Shahina Akter – a woman entrepreneur in Chattogram – launched the company Aegis Shield in 2020 and her factory began making quality leather belts, wallets and ladies purses. But sales soon plummeted due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Shahina, however, endured the impact of the novel coronavirus. She can now be found showcasing her products at the five-day cottage, micro, small and medium enterprise (CMSME) fair for women entrepreneurs at port city's Hotel Agrabad.
Visitors and customers are flocking to Shahina's stall at the fair, and the sales volume is meeting her expectations too. Like Shahina, women entrepreneurs at forty stalls are showing off their products at the event – organised by the Chittagong Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Their sales, which had previously slowed down to a crawl due to the pandemic, have been revitalised by the fair, and their goods – some imported and others produced domestically – are now enjoying renewed popularity.
The fair began on 10 February, giving women entrepreneurs the spotlight to sell their products. The chamber is also organising discussions and seminars each day to encourage these women into rebuilding their businesses. The event will conclude on 14 February.
Visiting the fair on 13 February, The Business Standard witnessed that the event venue was buzzing with activity. At the stalls, women entrepreneurs were showcasing apparel from clothing brands of home and abroad, jewellery, cosmetics and homemade food.
Organisers, participants and visitors are maintaining proper health guidelines at the venue. Many visitors were seen shopping along with their family members. The fair is taking place on the first floor hall-room of the hotel.
Speaking to The Business Standard, owner of one of the participant companies, Marwa Creation, Humaira Islam said, "We had lost all our business due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Entrepreneurs suffered great losses as no fair was organised in the last year."
"This year, the CMSME fair has connected sellers with their customers," Humaira said. She also serves as the admin of Easy Shopping – an online based f-commerce group.
Leaders of the Chittagong Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the fair has no predefined business target, instead it was organised to bring women entrepreneurs back to business. The leaders also expressed satisfaction over the volume of sales at the fair so far.
Director of the Chittagong Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry and fair committee chairman Rebeka Nasreen said, "The Covid-19 pandemic has caused severe losses to women entrepreneurs, as they are dependent on: festivals, pujas, exhibitions, and small fairs.
"We organised the fair mainly to encourage these entrepreneurs, so that they do not lose courage after losing their businesses amid the novel coronavirus pandemic," she added.
Other participants of the fair, including owner of A and A Collection Mafruha Nizam Chowdhury, owner of Aponghar Boutique Farhana Afroze Alam Jennifer and owner of Needlework Fashion House Rebecca Rahman also thanked the fair for bringing new life to their businesses.
Ladies e-commerce forum Aparajita's director and Mahi Collection's owner Marin Rahman Bristy said, "Aside from holding fairs at star-rated hotels, such events should also be expanded into the grassroots level."
"The chamber's initiative has been a tremendous help to women entrepreneurs. If such events are expanded to different locations throughout the port city, many such entrepreneurs will benefit," she continued.
Aklima Akter, a shopper at the fair, said, "I am visiting the event because I will get more options before deciding on a purchase. The stalls are full of a variety of goods. The health guidelines are being followed, so the risk of infection is low."
Prism Bangladesh and SME Foundations have supported this initiative. Women Co-operative Society Ltd's Chairman and Bangladesh Mohila Samity, Chattogram President Kamrun Malek inaugurated the fair on 10 February.
The chamber organised a discussion titled "Impact of Covid-19 on Women Entrepreneurs: Problems and Prospects" on 11 February, a seminar titled "The Role of e-commerce During a Pandemic" and "Basanta Utsav [Spring Festival]" on 13 February.
The fair will end on 14 February, after holding a Valentine's Day celebration and cultural programme, with a concluding ceremony at 4pm.