It started with a passion for learning a new language.
Sarwar Kamal, a student of Dhaka University, enrolled on a non-credit course in the Korean language at the Institute of Modern Languages. By the third year of learning this popular language, he secured a scholarship and an opportunity to study in the city of Seoul for a semester at Kyung Hee University.
The programme was designed for students to learn the language in the morning and the later part of the day was for cultural activities. On weekends, they were taken on study tours around the city - all of which are sponsored by the Korean government.
"I was always fascinated by Korean culture, language and food. And those three months when I lived there was the most magical time of my life," said Sarwar, reminiscing his memories from more than a decade ago.
His stay there not only enriched him with knowledge and experience of Korean culture but also sparked enough gumption to do something on his own. For him, it was to establish an e-commerce platform based on Korean cosmetics, Chardike.com.
However, it was not a straightforward path but rather a series of momentous events - like working with the leading fashion and lifestyle brand in Korea called Shinsegae (also previously owned by Samsung chaebol) and travelling around the world for sourcing garments - that eventually led Sarwar to establish Chardike.com.
Later when he came back to Bangladesh to work as a business lead to source and manufacture garments at PDS Multinational group, he bagged his first deal of $5 million from none other than his ex-employer, Shinsegae.
In between, there had been seven years and a lot of branching paths like leaving a job at Google, settling back in Dhaka and tackling more challenges, before Sarwar decided to tap into an uncharted market of original beauty products in Bangladesh.
By the end of this story, we'll see how passion and perseverance can alter a life's path and take one to places by butterfly effects.
Life in Korea (again)
After completing graduation in 2010, Sarwar joined a Korean firm in Dhaka called Hanbaek Company which established electricity transmission lines. Sarwar worked there for a few months.
Although he joined the HR and Finance team, his skillfulness led him to look after administrative roles like communicating with their Korean CEO and engineers working there. Soon, his devotion to the Korean way of life landed him again in the country for a fully funded master's degree at Korea's Inha University in International Trade.
During his master's, he kept looking for different opportunities and had done internships, one of which was in Woori Bank in Seoul.
At one point, Sarwar made a breakthrough when he joined Shinsegae International as an Assistant Manager of the Garments Sourcing team of their Global Fashion Department.
The leading retail company in South Korea operates two businesses: an E-mart discount store and a department store. While the E-mart discount stores mainly provide food, drinks and household products, the department stores cater to brand clothes, with seven branch outlets throughout Korea.
Shinsegae Centum City Department Store is also one of the three that is registered in the Guinness World Records as the largest shopping complex in the world. Through his job, he had the window of opportunity to visit Shinsegae's offices all over the world including market-saturated countries like Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, China and also Bangladesh.
From 2012 to 2017 he had already taken orders from 12 countries. Due to apparel sourcing or production supervision, he had to visit these countries several times. His company had almost 50 brands licensed, including international brands like Armani.
Simultaneously, Sarwar remained very active in the Bangladeshi community in Korea as he acted as General Secretary of the Bangladesh Community in Korea.
Whenever Bangladeshi expats faced any legal or financial setbacks or issues with passports he provided logistical support. "Bangladeshi immigrants struggle to seek help from our agencies, unlike the residents of other countries. We used to provide overall support to those who were in helpless condition," explained Sarwar.
Not only that, his team arranged concerts and cultural programmes to celebrate Pahela Baishakh and other similar occasions where thousands of Bangladeshi expats would attend to watch the local musicians' performances.
Not just for Bangladeshi residents, Sarwar worked as a representative of the foreigner's representative committee in Seoul City. He worked with the then Mayor of Seoul, Park Won Soon, to improve the lifestyle of the foreigners. Additionally, he worked for three consecutive years with 38 other foreign representatives in 2015.
In continuation to that, he secured a residency in the country in 2013. But amidst his many endeavours, he did not forget his true passion for doing something autonomously.
In 2015, Sarwar started trial running some restaurants and online businesses even though they were facing failures. By the end of the year, he was sure he wanted to do something on his own and decided to leave his job at Shinsegae. It took him two years to leave the job.
In the meantime, his wife, an alumna of the Seoul National University, got appointed as a lecturer - the first Bengali to do so - in the Korean department of the Institute of Modern Languages (IML), Dhaka University.
Sarwar, eventually, travelled back to Dhaka with his wife and child because he did not want the family to live apart. But before returning to Dhaka in 2017, he joined Google in Korea as a search language specialist.
The job of a search language specialist is to research the data on the back end of a particular region to find out the most searched words or topics that people are more accustomed to, and making more features and information available in the native language to the region. For example, cricket is a household name in Dhaka but it's not a very popular topic in France.
But even a job at Google couldn't tie him away from his appetite for entrepreneurship, and considering the limited scope of growth, he decided to switch back to business.
Back to Bangladesh
In 2019, he's back in the garment sourcing business in Dhaka. But at this point, he got acquainted with Pallak Seth, a British-Indian individual who happens to be the Vice Chairman of PDS Multinational Fashion, which is headquartered in London and has offices spread across 14 countries to source garments.
After a meeting with Sarwar in Dhaka, Pallak wanted him to join his new consortium as the lead business strategist. And for his first project, Sarwar secured a $5 million deal to export apparel to none other than his former employer Shinsegae, who had wanted to set him an office in Dhaka during his time in Korea.
And this was not the only impressive deed he had done at PDS, he kept excelling with securing orders for several months - exporting to many regions like the United Kingdom, Korea and South Africa.
Although the business was expanding but deep down, somewhere, he still wasn't satisfied and was on the lookout for something entirely different.
This time he wanted to switch from the garments industry and venture into a sector with lesser risk and stress. "Garments is a strong field in Bangladesh but pursuing it could not fully satisfy me," said Sarwar.
And so he launched operations for selling Korean cosmetics, renting a small room for an office in Panthapath in 2020 - which had been his idea for a long time. After running the business for a year, despite facing losses, Sarwar realised that there is an uncharted market of imported and authentic cosmetics in Bangladesh.
When he was finally ready to move full-time to his own business, there was initially a lot of resistance from the PDS group. They even offered to build him a factory and offered partnership and mentorship for his new venture. But none of this halted Sarwar's appetite for doing something solely on his own.
Sarwar finally parted ways with the PDS group in August 2022 to work exclusively for his own venture. And now, Sarwar runs Chardike's office on Elephant Road with 26 employees. The beauty product selling company was inaugurated in August 2020 with the hope of a revolution in cosmetology in Bangladesh.
Along with K-pop and Korean cuisine, Korean skincare products are in demand by beauty enthusiasts worldwide. Corx, Missha and Innisfree are now household names for skincare products like face wash, toner, moisturizer or sunscreen. One can log on to their website to find authentic products from more than 40 Korean beauty brands.
Chardike also has a blog and dedicated employees to help customers find the right product for their skincare problems. Not only do they direct you to the right serum according to your skin, they also have hair and body care products and make-up as well.
Chardike now is the only authorised seller of Skinfood in Bangladesh, a prominent Korean skincare brand. And currently, Sarwar is on a quest to build a skincare brand of his own, Gfors.
With natural ingredients and options for all types of skin, the products are already in production in Korea. Although these are manufactured in Korea, Sarwar plans to export them to Bangladesh and other countries like Vietnam, Russia and Indonesia given the similar skin type.
Soon, he wants to establish his own factory in Dhaka to manufacture skincare and cosmetics that are more appropriate for our weather and skin.