More and more educated women are now trying their luck at business rather than chasing after conventional jobs – and leather goods manufacturing has seen quite a few women entrepreneurs shining.
Most of these women entrepreneurs started their businesses with low investments. But, their products are now exported to several countries.
Here are their success stories.
Tania's confident strides towards Tk4 crore turnover
Tania Wahab, 42, from Madhubagh in Dhaka had just Tk10,000 to start with – back in 2005 when she was still a university student. She had saved the amount from her incomes from giving private tuition.
Tania studied Leather Engineering and Technology but she always dreamt of doing something different – not a regular, ordinary job.
She launched her factory, Athene, with a machine and a worker in a 100 square-feet room in the capital's Hazaribagh.
Now, her factory has grown to 6,500 square-feet, employing more than 200 permanent and temporary workers. Tania produces leather jackets, shoes, wallets, vanity bags etc and her annual turnover now stands at more than Tk4 crore.
"Even though the coronavirus halted some work, the demand for our products suddenly went up in the domestic market. We are now catering to that demand," she said.
"Since it is not possible to import many things from China at present, the demand [for locally manufactured products] has increased in the domestic market."
Besides making various leather goods, Tania also makes diary covers, conference bags, wallets and other gift items using synthetic leather, jute, clothes, etc. She is the proprietor of an online gift shop, named TAN.
Tania also supplies products to various reputed shoe brands including Bata, Apex, and Bay, as well as exports 10% of her products to Italy and Canada.
Mentioning that the market for leather products in the country is very promising, she said the market has a huge prospect to grow manifold, and, therefore, the scope of work in the sector is also quite large. There is no alternative to research in the leather market, she observed.
Tania Wahab won the best entrepreneur award in the SME category in 2008.
After being selected by the International Trade Centre, her organisation participated in the Maple Fair in Italy. She received a fellowship in the United States in 2011, in which 19 women entrepreneurs from 19 countries participated. She also received an honorary citizenship certificate from the Governor of Pensacola City, which she sees as one of the greatest achievements in her business life.
In 2015, Tania Wahab received a special award from Mahila Parishad. In the following year, she participated in the Tokyo Expo in Japan.
Tania also spoke about the hurdles she faced and is still facing.
"As a woman entrepreneur in the leather industry, I had to face many obstacles posed by society. I have had to go through financial crises. Currently, I am undergoing a lot of suffering for not being able to set up a factory on a permanent plot."
She urged the government to allocate sufficient plots through the Bscic for small women entrepreneurs in the leather industry.
Rezbin's journey:: From teaching to best SME entrepreneur
Rezbin Hafiz was born in Gaibandha. After completing her honour's and master's from Gaibandha Government College, Rezbin did an MBA in Marketing from Stamford University and a post-graduate in Leather Footwear Manufacturing from East West University.
She taught at Uttara Milestone College for about 10 years. But she quit her job in 2012 and set up a factory, People's Knife Engineering, to manufacture dice (cutting knives) used for making leather shoes.
After two years, Rezbin started to make shoes herself. With an investment of Tk3 lakh, she set up People's Footwear and Leather Goods on a rented house with a 500 square-feet area in Ashulia to make leather goods – shoes, bags and belts.
Within a short time, shoes manufactured in Rezbin's factory became popular in the area. Orders placed by retail sellers started to go up fast.
At present, Rezbin Hafiz has factories in the BSCIC industrial cities in Gaibandha and Dhamrai.
Her company now has 150 employees and produces 12,000-13,000 pieces of leather goods, of which 70% are shoes. Its products have been exported to China, Malaysia, Japan and India. It also makes products for various local brands.
Rezbin Hafeez was selected by the government as the best micro entrepreneur for 2020.
Rezbin has taken part in this year's Dhaka International Trade Fair.
"Currently, we are continuing production under a shed on the Dhamrai BSCIC plot. We will build a six-storey factory there in the future. To that end, we have made a proposal to get a bank loan," she told TBS at her Trade Fair stall.
Rezbin has also founded a training centre named Peoples Leather Training Centre where she is offering free training on leather goods making.
"My plan is to create employment opportunities for women in rural areas. At the same time, I look to capture the local as well as foreign markets with quality products. As I hail from Gaibandha, a river erosion-prone area, I am working to create employment for the people of my locality."
