After the pandemic fallout lasting two years, the footwear industry of Brahmanbaria is hoping to make a good business this Eid.
In order to keep the factories running during the pandemic, footwear traders of the district incurred losses worth several crores of taka in the last two years.
Now that all pandemic restrictions are gone, business is running in full swing this year during the Ramadan and the traders are hoping to turn around from the pandemic-inflicted losses, targeting at least Tk25 crore sales before Eid.
Workers of the district's footwear factories are now working day and night to meet the market demand. Wholesalers from different parts of the country have been coming to the factories to buy shoes.
However, industry insiders say, despite the boom in business, traders are still worried due to two reasons: the rising prices of chemicals used in shoe-making and frequent power outages.
According to the traders, the footwear industry flourished in the district during the 1960s and has continued expanding since then. At present, about 3,000 workers are employed in around 100 shoe factories in the district. Shoes are made through machines in 19 of those factories. Shoes made in Brahmanbaria are marketed in different parts of the country.
During Ramadan, the big factories sell shoes worth from Tk80 lakh to Tk1 crore, while shoes to the tune of Tk8-10 lakh are sold by the small factories. Workers have to work day and night during the month of Ramadan as production doubles during this time to meet increased market demand.
The traders were forced to close the factories in 2020 due to the restrictions imposed by the government to contain the pandemic. As a result, they could not do business during the two Eids in that year.
The footwear business was in crisis in 2021 too as the situation remained almost the same. Shoes produced in the factories could not be marketed due to the lockdown. Besides, the increased prices of all required raw materials added insult to injury. As a result, production in every factory came down to less than half. Despite the fallout in business, traders had to bear all the related expenses, including the wages of the permanent workers, factory rent and electricity bills.
This year, after a significant improvement in the pandemic situation, the footwear industry of Brahmanbaria has become vibrant again ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr. At present, 3,000-4,000 pairs of shoes are being made in the big factories every day while the small factories are producing 300 pairs on average. Production of shoes is going on in full swing from morning till midnight in all the factories.
Sohel Mia, a worker at Active Footwear in Brahmanbaria, has had to face an acute financial crisis for the last two years, living at home with his wife and children due to lack of work. At a certain time, he was forced to work as a day laborer. "However, I am now working day and night to meet the market demand for shoes ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr. The workers do not have the time to rest for a moment. During this time of the year, I earn Tk10,000-15,000 in addition to my salary working extra hours," he said.
Another worker, Md Ujjal, said that since the beginning of Ramadan, 80-100 workers of their factory have been working day and night. "We wait for this time of year. I use the money earned from working extra hours to do my Eid shopping," he said.
Seven Star Footwear Manager Md Al-Amin said, "The factory was in a standstill for the last two years due to the pandemic. However, this year, the business situation is better as pandemic restrictions have been withdrawn. Hundreds of workers are working in our factory, making 4,000 pairs of shoes on average every day. Hopefully, we will be able to sell shoes worth Tk1 crore before the Eid."
Akter Hossain, director of Active Footwear, said, "In the last two years, the factory has incurred a loss of Tk8-10 lakh. However, the business situation is better now. The production of shoes in the factory has also increased. We have a Tk80 lakh-Tk1 crore sales target before Eid."
Brahmanbaria Footwear Traders Association General Secretary Md Hanif said, "Production has increased due to rising market demand. Our target is to market shoes worth Tk20-25 crore. But the increased chemical prices and power outage have become a new problem for traders."
"The price of a chemical which last year was Tk220 increased to Tk320 this year. We cannot increase the price of shoes, although the production cost has increased. Moreover, around 2-3 hours of power outage every day are disrupting production severely. It would be easier for us to make up for the pandemic losses if we did not have to face these problems," he added.