The scene gives the feeling of enormity – a massive wholesale market with hundreds of small stores, countless sellers and buyers bargaining best deals possible and innumerable bundles of clothes, whichever direction you turn to. Welcome to Shahjadpur fabric market in Sirajganj!
On Sundays and Wednesdays, when the market sits next to the famous "Kachari Bari" of Rabindranath Tagore, it is always packed to the rafters.
Merchants from across Indian borders come here in numbers and join hundreds of local traders in their pursuit of sourcing the finest fabrics. It is hustle and bustle that dominates the market all the time.
Back in the day, market days in Shahjadpur were Mondays and Wednesdays. But with the expansion of the clothing market, two separate days were fixed exclusively for the sale and purchase of clothes and fabrics.
Traders begin preparing for the market days from Saturday and Tuesday evenings before the market goes into full activity by midday on the market days.
According to sellers, products worth hundreds of crores of taka are sold during market days.
Wholesale buyers from all over the country, known as "Paikar" in local lingo, come and buy clothes and fabrics at wholesale prices. Customers also come from outside the country. About 30% to 40% of the clothes in this market are bought by Indian wholesale buyers.
Sirajul Islam, owner of Sonali Saree House, has been doing business with Indian wholesalers for the last eight years.
"Indian wholesalers are the biggest buyers in my shop, and there was a time when traders for Pakistan used to come as well," he told The Business Standard.
From around the country most traders come from Chattogram, he added.
Sirajul also said most transactions are now done either online or through mobile financial services, whereas in the old days, all dealings were in cash.
Most saree and lungi stores in the market have fixed-buyers. Vendors say it takes years to build such a buyer-seller bonding.
Gouri Basak, an Indian wholesaler, said he comes to Shahjadpur market almost every month to buy saree at wholesale prices. He has a saree shop named Gaur and Sons in East Burdwan of West Bengal.
"Hand loom saree is also produced in India. The quality is also fairly good but the price is high. In comparison, loom-woven cloth is available in Bangladesh markets at a much lower price. That is why we come here," he said.
Like Gouri Basak, Chittaranjan Basak, Sukumar Ghosh and Kashi Nandi also regularly visit the cloth and fabric markets of Bangladesh. At the Shahjadpur market, they also have fixed-stores, from where they always make their purchases.
A wholesaler from Chattogram said there is a huge demand for Shahjadpur-made Saree and lungi in the port city.
"We buy clothes from and brand them in our stores and sell them at retail prices," he said.
The Shahjadpur Haat (marker) fabric market is the largest cloth and fabric market in the country. Then, there is Ataikula Haat in Pabna, Sohagpur Haat in Sirajganj, Enayetpur Haat and Korotia of Tangail, which are also famous. However, compared to these markets, the specialty of Shahjadpur market is that they have the finest processed fabrics.
Grey-cloth is the fabric, which is just finished from loom. Such clothes are not suitable for wearing. The disadvantage of this fabric is that it has to be pressed before released in the retail market. Therefore, foreign buyers are more interested in buying readymade fabrics and clothes, and the Shahjadpur fabric market is famous for ready fabrics.
However, grey fabric sells more in the other two big markets of Sirajganj – Sohagpur and Enayetpur markets. Many wholesalers source grey fabric from Shahjadpur and then process it and put their own brand logo on the cloth before releasing it in the market.
Every year the Shahjadpur municipality provides a lease contract for the market's management through an auction. This year the lease contract value went up to nearly Tk1 crore 35 lakhs.
Those who get the market's lease, they divide the market among a few. This distribution is done along the lanes of the market. The alleys are often called "Patti". The lessees collect rents from the stores in their designated alleys. From the total amount they pay for the original lease and the surplus is their profit.
"The lessees maintain order inside the market and are responsible to ensure business securities," Shariful Islam Saju, organising secretary of the Shahjadpur Textile Traders' Association, told TBS.
The Shahjadpur fabric market is no longer confined to the government-leased premises. Large markets for lungi and other clothing have sprung up along government lands.
In addition to the big shops in the market, clothes are also sold in roadside open shops, which are called "bits".
