Ten years ago, Madaripur resident Selim Akan relocated to Keraniganj and set up a business.
He started selling denim pants in the local market after procuring them from the suppliers.
After 2014, he set up a factory and currently eight persons are working for him. Now he sells pants made in his own factory.
His yearly turnover in 2019 was Tk60 lakh, including a profit of more than Tk2 lakh.
Unlike Selim, Munshiganj resident Shadhin Sheikh moved to Keranigani 31 years ago and started a job as a helper in a tailoring shop.
Years later he became a master and following a long struggle, Shadhin became a fabric supplier in Aganagar of Keraniganj.
These are but two examples among the many self-established entrepreneurs of Keraniganj.
A survey conducted by Keraniganj Garments Traders and Shop Owners' Cooperative Association in 2015 revealed that Keraniganj is home to over three thousand RMG factories, more than 5,000 shops and 250 malls. This number has increased in the last four years.
Currently, around 2 lakh people are employed in the factories and shops of Keraniganj.
The apparel hub produces denims and woven items, which meet around 80 percent of the demand for such products in the local market.
Talking to The Business Standard, Shadhin Sheikh, who is the current president of Keraniganj Garments Traders' Association, said local businessmen make the highest profits during Ramadan.
"Sales cross Tk1,000 crore during Eid," he said.
Three decades ago, Keraniganj was a mini-market of various garments products. But now it has become a local readymade garments (RMG) hub.
Due to the huge production and supply of RMG in the whole country from Keraniganj, it has become known as Bangladesh's apparel hub.
"When I set up my first shop of shirts and panjabis in 1988, there were only 25-30 garments shops in Keraniganj," said Muslim Dhali, proprietor of Muslim Collection in Zila Parishad Market.
Over the years he expanded the business to include manufacture and sale.
"Most local retailers come here to buy products for their shops," said Tushar, a wholesaler at Bisho Tower in Keraniganj.
"They pay between Tk450 and Tk1,000 for each pair of jeans," he added.
Supply of garment accessories
It was found that Keraniganj is different from other wholesale markets in the country. Most of the markets in this area are five or six-storied buildings.
The ground and first floors are outlets for wholesale readymade garments, while the upper floors are given over to factories and warehouses.
Various readymade garment items are sold at the outlets. These mostly include products manufactured in the area, while some portions are imported from India, Thailand and China.
Manufacturers have said they get clothes and other materials from importers or local suppliers and produce the garments, either with their brand name or the client's name.
The majority of the accessories come from China, India, Korea and Taiwan. Besides, local suppliers of Dhaka provide chains, stickers and buttons.
"I sell buttons and chains. Some importers bring them from China. Besides, we buy from local suppliers in Bangshal, Sadarghat and Mirpur in Dhaka," said Roni, a salesman at Mim Enterprise in Bismillah Market at Aganagar.
Md Jabed, owner of Jabed Suta Ghar, said, "We sell yarns between Tk5 and Tk50 per bundle of different qualities. The supplier collects these from Gazipur and Munshiganj."
Paid by the pants
The workers are paid either monthly salaries or for the number of items they produce.
While most female workers work on a salary basis, the males either work for fixed wages or on items they produce.
The salary of female workers ranges between Tk5,000 and Tk16,000 per month.
Lamia works in a factory named Choice Shirt, earning Tk5,500 per month. Two other workers of the same factory, Rabeya and Shima, make Tk7,000 and Tk8,000 respectively.
Male workers draw Tk13,000 per month, which is the highest salary there.
Nur Hossain, a worker at S Alam Garments, draws wages for the number of items he produces.
"I get Tk4,000 per week for making 100 pants," he said.
Most male workers like Nur live on the factory premises, while some others live in rented houses.
Many factories do not maintain the minimum wage of Tk8,000. Factory owners said that salaries depend on workers' experience and efficiency.
The readymade garments business has flourished over the years in Keraniganj.
This correspondent visited the apparel hub on 13 January. Most businessmen said that their business grew with the sale of winter products, notably jackets, long coats and blazers.
"We have produced 12,000 pieces of two-in-one jackets this winter. More than 11,000 have been sold already. And the leather jacket has also sold very well," said Md Selim, a salesman of Ananna Pant Collection at Rafique Tower.
"In addition, we have sold 30,000 pairs of jeans over the year," he added.
Aian Fashion of Zilla Parishad Market has sold 1,000 jackets, which is more than the previous year's.
Some businesses have experienced a decline too. For example, Ahid Garments witnessed a sharp drop in sales.
"We sell jeans only but sales are not good at all, unlike winter products," said Gias Uddin of Habiba Garments.
Meanwhile, there are no statistics on the total market size from the monetary perspective.
According to Keraniganj Garments Traders and Shop Owners' Cooperative Association, the area now houses branches of about 25 banks and offices of 30 transport agencies.
"Banks are interested in setting up more branches in Keraniganj due to the huge business potentials of the area; and we will examine the total market size," said an association leader.
Measures to protect the environment
There are 84 washing mills in Keraniganj for washing and dyeing fabrics. But the chemical waste from these mills has been damaging the environment.
In response, on December 30 last year, the Department of Environment shut the mills down.
"Now the washing is taking place in other mills in Dhaka. We are trying to solve the problem. Hopefully, the mills will be operating soon," said Kazi Abu Hossain Kajal, president of Keraniganj Washing Mill Owners Association.
"We bought land in Rohitpur, Keraniganj and have plans to shift the mills there after completing all formalities," he added.
Abdullah Al Mamun, deputy director (Monitoring and Enforcement), Department of Environment, said, "The mills are running without permission and causing damage to the environment."
He blamed mill owners for damaging the surrounding environment, causing Subhadya canal, connected to the Buriganga River, to lose its flow.
Factory owners and local authorities refuted his claims.
"We have an automatic machinery system for washing and dyeing, which does not affect the natural ecosystem. There are also backward linkage industries in the area. Other people destroyed the canal by throwing garbage into it," said Jishan Sheikh, owner of One World Denim Washing.
Jahangir Hossain Khushi, chairman of Aganagar Union Parishad, said, "The government has taken up a project to change conditions at the Buriganga and the Dhaleshwari and the surrounding canals, including Subhadya. Garbage must be eliminated from the locality."