Global fashion industry stakeholders, who once did not believe Bangladesh could host an international standard expo, now eagerly wait to come to the country to participate in such an event, said Mostafiz Uddin, a Bangladeshi denim entrepreneur.
"It was not an easy task to draw in buyers and brands. We had to regain our image and make them believe we can," said Mostafiz, the man who orchestrated Bangladesh Denim Expo.
When his organisation named Bangladesh Apparel Exchange started organising the expo in 2014 for the first time, only 50 exhibitors from 37 countries took part and there were 2,601 visitors, the number increased to 90 exhibitors coming from 54 countries in 2019.
The idea of organising such an international event in Bangladesh struck him during his frequent visits to denim exhibitions in different countries.
"I realised that we as the second largest exporter make apparel items and export to different countries. Why will we spend a lot of money participating in such global events held in Germany, the United States, France and Italy? Why will people not come to Bangladesh if we arrange such exhibitions in our country?" he said.
But the initiative hit a stumbling block after the Rana Plaza tragedy in 2013. "After that, I had to brand my country and regain our lost image by letting them know about workplace safety ensured by our factories," Mostafiz, also managing director at Denim Expert Limited, continued.
"Unfortunately, our industry people laughed at me when I shared my thoughts. They told me nobody would come to visit Bangladesh's expo instead of going to Germany, Italy and the US," he said.
"But I was determined to organise this expo to rebuild the image of the apparel industry, stained by the Rana Plaza incident, and brand Bangladesh."
"My vision was to give a new height to the apparel industry at the global level, which has already been possible by the support of brands, buyers, development partners and industry entrepreneurs," he added.
Talking to Business Standard, BGMEA President Faruque Hassan said Bangladesh Denim Expo highlighted the country as well as its apparel industry at the global level.
"It is an excellent get-together of buyers, suppliers, fabric millers, accessories, machineries and technology suppliers, fashion designers and fashion journalists," he noted.
"Now, all are waiting to visit the Bangladesh Denim Expo," he added.
Ananta Apparels Managing Director Sharif Zahir said, "We need more initiatives that promote the industry positively."
"Denim expo has become the premier showcase event for fabric millers' from Bangladesh and abroad. For local mills, it has become a platform to show how our products have now come of age to compete with international denim millers," said Shams Mahmud, managing director at Shasha Denims Ltd.
"Also, for foreign companies, with the tremendous growth of the denim sub-sector in Bangladesh, it has become very important for them to show their products to the garment manufacturers in Bangladesh," he added.
"More than the showcasing of products, the expo serves as a platform where people from home and abroad can mingle and share knowledge and ideas. It is also a testament to the coming of age of the textile millers of Bangladesh. Besides this new technology in equipment, such as washing, is shown here, which gives entrepreneurs a better understanding of what is going to be the future of this industry," said Shams Mahmud.
Mostafiz Uddin said this expo also helps change financial institutions' mindset about financing the apparel industry.
"When we had started the journey, Bangladesh had a few denim mills, we now have 40 and at the same time, the number of denim garment factories almost doubled," he noted.
This expo helps brand the country and increase businesses, he said, adding that in 2014, Bangladesh's exports of denim products to the US market was $426 million, which rose to $798 million by 2021. Exports to the European Union stood at $1.18 billion in 2021, which was $939 million in 2014.
"Bangladesh Denim Expo has been the catalyst behind the denim industry's growth in Bangladesh since 2014," said Mostafiz.
Shafiur Rahman, country manager of G-Star RAW, said Bangladesh Denim Expo is not only contributing to the country's apparel and textile industry but also to Asian textile industry.
Denim expo also helped to create awareness about sustainability and producing more sustainable products, he also said.
Branding Bangladesh to global apparel brands and retailers is another great achievement of the expo, he added.
Bangladesh has been the largest denim exporter to the EU since 2017 and in the last two years, the country also established its dominance in the US market.
According to Eurostat, statistics directorate of the European Commission, Bangladesh's denim exports amounted to $1.18 billion in 2021, which was $1 billion in 2020.
In the US market, Bangladesh's denim exports were $798.42 million in 2021, which was $561 million in the previous year.
According to Otexa, Bangladesh holds a 21.69% market share of total US imports of $3.68 billion. It also holds 26.82% market share in the EU's denim imports of $4.40 billion, show data from the Eurostat.
After a two-year break, the 12th edition of Bangladesh Denim Expo will once again open its doors in the international Convention City, Bashundhara in Dhaka on 10-11 May.
"Beyond Business" is the theme of the 12th edition of the show being hosted after a two-year break.
Some 79 exhibitors are set to attend the event, consisting of both local and international participants.