The factory floor of Fortune Footwear Ltd in Barishal BSCIC Industrial Estate is abuzz again as the export-oriented shoe manufacturer has a good number of work orders to complete within the next several months.
Many of its buyers who cancelled work orders earlier in the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak have reinstated those orders, while a lot of them have placed new orders after the reopening of economies across the world.
The shoe manufacturer, going through hard times because of loss of work orders in the past few months owing to the pandemic, has received over Tk120 crore worth of export orders in the past two months.
At a time when many shoe factories were forced to close down because of a lack of orders, the volume of export orders with Fortune Footwear is on the rise.
A success story in Barishal BSCIC
Fortune Footwear went into production at the Barishal BSCIC in 2012. It started exporting its products from the beginning, said Mohammad Alom, an official of the company.
It is currently exporting shoes to around 50 countries in Europe, Latin America and Australia. All it's raw materials are imported from China.
The company manufactures around 20,000 pairs of shoes every day at its three units – Fortune Shoes Ltd, Fortune Primer Footwear Ltd and Uni-world Footwear Technologies Ltd – in the BSCIC estate. However, production quantity may go up or down depending on orders, said Alom.
The company has another factory, MJ Accessories Ltd, at Ashulia in Dhaka, that manufactures accessories for shoes.
Because of a strong demand for its products in the world market, all employees of Fortune Shoes have been working without fear of losing jobs during the pandemic.
"I have tried my best to create a congenial atmosphere and environment in all my factories for my workers," said Mizanur Rahman, chairman of Fortune Shoes. He was adjudged the best young entrepreneur in the country in 2018.
More than 5,000 people are currently working in the four units of the company, he added.
"We are happy to get a chance to work in the factory. We have good salaries as well as an excellent working atmosphere here," said Taslima Akter, a worker of the factory.
"Fortune Footwear is a matter of pride for us in the BSCIC area because of its outstanding success," she added.
Steady business growth
Since its incorporation in 2010, Fortune Shoes has grown steadily. Before being listed on the stock exchange in 2016, the company's annual export was Tk91.54 crore in 2015. In the latest fiscal year 2019, the company's net exports stood at more than Tk150 crore. In 2015, the company's net profit was Tk9.33 crore. In 2019, it stood at Tk21.75 crore.
Evolution of the factory
Mizan, who worked as a business manager at a shoe company for twelve years, said he had always dreamt of going into shoe manufacturing. "At first, I set up a small factory in Chattogram in 2008 and got subcontracts from large companies," he said.
"Later in 2012, I set up the factory in Barishal but no bank was ready to finance me at that time," Mizan said, recalling moving from one bank to another for loans.
However, an official of Islami Bank arranged a credit for him. Since then, Mizan has not looked back.
"I set up the industry in Barishal to create jobs for the local people," he said, adding that the land was cheaper there as well.
The present market value of the company is around Tk300 crore. It has two operating offices – one in Gulshan in Dhaka and another in Barishal.
The company makes shoes for some world famous brands.
The next dream for Mizan is to launch his own brand in the global market.
Efficient transportation is a big issue for the company, says Mohammad Alom. "At present, we have to go through some hassle in transporting goods both while importing and exporting using Chattogram port." He, however, expressed his hope that the Payra port would solve their problems soon.
Mizanur Rahman pointed out the non-availability of spare parts of factory machinery in the local market in Barishal as a big issue as well. "We have to face a lot of trouble whenever any of the machines goes out of order or a part needs to be changed," he said, adding that the company has to bring all those from Dhaka.
Other companies also getting back cancelled orders
Unlike Fortune Footwear, most other companies in the sector are yet to get new export orders. However, almost all of them are gradually getting the earlier work orders – cancelled due to the pandemic – reinstated.
Mohiuddin Ahmed Mahin, chairman of Bangladesh Finished Leather, Leather Goods and Footwear Exporters Association, said, "Most footwear companies have cut production since the beginning of the year. Although there are no new orders, almost all companies are now working on the previously ordered products."
Footwear exports declining
Mahin said export earnings from the footwear sector was around Tk6,500 crore last year. Even if new orders come in, the earnings will be at least 30% lower this year, he feared.
Footwear is the largest export sector of the country after readymade garments. But, exports in this sector have been steadily declining for several years.
According to the Export Promotion Bureau, the country's export earnings from the footwear sector was $1.23 billion in the 2016-17 financial year, but it came down to $1.08 billion and $816 million in the following two years, respectively.
In the last financial year, export earnings from the sector saw a 20% fall compared to the previous year.
In the first eight months of the current calendar year, Bangladesh has exported footwear products worth $390 million.