The current size of the global technical textile market is about $180 billion but Bangladesh is yet to tap this huge potential.
There are five main reasons behind this: lack of awareness of market requirements, inadequate technical expertise, difficulty in sourcing high-performance raw materials, compliance and certification requirements and need for capital investment.
A recent study came up with such information. According to the study, Bangladesh, still in the early stage of technical textiles, has a huge potential to capture the markets of Europe and America, the big buyers of this product.
The study, titled 'Feasibility study on scaling up the production of Technical Textile (TT) including Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in Bangladesh', was conducted by German-based Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (giz). The study will be released on Tuesday jointly with the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).
Technical textile is a textile product manufactured for non-aesthetic purposes, where functionality is the primary criterion. Currently, technical textile materials are most widely used in filter clothing, furniture, hygiene medicals, and construction materials. Mask and PPE are also technical textile products.
"Most apparel manufacturers in Bangladesh tend to be medium-sized companies. Even large apparel groups are not known by international procurement agencies for TT/PPE products. The sourcing supply channel for medical PPE products is far more complex than that of apparel. Comprehensive details regarding performance, testing and certification requirements for the EU and the US are provided," said the report.
The technical textile market is projected to grow to $224.4 billion by 2025 at an average annual growth rate of 4.2%. Meanwhile, the global PPE market is projected to pass $93 billion by the end of 2025.
According to the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB), in the last fiscal year 2020-21, Bangladesh exported PPEs and masks worth $618 million to the world market, which is 23% more than the previous year. Apart from this, the exact amount of other technical textiles exported is not known.
However, entrepreneurs in the garment industry say that Bangladesh is still unable to export even 0.5% of the demand in the world market. But the share of Bangladesh in the world market of readymade garments is more than 6%.
According to the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), an association of garment industry owners, 155 of its members export masks and PPEs. Masks have been exported to 19 countries and PPEs to six countries.
The study cited the complexity of raw material sourcing and testing or certification standards as one of the reasons for Bangladesh's lagging in technical textile exports.
BGMEA Director Abdullah Hil Rakib told The Business Standard we almost have no export of technical textiles to the world market. We just started after the advent of the Covid pandemic.
Ensuring supply and order of raw materials is a big challenge to exporting technical textile products. It is not yet recognised worldwide that Bangladesh can export this product, he added.
However, Rakib continued, we have started getting international certification for some PPEs. So, there are possibilities in the future. Even if we can capture 10% of the market, our total garment exports would exceed $50 billion.
Shahidullah Azim, vice president of BGMEA, told TBS, "From now on, we are encouraging the production of high-value or exceptional clothing outside the ordinary clothing. However, those who take such initiatives should get a special incentive from the government."
The study also pointed to a way for Bangladesh to do well in exporting such products. It said that a complete strategy has to be adopted for first stage development, based on a limited number of products by a limited number of well-established technical apparel manufacturers in the greater Dhaka area who will act as a role model TT/PPE cluster.
Everything starts on a small scale and once a solid foundation is built, the sub-sector can rely on increased demand to bolster more product diversification at a second stage, it said.
The study said during the first stage, factories will upgrade technology and implement lean manufacturing practices. The relevant departments will ensure suitable raw material procurement and quality production. Other departments will learn all the requirements for meeting testing and certification standards. Once Bangladesh builds its reputation, confidence and reliability in this new product sector, it can gradually introduce more technology and advance to more diversified and sophisticated products offering greater profit margins.
"Even starting with a limited number of products, if they are done well, it will open the door to a host of other niche categories and products. Encouraged by the success of the early manufacturers, more companies will take the leap and the sub-sector will grow.
"Europe is the current leader in imports of medical textiles but demand from North America is growing and expected to grow further. The world of technical textiles and their end-use products is endless.
"Once manufacturers have established reliable material supply, upgrade their operations and learn the necessary testing and certifications procedures, there are huge opportunities in product diversifications," the report said.
Bangladesh also benefits from the EU's Everything but Arms (EBA) scheme which allows for duty-free imports.