It was the first time that former banker Hashibul Hasan bought four lungis at a time from a Pride showroom in the capital's Mouchak. After retirement four years ago, he started working at a private organisation as a consultant, but home office is what is in fashion now to ward off the virus, so his tailor-made attires have become nothing but prized collections.
Having to spend all his time at home, Hashibul recently found that all his casual wears looked worn out. "Earlier, I spent very less time at home and so did not feel the need to buy lungis frequently, but now they do not last very long," he said.
The demand for lungis has escalated during Covid-19, said Fazlul Haque, manager of the Pride showroom. He made the observation from the rising sales of Pride lungis at the shop whenever it was open between lockdowns.
The Mouchak showroom is not an exception. An official of Pride Group said all 47 outlets of the local clothing brand across the country had logged higher sales of lungis than other items. Last year, the brand sold 80 lakh pieces of lungi. This year, the demand is even higher, the official said, wishing not to be named.
Like Pride, Amanat Shah Textile, Pakiza Textile and other clothing brands also registered a hike in the sales of lungis.
According to Bangladesh lungi manufacturers, export and traders' association, an average of 10.5 crore pieces of lungi had been marketed annually by local manufacturers before the pandemic, which increased to about 11 crore last year. But the additional demand was mostly Dhaka centric and so large brands having production units in the adjacent areas and showrooms in the city could only take advantage of it.
Manager of Pakiza Lungi Collection Merajul Haque Meraj said workers had returned home during the countrywide shutdown last year from March through May, making it difficult to keep the pace of production, but the factories resumed production quickly in compliance with health guidelines.
The businesses also adopted alternative ways to sell products, facing movement restrictions. They made sales through e-commerce platforms and shipped lungis in large quantities to wholesalers through courier services.
Not only has the demand grown locally, but export of lungis has also continued during the pandemic as before, said Md. Helal Mia, chairman of Amanat Shah Group.
In 2019, foreign currencies equivalent to Tk200 crore were earned from exporting lungis to as many as 25 nations, including India, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Dubai, Canada and the US. Last year, export earning was about the same.
Most of the production units are in Narsingdi, Pabna and Sirajganj. There are three big markets in these districts, from where wholesalers buy the items in bulk to sell those in their local markets.
Md. Alli Hussein Shishir, president of Narsingdi Chamber of Commerce and Industries, said the transportation was a big problem due to Covid-19 initially, but later upon request by the chamber, the government allowed wholesalers from across the country to go and buy lungis from the Baburhat wholesale market in Narsingdi.
Lungis worth more than Tk500 crore were sold at Baburhat market from January to June. Pabna and Sirajganj chambers of commerce said they saw similar quantities of lungis to be sold at the district markets.
Big brands take over the market
Smart Lungi Collection Manager Shariful Islam said the demand for lungis and supply had risen in cities, including Dhaka, in the pandemic, because people with formal jobs mostly resided in cities, and they had become homebound either for restrictions on movement or for the fear of infection.
Last year, wholesalers bought about 30 lakh Smart lungis and 10 lakh pieces were delivered to the capital alone. Other divisional headquarters also saw a spike in demand, Shariful said.
Echoing his view regarding the increase in demand, businessmen said big lungi factories in Dhaka and its adjacent areas were the ones that were getting the biggest slice of the market share though there were 125 local brands in total.
An official of Bangladesh Lungi Manufacturers, Exporters and Traders' Association said big companies had showrooms in the capital and other cities. They emphasised on digital marketing and are ahead in the race of exporting lungis as well.
In contrast with the booming business, local weavers are not getting a fair price. Weavers in about 20 areas in Pabna district make saree, gamcha (local cotton scarf) and lungi.
President of Pabna District Weavers Union, Istiak Hossain said nearly 4 lakh people were engaged in this sector. At the beginning of the pandemic, the supply of raw materials faced disruptions, and now weavers are struggling to make ends meet.
President of the Narsingdi Chamber of Commerce Alli Hussein Shishir said the government had provided incentives to protect the local handloom industry. Moreover, the Chamber and other merchant associations took steps to keep the industry running.
Nazma Yesmin, director (research & development), Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS), said the government had no statistics of how many handloom craftsmen were in the country. She said the number was estimated to be about 15 lakh and these people did not receive any stimulus fund from the government.