In 1963, businessman Mahmud Ali from India's Patna founded a shoe-making factory in Brahmanbaria. Since then, the footwear industry in the district has been growing.
Now there are a total of 150 footwear-manufacturing plants in the region, employing around 3,000 people. But, the Covid-19 pandemic has severely affected the industry there.
According to the shoemakers of the district, the industry has incurred a loss of around Tk20 crore due to the pandemic.
The shoe-manufacturing factories were closed towards the end of March due to the lockdown. After they resumed operations before Eid-ul-Adha, production dropped to 40 percent amid a lack of sufficient numbers of workers and low demand for the products on the market.
Though the situation has improved a bit now, shoemakers will have to wait the whole winter to see good days again.
As the footwear products, which people wear during winter, are not manufactured in Brahmanbaria, they will have to wait the whole season to see whether the industry turns around.
Now the factories are producing shoes and supplying them to wholesale traders on credit just to keep the business alive, say the businessmen of the district.
Footwear traders from different parts of the country come to Brahmanbaria to purchase shoes as the quality of the products is good and the prices are comparatively low. The price range is from Tk60 to Tk400.
The two biggest religious festivals – Eid-ul-Adha and Eid-ul-Fitr – are the main seasons for the footwear business in the country. The big shoe-making plants sell shoes worth more than Tk1 crore during the two festivals while small factories sell shoes worth Tk20 lakh on average. But during the two festivals this year, business was almost nothing.
Md Mohosin Mia, general secretary of Brahmanbaria Paduka Shilpa Malik Samity (the Brahmanbaria Footwear Industry Owners' Association), said, "Our business is Eid-centric. We make up the losses of the whole year by selling products during Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha. But unfortunately, we could not do so this year due to coronavirus. That is why the businessmen faced financial losses."
Noyon Ahmed, manager of Active Footwear in the district town, said, "Now 800 to 900 pairs of shoes are being manufactured in our factory per day on an average. Though production has increased slightly, the business has still remained dull for lack of sufficient demand of the products on the market. If the novel coronavirus situation does not worsen in the upcoming January or February, the business might improve."
Akter Hossain, director of Active Footwear, said, "We are running the factory despite the very low demand for products, just to keep it rolling – because we have made big investments in the business. If we keep the business closed now, we will lose the market. We hope that after winter, the demand of our footwear products will increase."
Before the pandemic, the big factories produced 900-1,000 pairs of shoes per day on average while the small plants used to make 400-500 pairs. Reopening the factories after the lockdown, the big plants manufactured 500 pairs of shoes per day whereas the small ones produced 150 pairs per day on average.
Since October, the production of the big factories has increased to 800-900 pairs per day on average but the small plants' production has decreased to 50-60 pairs due to the low demand for the products.
Md Hanif Mia, proprietor of Tiger Shoes, said, "Covid-19 appeared just before the peak season of the footwear business. That is why we had to keep our factories closed for several months and could not do the expected businesses during the peak season. Now though there is no demand for the products on the market, we have to produce shoes just to continue the business. We have to pay the wages of the workers."
There was no way to make up the losses they faced due to the pandemic, said Hanif Mia.
Before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the footwear industry of Brahmanbaria was competing with the cheap footwear products of India and China. Several factories did not survive the race.
Now, shoemakers are waiting for the footwear industry of the region to turn around.