- Covid again hits country's largest wholesale fabric market
- Islampur has more than 6,500 showrooms in 95 markets
- Around 60,000-70,000 people work in those shops
- Inter-district public transport ban severely impacted business
- Traders lost at least 70% of their usual Eid sales this year
- Eid-al-Fitr covers around 60% of their annual business
- Eid sales usually reach Tk10,000cr in Islampur market
Eid sales have crashed yet again in Islampur, the country's largest wholesale fabric market in the old part of Dhaka, as traders have lost at least 70% of their usual business during Ramadan amid the fresh lockdown measures introduced to curb Covid-19 infections.
The ban on inter-district public transportation services has severely impacted the market because most retailers and wholesalers from across the country cannot visit Dhaka during this peak season.
Although the business in Islampur market is doing marginally better than the previous Ramadan, it is not yet more than 30%-35% of the usual Eid sales, Bangladesh Cloth Merchants Association leaders told The Business Standard.
Eid-ul-Fitr covers around 60% of the market's annual business, but the pandemic has been eating up their sales for two consecutive years. The peak season usually starts 10 days before the Sab-e-Barat and continues until the second week of Ramadan.
In a bid to stem the tide of rising Covid-19 cases, the government declared a fresh lockdown across the country from 5 April, just after a week of Shab-e-Barat (29 March). So traders kept their shops closed from 5 to 24 April as per the government directive.
On the matter, Pakiza Fabrics Collection's Manager Didarul Islam said, "Hundreds of wholesalers and retailers from district and upazila levels gather at the Islampur market to buy fabrics, which are mostly used for tailor-made clothes ahead of the Eid-al-Fitr.
"But most of them could not visit the market this season as inter-district public transports are still barred. Our shops also remained closed during the 20-day period, which prevented us from making any sales whatsoever. Then we reopened our shops on 25 April."
The demand for cloth is no longer high, as the tailors need time to stitch the outfits. This is why traders from the district level are now focusing on buying readymade products such as sarees."
Didarul continued, "This year, our Eid sales reached only 30%-40% compared to the pre-pandemic times. We witnessed around 40% of the usual sales in the last 10 months, after the first lockdown was withdrawn in 2020. The products we stocked last year have been mostly sold, and we acquired new stock in preparation of the Eid-al-Fitr.
"But now, we are now facing serious uncertainty on whether we will be able to sell our stock at all."
Pakiza has around 15 outlets in Islampur where all kinds of Voile, Poplin, three-piece and printed sarees are available. The price of fabrics differs between Tk54-Tk102 per yard, while sarees are available from Tk460-Tk800.
Traders outside Dhaka also at a loss
Bulbul Ahmed, a trader from Niamatpur Upazila in Naogaon, used to buy various clothing items worth Tk15-20 lakh from Islampur every year ahead of the Eid. But he could not visit Dhaka amid the lockdown measures this year.
Giving more details, he said, "We typically buy clothing items from Islampur every year after visiting different showrooms in person, then send the goods via transportations to my shop in Naogaon. However, we could not do it this year due to the ban on inter-district transports."
"I have contacted the wholesalers in Islampur on the phone and bought clothing items worth Tk4 lakh, which is only one-fifth of my demand. The traders there have delivered the goods to me. I am optimistic that my sales will increase in the coming days as the Eid gradually draws closer."
I usually buy clothing items worth Tk5-Tk6 lakh ahead of the Eid-al-Fitr. But I could not visit Dhaka this year due to the lockdown, so my shop does not have enough stock to meet the demand
Trader Jhantu Saha from Kalmakanda upazila of Netrokona said, "I usually buy clothing items worth Tk5-Tk6 lakh ahead of the Eid-al-Fitr. But I could not visit Dhaka this year due to the lockdown, so my shop does not have enough stock to meet the demand.
"I currently have a stock worth only Tk1 lakh at my shop."
According to Bangladesh Cloth Merchant Association, there are more than 6,500 showrooms in around 95 markets at Islampur. If the small roadside makeshift shops count, the number will exceed 10,000. Around 60,000-70,000 people work in these shops.
Addressing the matter, Bangladesh Cloth Merchants Association President Shamsul Alam said, "The Eid-al-Fitr sales of Islampur reaches around TK10,000 crore. But the market lost almost all sales last year, and in this year the sales will not exceed more than Tk3,000 crore.
'We lost the peak season again'
Just like every year, merchants have stocked many varieties of cloth that feature the latest designs to make a hefty profit ahead of Eid-al-Fitr. Per gauge of cloth sells for around Tk40 to Tk110 here, while price of sarees range from Tk290 to Tk1,800.
Islampur market covers 60% of the annual demand for locally produced cloths and 40% of the imported cloths. The cloth is imported from India, Pakistan, China, Thailand and Japan.
The affluent in Dhaka also buy clothes worth crores of taka from Islampur during Ramadan to distribute those among the poor as Zakat.
"We took a serious blow to our business during Eid-ul-Fitr last year, and we lost the sales yet again. Even if the market remains open till the Chand Raat [the day before Eid], the sales will reach only 30%-35% compared to pre-Covid times," said Nesar Uddin, general secretary of the Bangladesh Cloth Merchant Association.
He added, "We get the most business during Ramadan, and sales during the rest of the year is not as satisfactory. But the pandemic caught us again this year."
We took a serious blow to our business during Eid-ul-Fitr last year, and we lost the sales yet again. Even if the market remains open till the Chand Raat [the day before Eid], the sales will reach only 30%-35% compared to pre-Covid times
Factories in Narayanganj, Narsingdi, Tangail and Keraniganj produced the cloth for the traders of Islampur. Producers of yarn, textile, dyeing, printing, embroidery, catalogue, and packaging are involved in the process, and sales are crucial for sustaining the whole chain of industries.
Due to the pandemics impacts during the last two Eids, those involved with the entire chain are facing uncertainty over their payments. Besides, many businessmen at the district level buy clothes from Islampur market throughout the year, and pay the traders after the Eid sales.
But most of them will not be able to make payments this year.
"During Ramadan, we usually do not have enough time to talk during business hours. But now, we barely have any customers," Ongo Boson's Manager Tonmoy told The Business Standard recently.
Like him, thousands of wholesalers who invested their money could not sell the majority of their stock this year. Many of them have taken out bank loans to be able to make investments. Many working in the market are seriously concerned about getting their salaries and Eid bonus.
"There are eight employees in our shop. We did not get any bonus last year, and received only partial salaries. We are worried about what will happen this year," said Md Khokon, a salesman at the Satellite Print Saree.
He mentioned that the short banking hours amid the lockdown are another obstacle for poor sales, as retailers and wholesalers who visit the Islampur market deal with a fairly large amount of money.