Hazaribagh has been transformed into a diversified leather products hub from a rawhide tannery zone in the span of only five years since the tanneries were shifted to Savar.
The hub now manufactures products such as shoes, slippers, jackets, office bags, wallets, purses, belts, school bags and ladies' handbags and registers an annual turnover of Tk100 crore.
According to the Hazaribagh Leather Shoes and Goods Association, around 150 small and medium factories are in operation in Hazaribagh, the total number of factories in the country being 400.
Tania Wahab, a successful businesswoman in Hazaribagh, launched her factory – Athene – in 2005 with only one machine and one worker in a 100 square-foot room.
Today her factory has grown to 6,500 square feet and employs more than 200 full-time and contractual workers. Tania produces leather jackets, shoes, wallets, vanity bags, etc. Her annual turnover now stands at more than Tk4 crore.
"After the tanneries were shifted in 2017, leather goods manufacturing started to boom significantly," she said.
"The demand for locally manufactured products has largely increased in the domestic market," she added.
Tania also supplies products to various reputed shoe brands, among which are Bata, Apex and Bay, as well as exports 10% of her products to Italy and Canada.
SALAM's entrepreneur Manager Mazharul Islam told The Business Standard, "The number of customers in the hub has been increasing steadily. During Eid, we usually sell TK12-15 lac worth of products. We are committed to produce 100% leather goods and sell at a low profit margin. That's why our products' reputation has been spreading across the country."
Mamunur Rashid, another entrepreneur, started his leather goods brand "Time" after the tanneries shifted in 2017.
Some 25 workers are employed in his factory and his annual turnover is TK60-70 lakh.
There are small and large leather goods shops on both sides of Sher-e-Bangla Road in Hazaribagh. These shops sell products at both wholesale and retail prices. After the tanneries moved out, these shops came up.
"The tanneries operated in Hazaribagh for 66 years until they were shifted in 2017. Many factories also closed down due to complications regarding the relocation. Many also ended up becoming jobless at the time," said Mamunur Rashid.
"They slowly started the business of selling leather products by renting one or two rooms in an abandoned factory building at low rent. Now all of them are financially solvent," he said, adding that he easily sells Tk3-4 lakh worth of products per month.
Suman, the owner of a shop named SP Leather, said, "Traders at the famous markets in Dhaka buy our products at low prices and sell them at much higher prices."
"There are not that many sales at the retail level due to a lack of promotion and lack of awareness about the place. But we know this situation will change," said a self-assured Suman.
Leather-BD.com's salesman Junied Ahmed told The Business Standard, "Compared to previous Eid season, sales were higher this time as the prices of our products are the lowest compared to other markets."
Maksuda Khatun and her husband took a gamble to try their luck in the leather industry. The couple arranged some Tk15 lakh by selling ornaments and resorting to family savings to set up a leather goods factory. That is how Shabab Leather began its journey in August 2016 with five employees.
Shabab Leather, also located in Hazaribagh, now has 48 regular employees and mainly produces bags, wallets, long wallets, belts, jackets, key rings, files and all other corporate items. These products have now spread beyond the country's borders to the international market of Japan, Switzerland, Morocco, the Netherlands, Malaysia and Canada.
Maksuda recently received corporate orders for 6,000 bags, each costing Tk6,500. She has also received an order from Switzerland for 4,000 pieces of wallets, and 2,000 pieces of key boxes.
"I dream of gradually expanding my business. I used to produce very little, but now my factory produces 10,000 pieces of leather goods a month," she said.
"Hopefully, at some point I will be able to reach the production target of 30-40 thousand pieces a month, because Hazaribagh is becoming popular day by day as a leather products hub."
Mujibur Rahman Mujo, president of Hazaribagh Leather Shoes and Goods Association, said that after the tanneries moved, the places they had occupied were left empty for many days.
"Many who opened shops and businesses here were involved in this industry in various ways. Some were workers, some were managers, and some were technicians or engineers," he said.
"Apart from this, based on the supply of leather processed in Hazaribagh, many businessmen have moved here from the leather product manufacturing factories in Chawkbazar and Keraniganj. Many of those who lost their jobs in the tannery relocation process, who did not go to work in Savar, are trying to settle here," said Mujibur Rahman, adding that the number of shops has increased rapidly as a result.
Hazaribagh Leather Shoes and Goods Association secretary Sakwat Ullah told The Business Standard, "At present demand for 25% of leather goods is met by products manufactured in this hub. We are wholesalers countrywide. If we get support from the government we will be able to supply TK1500 crore worth of leather goods."