With the changing exhibits of replica jerseys, mostly of the favourites in the FIFA World Cup 2022, the footpath shops along Bangabandhu Avenue in Dhaka have garnered a refreshing festive look.
The country-wide marketing network of sports kits has a strong connection with the nearby Gulistan Shopping Centre–the country's biggest wholesaling hub of imported and locally manufactured sportswear.
So, the shopping centre, especially its first floor which houses hundreds of shops, is now abuzz with crowds of sports item traders and football fans.
In a recent visit to the shopping centre, it was found that exhibits on hangers and piles of jerseys of Argentina, Brazil, Germany, France, Portugal, Spain and other teams were occupying most of the shop spaces and the sellers were very busy dealing
Sellers told TBS that the seasonal trade of cheap world cup jerseys shot up in late October, three weeks before the inauguration of the biggest show in the world of sports. The presence of buyers has been growing with rising demand for jerseys, they said.
On 14 November morning, Gazipur based sports kit shop Mawna Khelaghar's owner Kabir Hossein arrived at the Gulistan Shopping Centre. He surveyed the market carefully till afternoon, bargained with prices and finally purchased bundles of jerseys worth Tk73,000.
"At Mawna, there are a huge number of fans of Argentina and Brazil football teams. Among the fans, youngsters from garment factories are dominating. These cheap jerseys will be sold like hotcakes," Kabir said.
Kabir, however, added that he couldn't buy as many jerseys as he wanted to as the depleting stocks of the products were causing the prices to shoot up in the wholesale market.
In early November, the wholesale price of the cheapest fan version jersey (half-sleeve) was Tk130 while the 'so-called' player version cost Tk400. Within two weeks, the price increased to Tk280 and Tk600 respectively. The wholesale quantity is a minimum of one dozen pieces.
According to sellers, price varies upon the GSM (measurement of weight) of fabrics. A quality jersey has higher GSM ranging between 150-160.
To find a quality product compared to the footpath-based cheap ones, many retail buyers, mostly youngsters, also flock to the wholesale hub. Although the buyers welcome them, they charge a bit higher price. For example, a fan version is sold at Tk600 and the player version at Tk1,000-Tk1,200.
An undergrad student, Sifat, accompanying his friend Robi, was found roaming around the shopping centre that day. A week ago, Sifat bought 15 pieces of Argentina home kit at wholesale price for his Lalbag-based friends. As Robi was accidentally excluded from the list, the two friends again came for a single piece.
"Within a week, the price difference is huge. There is another problem- we cannot find a suitable size. The sellers advise us to wait for the next lot to arrive," Sifat said.
Following a week-old online advertisement, one student of Rajshahi University of Engineering and Technology, Oishi -a Brazil fan - visited the shopping centre recently with her brother Hasib who is an Argentina supporter.
Witnessing the price difference, the siblings, inexperienced in a market which demands strong haggling skills, became confused and frustrated at the same time.
"Online retail price of a single jersey was Tk350. We planned to buy two jerseys. But here we are charged Tk700 for a single one. We are students and this difference is huge for us," Oishi lamented.
Sellers are very aware of the emotion of the football fans. After all, they are cashing in on the excitement of the fans in Bangladesh who occasionally collect the replica jersey to show off a strong supporters' base despite their national team failing to qualify for the world cup tournament.
A number of sellers said that they have been struggling to meet the growing demand.
Moktar Hossain, the owner of the Rupganj Khela Ghar shop at the Gulistan Shopping Centre, said, "The daily demand is for 5,000 pieces. But I can sell 2,000 pieces."
Usually, the sellers manage the wholesale business on a daily-based demand-and-supply system. Muktar said the sellers seldom stockpile the products. He runs a small garment factory at Badda in Dhaka where the jerseys are stitched and printed.
"The reasons behind the dwindling supply are the low capacity of my factory and problems with importing raw materials. Due to restrictions, the businesses cannot open LC [letter of Credit] at present," Moktar said.
Jashim Sarder, the owner of Robi Sports, echoed Moktar. The eldest businessman at the Gulistan Shopping Centre said he invested around Tk35 lakh for replica jerseys prior to the world cup tournament. More than half of his investment got trapped in the importers' bank accounts because of a restriction on opening LC.
In the season of 2018 FIFA World Cup, Jashim sold around 25,000 pieces of jerseys. "But, this year, the sale will not cross 10,000 pieces.
"We are not prepared well. But this is the prime season we wait for years," Jashim said. He warned that the jerseys will become more expensive in the coming days.
A few months ago, Saudi Arabia-based Mohammad Humayun came to Bangladesh on vacation. The expatriate runs a ready-made garment business in Riyadh.
As he understood how increasing demand for a product influence its pricing, Humayun raced on stockpiling jerseys of Argentina and Brazil teams. In the second week of November, he came to the Gulistan Shopping Centre and bought 16 dozen jerseys to send to Riyadh.
"Today, I could buy each piece of jersey at Tk280 wholesale price. Tomorrow, the price certainly will go higher," Humayun said while roping the bundles at the carrier of his motorbike.
His brothers in Riyadh can sell a single jersey at a minimum price of SAR15 [1 SAR or Saudi Arabian Rial was equivalent to Tk413 on 16 November 2022]. Excluding the courier cost, which he said is negligible, the profit margin will be quite satisfactory.
"There are hundreds of Bangladeshis supporting the Argentia and Brazil teams there. Like me, some other expatriates also are collecting the jerseys from Dhaka. If the demand grows, I will send more," an excited Humayun said.