, they also have separate lines for international fashion. “As a fashion brand, we cannot ignore the latest global trends. This is why we have limited edition lines where we represent global fashion trends”, added Maroofa. These products are produced in limited quantities with their sole purpose being to gain a better knowledge of how the market reacts to global trends. This will eventually lead to segmentation of the market, explains Rakib. “You see fashion is something which is open to interpretation. Something I find fashionable may not be perceived the same way by you. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that either one of us is wrong. This is why the market need should have segmentation to cater to every individual’s needs and at Twelve, we have always fulfilled that aptly.”

Pricing Paradox
Another incongruity fashion retailers often suffer from is coming up with the correct pricing strategy. The chief purpose of a business is to generate profit but society has conditioned us in a way which causes us to prefer price/quantity over quality and this can be quite a challenge to overcome. There are several factors you need to keep in mind while setting prices such as fabric, cut, handwork and so on. “Some of our denim should be priced over hundreds of dollars but because we want to maintain our quality and show Bangladeshi consumers what we are capable of manufacturing, we have to cut down on profits a bit”, stated Faheem. This is why all of these brands differentiate their products with the use of various lines ranging from basic to premium. “We have segregated our products into different lines; Boral adheres to basic styles and design, under Atrai one can find more casual, trendy prints, fabrics and cuts, and Mogra goes a step further than that. The prices of these lines are broken down accordingly”, explained Rayana. Brands like Noir, RAW Nation, and Le Reve also fix the pricing of their products keeping in mind about the purchasing power of their consumer group and the most important factor-quality of the product. At times it’s undoubtedly a daunting task however, our fashion brands have successfully managed to do it.

Reading the crystal ball
With the constant evolution of the fashion industry, it is almost impossible for normal people to foresee what the future holds. But then again, these are individuals who have an unparalleled understanding of the market. 2019 is a brand new year and so we wanted to pick the brains of these experts to know more about upcoming trends. While Rayeed believes that 2019 will see the rise of apparel deeply embedded with pop culture, Nargis believe that tropical and floral prints will make a return. Maroofa stated how she expects bold colours to be prominent this year and Faheem is expecting a shift from traditional business wear to business casuals. “Gone are the days of the suit, tie, and shiny shoes. I want to wear a suit with sneakers and no tie”, he stated. While each individual had their own input, one trend which was truly prevalent in all of their answers was streetwear: “Streetwear will continue to be the leading force that determines all fashion. 2017-18 was the year when even luxury labels collaborated with streetwear brands to reach millennials by now it is evident that athleisure/streetwear is more than a fad, it is fashion”, added Rayeed.
Not only did we get an insight into fashion trends. Rayana and Rakib also gave us insight on market trends. “As I have segmentation and diversification will be a very common theme among local brands”, elaborated Rakib. “Brands will slowly start to split the market according to niche and will begin catering to them.” In Rayana’s opinion, the buying pattern of consumers will continue to shift towards a more retail-oriented setup. In this context, Rayeed shed some light on how social media will also evolve moving forward. “In our country, most people regard social media as ‘Facebook’, however, we have to utilise other platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube. Each social media provides a unique platform for us to interact with our customers. For instance, Facebook’s formal approach is contrasted by Instagram’s more informal and unfiltered approach. The main aim of social media is to humanize the brand and give it life.”
All of these brands have taken a big leap forward in 2018. Whether it was through successful social media campaigns or the launching of new outlets, these brands have entered the new year on a high note. And considering the expertise and the sheer dedication of the people working behind the scenes, 2019 looks all set to be another thriving year for this brands. They just might set the standards even higher this year!

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Irfan Aziz

Irfan Aziz is a Sub Editor of ICE Today magazine. He is a pug enthusiast who loves looking at memes, writing and sketching.