Rakibul Islam, president of Shahjadpur Textile Traders Association, said a transaction of Tk150-200 crore is done on each market day. Indian merchants shop through telegraphic transfer (TT) and Letters of Credit (LCs).
Bangladesh Handloom Board oversees the trading of the market. The Shahjadpur Textile Traders' Association assists the traders in making their purchase. The pieces of cloth bought from Shahjadpur by foreign traders are mainly taken through the land ports of Benapole in Jashore and Bhomra in Satkhira. Recently, the trading of goods has also started through Chapainawabganj.
Shahjahan Ansari, chairman of Tangail Sadar Upazila Parishad and a prominent cloth merchant, said the transaction volume per market day in Korotia Haat is also close to Shahjadpur Haat – nearly Tk150 crores.
Handloom products are not sold as single pieces in the Shahjadpur market like in other big wholesale markets. There are separate units for saree and lungi. Saree is sold as pairs. Unit for lungi is "Thaan" – one thaan is equivalent to four lungis.
Abdus Salam, the owner of "Priyanka Saree Ghar," gave an interesting information when asked about the price of sarees and lungis.
"In the wholesale market, we sell saree-lungi as a pair, "peti" and thaan. When someone asks the price of a saree, sellers for saree reply with the price of a pair and for lungi, they mention the price of one thaan. It often confuses the customers," he said.
In addition to thaan and pairs, there is another unit for selling handloom products, which is – "Peti". However, peti count for saree and lungi are different. Six sarees make one peti and for lungi, it takes 10 to count one peti. For wholesale purchase, the larger the unit, the cheaper the price.
Another unit of production and marketing of handloom products is "hand". For example, the length of saree is popularly counted as twelve hands or twelve and a half hands. For lungi, standard length is five and a half hands or six hands and for towels, it is two and a half hands length etc. The saree of Tangail is slightly longer in length than that of Shahjadpur.
Among the most popular types of sarees at Shahjadpur cloth market are half-silk sarees, hybrid sarees, jamdani sarees etc. Hybrid yarn is slightly thicker than half silk. There is not much difference in price. Jamdani sarees are the most expensive. The difference in the price of saree is due to the difference in the count of cloth.
Count is the calculation of the density of cloth. The yarn count is calculated by dividing the length of the cloth in metres by the weight in grams. Some 200 counts of yarn mean 1,000 metres of yarn will weigh only 2 grams. The higher the yarn count of a fabric, the finer the fabric. Thin count fabrics are more expensive.
The production cost of half-silk and hybrid sarees is around Tk500 to Tk800 per saree which is sold at Tk2,200 to Tk2,600 per pair.
The production and sale prices of Jamdani sarees vary widely. Jamdani worth Tk1,500 to Tk40,000 is available at the Shahjadpur Cloth Market. Sales of printed fabrics have increased recently. Fabrics are made on the loom and later designs are printed on them from outside.
The largest market for Jamdani sarees at Shahjadpur fabric Market is Hamid Market. Other famous markets include Chowdhury Plaza, Sarkar Market, Biswas Market, Haider Sari House, Bakkar Printing House, Mama-Bhagina Market, Kurban Market, Haider Market, Naib Market, Abul Market etc. The latter is also famous for lungi.
In one or two shops of these markets, several types of Indian saree, including Indian Benaroshi, Baampar, Chumki varieties are available. Although Indian saree is the second most popular choice for women, sales of Benaroshi increase during the wedding season. Although the prices are higher due to the exquisite workmanship on the sarees, some women are drawn towards Indian sarees.
A good quality lungi at Shahjadpur cloth market will cost from Tk2,400 to Tk4,000. However, a lungi "thaan" of Tk700-Tk800 is also available at this market. If you buy one thaan lungi or one pair of saree at a time, you will get a better price. Prices are a bit higher in retail stores. However, it is possible to buy at a lower price if you bargain.
Thanks to this traditional market, the local transport and tourism industry has improved. Small and big residential and non-residential hotels and food shops have sprung up around the market. Good quality food is available at low prices in those shops. One of the favourite dishes of the fabric traders is "Doi-Chira". Sweets outlets including "Modok", "Bosak", "Pal" and "Saha" sell Doi-Chira on market days.