Bangladesh are not playing in the Fifa World Cup to be held in Qatar this year, but football fans in the gallery will be wearing Fifa official T-shirts with the green and red "Made in Bangladesh" label. Chattogram-based Sonnet Textile Industries Ltd has produced about six lakh pieces of Fifa T-shirts for the greatest football show on earth.
The factory made the T-shirts on behalf of the Fifa-licensed Russian sports chain shop Sportmaster. And this is not the first time it has done it. Sonnet made two lakh pieces of official jackets with the Fifa logo for the 2018 Russia World Cup. The local apparel maker also received a work order for three lakh T-shirts for the 2020 Euro Cup.
If these prestigious global orders are set aside for the moment, Sonnet has a story of its own about its inception and journey, which also sounds very interesting.
The story begins with Gazi Md Shahidullah, who started his career in apparel as a computer operator at a readymade garment factory in 2000. He subsequently established a good relationship with Md Humayun Kabir Chowdhury, the general manager of the factory. In 2002, the two men switched to a garment company called Clifton Group, where they would come to know an employee named Md Yasin.
Shahidullah, Humayun Kabir and Yasin were not of the same age, but they shared similar thoughts. The next job shift came in 2007, when the trio shifted to another apparel factory.
In the wake of disagreements with the new employer on various issues, they considered setting up a factory of their own. As such, they left their jobs in 2008 and started borrowing from their relatives. The savings of the trio and loans from their families and friends amounted to Tk65 lakh.
With the initial capital, they rented a 16,000 square feet flat in Chattogram and bought machinery. Financial distress marked the beginning of the journey in 2009.
Initially Sonnet took sub-contracts for two months. Then there was no work in the third month, but that did not mean a pause in payments to 65-70 workers.
"We were in serious trouble," Gazi Shahidullah recalled.
"We started the factory amid the global recession. We earlier planned to borrow from a bank, but it refused to lend to us. Then came the lean working season," he told The Business Standard.
He said they survived on sub-contracting all through 2009. In April 2010, the factory received a $76,000 US order for the first time.
"The order was to make rompers for babies," Shahidullah said. But he said their annual audit found a Tk1.10 crore loss in the first two years.
In 2010, a group of Russian buyers visited Sonnet. In June of that year, they ordered 2.45 lakh T-shirts. The company then focused on marketing. In 2011, Sonnet received an order from a US buyer that helped it stabilise the balance sheet.
With the US order, Sonnet recovered its losses, stabilised its courses and started expanding. It has not had to look back since then.
The company earned $15.1 million in exports in 2021, and has set a target of $16 million export earnings in 2022.
Sonnet Textile in 2013 took out a licence for another factory named Sonnet Fashion Limited. Besides, it established a printing factory in 2017 to meet internal demand.
Now about 1,800 people work at the three factories of Sonnet.
Sonnet's T-shirts, jackets, activewear and sportswear go to Russia. It exports sleepwear and undergarments to the United States. Children's items, rompers and T-shirts go to Italy. Besides, Japan sources various garments for men, women and children from the company with an annual capacity of 1.20 crore of garments.
Gazi Shahidullah, director of the company, said the Russian chain shop Sportmaster is Sonnet's main client as it buys 65% of the company's products.
"Sportmaster got the Fifa licence during the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia. Besides, our products are now being sold in chain shops in different countries. The Russia-Ukraine war has slightly slowed down the export," he added.
After the death of Humayun Kabir from Covid in November 2020, his son Imrul Kabir Chowdhury joined the business as a director.