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Bangladesh tailors struggling against ready-made garment makers

Mohammad Gholam Mostafa in his shop. (AN photo)
DHAKA: “My life is full of struggle and suffering. I earn only 20,000 taka ($250) every month to provide for my family of five,” said Mohammad Golam Mostofa, who runs a small tailor house in the capital of Bangladesh.
Mostofa is not alone. He represents many senior tailors who are struggling with the very existence of their profession. While Bangladesh is crowned with being the world’s second largest ready-made garment (RMG) producer country, a group of clothing industry professionals is facing hardship.
Mostofa started his career at 19 but now, after three decades, he can’t see any growth in his profession. He said: “The volume of orders has decreased although per unit the tailoring charge has increased several times. But the increased income cannot cope with the high inflation rate of the market. As a result, my life continues with the same vicious cycle of poverty.”
At 49, Mostofa, a father of three, cannot think of any other career options despite the serious downturn in his business.
“It’s a common phenomena of capitalist society everywhere in the world. Large capital swallows the small units at grassroots level,” said Professor Dr. A. S. M. Aman Ullah, a sociologist at Dhaka University.
“During the last two decades, many large garment industries have been established to cater for the local clothing market. In addition, export-bound RMG factories are providing their leftover clothes in the local market at a cheaper rate. These two things made the tailors’ life even harder. Nearly 50 percent of the tailor houses have shut down across the country in recent years. And I have not heard of anyone who has opened a small tailor shop,” Dr. Aman added.
Maybe after two decades there will soon be no such thing as a small tailor house, Dr. Aman fears.
Economist Dr. Pratima Pal Mazumder, who worked for Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies as a senior researcher, said: “Some local small tailor houses now resorted to diversification in their business. They are integrated with large export-oriented garments and work for the export market as an outsourcer of the main supplier. I have noticed that in some cases people are delivering this type of garment, outsourcing services from their home.”
Dr. Pratima, who currently heads the NGO Kormojibee Nari (Working Women), added: “Our fashion trend has also changed with time. Centering different festivals, now the middle class is also wearing a lot of fashionable clothes. Especially in terms of ladies’ clothes, our small tailor shops are contributing a lot. So these shops are diversifying their business to survive.”
However, Dr. Aman suggests that an integrated approach linking the small tailors with the large garment units might help save the livelihoods of such small-unit-owner tailors. Nonetheless, such an approach, although feasible, will require consistent and long-term efforts.

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