Rubina dreams to build her own global brand
Everyone in the family insisted Rubina Akter find a job after she had completed studies. But Rubina wanted to promote the country's products in the international arena.
She obtained a business licence in 2010 for her initiative Design by Rubina. Initially she used to make jute goods, but soon she started to make leather goods.
Rubina has a stall at the Dhaka International Trade Fair. She spoke to TBS at her stall.
"I worked at a buying house for a year to gain experience. After that, I started the business with Tk80,000," Rubina told TBS at her stall at the Dhaka International Trade Fair.
"I never thought of asking anyone for money. I wanted to move my organisation forward slowly with the small capital. I have not taken out any bank loan as yet."
The factory of Design by Rubina is located at Mirer Bazar in Gazipur, and the company has an office at Farmgate in Dhaka. Rubina has 16 permanent employees, while 30-35 others work for her on contract.
Rubina now exports products – mostly bags, her major product – to China, the Philippines, Qatar, Dubai, and Poland. But she also makes all other jute and leather goods.
"Now I am expanding my factory. It was once in a rented house for a long time and now I have bought eight decimals of land at Mirer Bazar to shift the factory there," she said.
Rubina dreams her products "will go to every country of the world".
"Everyone will come to know my brand. I will never invest money to promote my brand, but will invest money to improve the quality of my products. I will invest in my workers. If the products are good, buyers will like them," said a confident Rubina.
Rubina received the 2nd prize from the Ministry of Commerce in 2019 in the micro entrepreneurship category.
She emphasises on establishing quality training institutes in the country to disseminate proper knowledge about making quality products.
She mentioned that the country does not have the kind of equipment required for training. "While studying in India, I found they have so many arrangements for their entrepreneurs."
Bangladesh still depends on import of accessories to produce leather goods, she said, adding "We need a lot of investment in this sector."
Maksuda's Shabab Leather rides out Covid storm
Maksuda Khatun wanted to be self-reliant from her student life. After graduating in accounting, she did an MBA in finance from ASA University and worked for some time at a buying house.
Quitting the job, she started a boutique named Afra Fashion.
Everything was going well for her. Her husband started a business of industrial hand gloves in partnership with a friend alongside a job.
But things started to turn bad all of a sudden. Maksuda's husband incurred a big loss in business, and she was forced to sell her boutique. Soon the family was under a massive debt burden.
Maksuda and her husband then looked for a fortune in leather. The couple arranged some Tk15 lakh by selling ornaments and breaking family savings to set up a leather goods factory. And thus Shabab Leather started its journey in August 2016 with five employees.
Maksuda said they work with genuine leather products. After starting the business, she took training from the SME Foundation, the Department of Youth Development, and BSCIC.
Shabab Leather located in Hazaribagh 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 borders to the international market, exported to Japan, Switzerland, Morocco, the Netherlands, Malaysia and Canada.
Maksuda's products are sold in shops and online markets in the country as well and she also takes corporate orders.
The Covid pandemic has dealt a blow to her business – in 2020, products worth around Tk1 crore remained unsold.
Maksuda said, "The pandemic halted our progress. Many orders were cancelled. The factory was completely closed for two months, but we had to pay the workers' wages and the rent.
"Later, we started working with a new vigour with a Tk3.80 lakh loan from the government's stimulus package, a loan of Tk15 lakh from Prime Bank and another Tk35 lakh loan from the United Finance. About 80% of the stockpiled products have already been sold."
Maksuda has now 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."
Ayesha wants to employ 10,000 people at her leather factory
Ayesha Siddiqua, 35, from Barishal flew to Malaysia to study MBA after graduating from East West University. But, after coming back home, she did not choose a traditional job. Instead, she started a leather goods business in 2016 with a small capital of Tk2 lakh and only seven workers.
Currently, Ayesha has a leather goods manufacturing factory, Mats Cottage Limited, at Bhatara in the capital, where about 50 artisans and workers are employed.
The annual turnover of the factory now stands at over Tk4 crore.
"I have suffered a lot amid the pandemic, but I did not give up. I am optimistic that one day my factory will employ 10,000 people, my monthly sales will be Tk5-6 crore, Insha Allah," the young successful woman entrepreneur told TBS.