Mohammad Rupchan is a loom owner in Basail upazila in Tangail. Though he inherited the family business, he had to close it down recently because of the falling demand for winter shawls.
Rupchan is just one of about a hundred Tangail-based loom owners who had to shut-down their businesses after failing to cope with a rapidly falling demand for shawls. The problem has been created by milder winters as a result of global warming.
In Bangladesh, winter lasts from mid-November to mid-February, but because of global warming, both the duration and intensity of the coldest season of the year has reduced over the years.
Md Rabiul Islam, liaison officer of the Tangail Basic Centre of the Bangladesh Handloom Board, said that winters have become milder, causing a loss for shawl producers in Tangail.
Rabiul Islam says the production of shawls in Tangail dropped gradually from 2017, when 10 percent of the total shawl production was unsold. In that year, 5.6 lakh shawls were produced for a market value of Tk20.4 crore.
The portion of unsold shawls rose to 25 percent the following year. Total production was also low, as only 5 lakh pieces worth Tk20 crore were woven. This year, as of now, 20 percent of the shawls produced have been sold.
The total production and market value has also declined by 20 percent this year, compared to that in the previous year. Only 4 lakh pieces worth Tk16 crore have been produced this year.
Most of the shawls are produced in the Bathuli Sadi area under Basail upazila in Tangail. There are five thousand handlooms in the area for shawl production, and the entire zone employs 11 thousand weavers.
Workers toil from dawn to midnight to produce at least 25 different varieties of shawls including Manipuri, Patta, High Choice, Nayantara and Flock Print.
During the heyday of the industry, Lal Miah, a handloom owner from the area used to mark-up the production cost by Tk20 per shawl to make a profit.
But now, even though he marks-up by Tk50, he still cannot avoid a loss because a sizable portion of the production remains unsold.
He said that he needs at least one lakh taka investment to sell his shawls in the winter, after storing them for nine months of the year.
Shortage of capital has prevented many people from restarting their closed businesses, Lal Miah observed.
Another handloom owner named Badsha Miah said that many like him are losing confidence in the business of winter shawls due to repeated losses over the last few years.
At present he has unsold shawls worth Tk50 lakhs accumulated from the previous and current years stored in his house.
Afzal Miah, a labourer at a shawl-weaving loom factory, said that his employer cannot sell enough shawls, and consequently cannot pay recruits like him regularly.
He said that if the business is shut down, not only will his employer suffer, but all his fellow workers and their families will starve. Their livelihood options are limited because they have no professional training in anything other than operating handlooms, he added.
Khan Ahmed Shuvo, general secretary of the Tangail Chamber of Commerce and Industries, said despite the popularity of Tangail looms, the government's help – now considered vital for their survival – is absent.
The government has to provide soft loans and export opportunities to help sustain the industry because over three hundred loom owners and weavers have already lost their livelihood, he added.