Bangladeshi carpets adorned houses and offices in Australia, New Zealand and the United States between the 1970s and 1990s. But, a lack of technological advancement and innovation in the quality and design of the carpets have led to the industry's collapse.
Had the industry survived, it would have seen an expanding domestic market that now completely relies on imports.
Seven companies used to manufacture carpets to meet local demand and export them.
"There was a time when whatever products we made, local and foreign buyers bought them. Over time, buyers began looking for new designs and we could not cater to their demands. They turned away from us," said Shahedul Islam Helal, who worked as a sales agent for all the carpet manufacturers.
Bangladeshi carpets were exported to China, Hungary and Russia too in the 1980s through the barter system under which goods and services are exchanged by one party for goods and services of another party.
"The old and second-hand machines were deployed to make those carpets. There was a lack of focus on design development too," said Shahedul who is now director of Bengal Braided Rug Ltd that produces jute products.
By 1995-1996, all the companies had shut down their production units, he added.
Of the seven manufacturers, three – Baghdad-Dhaka Carpet Factory, Amin Carpet, and Karnafully Forat Carpet Factory – operated under the Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC).
They suffered from mismanagement and corruption, according to researchers.
"Government organisations were keen on using imported items when they could easily have bought carpets from the local manufacturers, which would have helped sustain their businesses," Shahedul said.
"If local carpets are not promoted by government agencies, why will people show interest in buying them?" he added.
A decade after the factories under the BJMC had been closed, the government tried to resume their operations, but the efforts did not yield any success.
At present, some organisations involved in handicraft business are manufacturing carpets from cotton and synthetic materials on a small scale.
The local demand is largely met by products imported from China, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Canada, Spain, France, India, and Belgium.
Several businessmen said local production could boost the demand for rugs, making them available at a low cost.
According to importers, annual sales amount to Tk100-150 crore. In Dhaka, 200-250 shops sell household decorative items. Large stores are located on Elephant Road and in Paltan and Baitul Mukarram.
Amirul Islam of Mithu Carpets, one of the major importers, said the domestic demand does not make local manufacturing sustainable.
"It is a luxury item. The price is also high. Carpets are more popular in cold countries than in warm countries like Bangladesh. These are the reasons why no local companies have shown interest in setting up a manufacturing unit," he said.
Some importers said only rich people used to buy carpets, but over the last decade, middle-class people began choosing the product as part of their home decoration. The evolving aesthetic sense is a blessing for them, they said.
But the carpet industry, roiled by the onset of the pandemic last year, is yet to recover.
Siraj Hossain, manager of a shop in the capital's Elephant Road, said sales had slumped. "Even rich people now think twice before spending money on luxury items. It has become so difficult to bear the living expenses of our families in the capital after the drop in sales."
Robiul Islam, manager of another shop in Paltan, said the business had gradually picked up after the shutdown to reach 70% of the pre-pandemic level.
However, the entrepreneurs who made rugs from jute have not been able to sustain their businesses because jute rugs do not last long and are pricier than others. Carpets made of synthetic materials have overtaken the market.