With 60%-70% of the clothes made for the Eid-ul-Fitr already sold out, the Keraniganj wholesale apparel hub on the bank of the Buriganga is back in business this year after the pandemic-led blow in 2020 and 2021, according to traders.
The remaining 30%-40% of the clothes will be sold by 20th Ramadan, they said, adding this Eid season might end in profit eventually, but it will not be possible yet to tide over the losses of the last two years.
The local apparel-makers said Eid sales are the lifeblood of the business hub comprising 5,000 factories and 10,000 shops in around 300 malls.
But they could not produce sufficient products in line with this year's Eid demand since they did not get support from the banks. Besides, pricier raw materials and no raw materials on credit this year have also constrained the apparel business.
"The demand this year has been very good. Customers are coming, but they are not getting enough supplies," Muslim Dhali, general secretary of the Keraniganj Garments Traders' and Shop Owners' Cooperative Association, told The Business Standard.
He said the demand for locally made fabrics is on the rise as imports from India and China have declined.
"Many of us could not produce enough new products for the peak season as we did not have cash. Banks did not lend us money since many traders could not repay the interest during the pandemic," he said.
According to the association, around 80% of Keraniganj traders depend on bank loans. The 20% of businessmen who do not rely on formal borrowing have made good use of the supercharged demand.
For example, Anwar Hossain, proprietor of Islamia Garments in Keraniganj, usually makes 20,000-25,000 pants ahead of Eid. But he has made 30,000 gabardine pants this year ahead of Eid and around 95% of his products have already been sold.
Anwar said the market was open for only ten days last year due to the lockdowns. In that brief trading window, he sold a large chunk of the apparel items to retailers on credit. But most of the retailers are yet to pay Anwar.
Traders here make 70% of their sales during Eid-ul-Fitr, and the peak season is from Shab-e-Barat to mid-Ramadan. The apparel-makers supply 70%-80% of the local garments sold around the country, said insiders, adding that it is known as the country's hub for lower and middle-class garment production.
Wholesalers and retailers from all around the country, including Dhaka's New Market, Narayanganj's Gausia and Chattogram's Riazuddin Market, visit this hub at least 90 days before the Eid.
The Keraniganj traders suffered a near-total loss of business during the Eid season in the last two years because of the pandemic. Many of the businessmen could not sell major portions of their products amid the lockdown.
According to the traders' association, Keraniganj lost around Tk3,000 crore in profit alone in 2021, and the losses in terms of turnover were far more than that.
The pandemic has also changed the availability, rates and payment for raw materials. Earlier, apparel-makers used to buy textile and other accessories on credit and clear payments after selling the dresses. But the facility is not available this year.
"We did not get any raw material on credit. Besides, all the materials are pricier this year," Mosharrof Hossain, manager of the fashion house Autograph at Keraniganj's Rafiq tower, told TBS. The shop produced 14,000 shirts and punjabis last year, while the number dropped to 10,000 pieces this year.
Mosharrof said his fashion house has already sold 60% of the clothes.
According to the association, around 3 lakh to 3.5 lakh people are employed in the factories and shops in the apparel hub. There are nearly 30 banks and 30 transport companies. Besides, backward linkage industries, such as textile, fabric, buttons and polybag production units, have sprung up centering on the denim units.
Apparel workers either receive monthly salaries or get paid on the basis of each dress they make. Factory owners could not pay full salaries and Eid bonus for the last two years to their workers as the apparel business lacked momentum.
The workers are happy this year about the payments.
"I made around 800 jeans this season at Tk34 per piece. There is no uncertainty about our payment," said Md Shawon, a worker of Samanta Fashion at Zila Parishad market.
Meanwhile, a readymade garment factory owner Kawsar Ahmed said his workers will get both salary and bonus this season.