The handbag that you always use, do you know where they are made?
If you check the tag inside, it will probably read "Made in Thailand" or "Made in China".
Though we have a huge demand for handbags in our market, we usually see it overflowing with foreign products.
This scenario left Sanjana Zaman thinking of ways to promote deshi products and popularise locally made handbags.
She always loved to explore new ideas and did not hesitate to take up the challenge of producing designer bags made in Bangladesh.
Her brand René Bangladesh makes colourful handbags, clutches, botua, and purses from familiar fabric such as cotton and katan.
Sometimes they are adorned with applique and embroidery.
Like many youngsters in Bangladesh, Sanjana too was sceptical about taking a corporate job after completing her graduation.
As she was a student of BBA, she found it easier to start a business rather than work as an employee.
She, along with three friends, invested in a business of supplying gift packages to corporate offices.
The gifts included pen holder, calendar, pen drive, pen, writing pads etc.
While delivering the packages, they observed a demand for side bags and saw that most corporate houses used leather bags imported from China and Thailand.
Sanjana started studying the handbag market and realised that it was not just in corporate offices, the situation was similar everywhere.
So she decided to create handbags.
"It was not easy in the beginning. My business partners were not very positive about the idea. They did not think it would be profitable and two of them left," she said.
However, this could not affect Sanjana's enthusiasm.
She went to different factories, started to design the bags and eventually founded René Bangladesh.
"At first I chose leather as raw material. Then I began to work with traditional fabric and motifs. I decided to use nakshi katha or traditional folk art on bags," she said.
As it was a new way of presenting traditional art form and the business also gave her a new life, she chose the name René, indicating "renaissance" or rebirth.
"My inspiration for designing bags comes from nature and traditional art," said Sanjana.
Initially she offered her products to her existing customers.
When they were satisfied with the quality, she became confident enough to create the René Bangladesh Facebook page.
The venture became so successful that she set up a factory of her own within a year.
Size of the business
René produces bags both for retail businesses and corporate houses.
It also supplies handbags to different fashion houses.
Though these products bear the seal of those fashion houses, the very idea of popularising locally produced bags is thrilling enough for the owner.
She started with only two people and now she has a factory where 20 people work.
At least 50 other people work for her from Jamalpur, Jashore and Dhaka.
Price of René products starts from Tk100 (mask) and goes up to Tk4000 for bags.
Sometimes the brand custom designs bags for marriage and special occasions. In that case, the bags can cost as much as Tk5,000 to Tk7,000.
The most popular items are the clutch bags.
Aftereffects of the pandemic
Sanjana's business was going smoothly until the pandemic arrived.
She had to keep the factory closed for three months and reopened it in June.
Three layered masks following the instruction of the World Health Organisation are new additions to her products.
"We did not lay off anyone. Initially we tried to give full salary to our employees. When it was getting hard for us to do that, we resumed our operations maintaining all the health instructions," said Sanjana.
She said that people are now more interested in buying masks than bags.
Her factory has a production capacity for 50,000 cotton masks and 5,000 bags per month.
Sanjana has already exported some of her products and is working on promoting René Bangladesh in the global market.