Developing the Fashion Sector in Bangladesh
Attending London Fashion Week brings you up close with the latest luxury brands’ collections, premium quality accessories & apparels and beautifully designed and crafted goods. As human needs and desires go, one could say this is quite removed from the reality of what we have come to know about what is available on the high streets and shops of ‘ready made garments’ (RMG). With more and more brands and designers looking to compete on a global market, where internet shopping and social media can create a new era of brands who can keep costs lower than high streets, the RMG sector will continue to thrive, with more and more buyers coming to the field.
In marketing terms, the RMG sector has an image problem. It is associated with cheap labour, poor quality products, poor working conditions for the workers, clothes made are often seen to be disposable as the customer will wear it for the season only and then discard it. Ethical & sustainable they are not.
British Fashion Council estimates the luxury premium brands to have added £21 billion (2009-10) to the UK’s economy. So there is real money involved. But how can all involved in the sector benefit equally from it?
My work over the last few years has involved manufacturers/ suppliers/ buyers/ designers in the UK and Bangladesh. The unfortunate Rana Plaza incidence of April 2013 has made Bangladesh synonymous with the fast disposable fashion sector. Bangladesh biggest export is for this sector and earns the country billions. It employs millions, majority of who are women. It has allowed the owners of the factories to diversify their portfolio and go into another sectors e.g. energy, infrastructure and more. All this expansion has fuelled a growth in the economy of the country thus giving it a steady growth of approximately 5/6% per year.
The Rana Plaza incidence was the first and will not be the last unfortunately. Will lessons be learnt from it- yes. Will changes happen- possibly in the long term. However, what it will not do is change the lot for the workers. I am not talking about the health & safety issues in the factories, the low wages etc. I am talking about what will take the place of the mass production of RMG in 10 years time? It is inevitable that Bangladesh will retain its status as the 2nd largest exporter of RMG for another decade. But then competition will be on the door steps and the work will go to the next country which can produce it even cheaper. It will happen, when is a guess.
So the question must be asked now, what are the alternatives for developing skills and opportunities which will have an equal global market? Fashion design sector seems to fit this bill quite nicely. Why?
As more and more people travel the globe, consumers from developed countries have shown their appetite for ‘new & innovative’ products sourced globally to enhance their home and life style. These products have higher production value, involve more technical skills and can be sourced ethically & sustainably whilst providing opportunities to communities to retain and build on what they have done traditionally.
I am not talking about doing what they have done for hundreds of years. The products have to be evolved to suit the global customer. The artisan’s core skills and knowledge has to be valued and understood but developed so that they gain new ways of incorporating innovation & research at the heart of their products. They need to work with designers and product manufacturers from developing countries alongside sourcing agents to understand how and what they can do to enhance their offer. The added value on the margin can only happen then. But it can happen. It can produce new job opportunities, new enhanced skills whilst building a new sector of fashion and design.
On Tuesday 24th September 2013 @ Rich Mix, London E1- (doors open 6:30pm) Cholo Kheli will be exploring how the fashion design sector can be developed in Bangladesh in light of the recent Rana Plaza incidence. Book your ticket now at: www.justgiving.com/NGWF.