At least 2.5 lakh women in Bogura have become self-reliant by making net caps, locally known as jalitupi.
The district produces caps worth around Tk200 crore annually and most of the caps are exported to the Middle East countries, according to the Bangladesh Net Caps Traders' Association.
MdMukul Hossain, general secretary of the association, said, "The cap business saw a decline due to the pandemic last year, but now the situation has changed a bit. The industry has started to recover ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr."
A housewife can make up to 10 caps a day after doing household work. With a cap selling at Tk35 on average, a cap maker can earn up to Tk350-400 a day.
These caps from Bogura have earned quite a big market in India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Qatar, and Dubai, each selling at Tk40 to Tk200 – depending their quality – and at Tk20-80 in the country.
Asha Begum, 41, of Chaubaria village in Sherpurupazila, said, "Women are usually neglected. But if they can earn money, they become confident. Then they do not have to live enduring abuses. The cap industry has made women of our village confident."
Aleya, 50, of the village has been meeting all her family expenses by making caps since her husband Abdul Karim died 10 years ago.
Even students have become involved in the craft during this Covid-19 pandemic since all educational institutions are closed. Anika Khatun, a college student from Shalfa area of Sherpurupazila, has been making caps and is currently earning around Tk10,000 a month.
Another woman, Lata Begum, 36, of PurbaBharanshahi village in Dhunatupazila, started making net caps when she was in school. She came to Chaubaria village after her marriage. Now Lata makes caps after doing her household work and earns Tk8,000-9,000 every month from it.
"A good amount can be earned from making caps. I make seven to eight caps a day," said Lata.
It does not take much capital to make caps – one just has to buy the yarns. A yarn bobbin costs Tk70-75 and 15 to 22 caps can be made from each bobbin.
How the business started
A few housewives in Nimgachhi village of Dhunatupazila started knitting caps about four decades ago.
Initially these caps were used by the male members of their families. Gradually, more housewives became involved in cap making to supplement the income of their husbands for running their families.
The commercial sale of the caps started in the early 1990s.
Later, it spread to the neighbouring villages of Sherpurupazila, Shajahanpur, Shibganj, Kahalu and Nandigram.
The demand for the caps increases around Ramadan and its production doubles after Shab-e-Barat.
Jewel Akand, president of the Bangladesh net Cap Traders' Association, said a large market of the caps had also developed in Bogura.
"The cap traders sell the products abroad and in different regions of the country," he said.
Jewel became involved in the business when he was a teenager. Earlier, he used to sell caps in different mosques of Bogura. During his school life, he started selling them in Chawkbazar of Dhaka. Now he has become an exporter of the caps. He exports the products worth several crores of taka every year.
Jewel further said, "I set up a yarn processing factory in 2004. In 2005, I set up another factory for packaging exportable caps. Now I sell caps to different parts of the world, including India, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia."
According to the businessmen, eight to 10 traders of Bogura export caps. Jewel Akand's Jewel Cap Depot is one of them.
Ripon Cap Products, Mahfuz Cap Depot, Elias Cap Products, Hawk Traders, Zahid Cap Depot, SS Cap and Abdullah and Brothers are also on the list of Bangladesh Net Cap Traders' Association.
Various backward linkage industries have also developed in the district. Some have set up cap export processing factories, some have built factories to make yarn suitable for the caps, while some others have set up washing plants for the caps.
Asked if the women involved in the cap industry are given loans, MdJahedul Islam, deputy manager of the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries
Corporation in Bogura, said, "Owners of the factories set up in the form of cottage industries in remote areas do not come to us for loan assistance.
"They do not come even after we advertise in newspapers about providing them with government incentives. The same thing happens in the case of training programmes. It seems that it will be better to go to different areas and give them training."