There was once a time when Bangladeshis who went shopping would check the labels carefully to make sure the products they were purchasing were made in a foreign country. To some customers, the 'Made in Bangladesh' label equated to cheap and low-quality products in their mind.
Those days are long gone. Although many people still prefer foreign brands over local produce when it comes to some categories of products, a new generation in Bangladesh has emerged over the last two decades who not only take pride in things made in Bangladesh; but actively take steps to promote them.
One such name is Zeeshan Khurshed Mazumdar, the CEO of an e-commerce platform called BeshiDeshi, which specialises in selling and promoting products which are strictly made in Bangladesh by local artisans.
Zeeshan developed a zeal to promote the handmade artistry of Bangladesh after working in the hotel and tourism industry for many years.
"After many cumbersome years in this industry, I started BeshiDeshi in 2018 as a small scale digital platform," said Zeeshan.
Two years later, BeshiDeshi became the biggest e-marketplace for locally produced goods in Bangladesh.
"Now BeshiDeshi has 21,000 products and 400 artisans who are working with us. From the very beginning, I wanted to promote our country's heritage and culture, and create a demand for our locally made goods," he added.
While working for hotels in Dhaka and Sylhet, Zeeshan saw that there was an aversion towards locally made hotel accessories such as beddings, linens and toiletries items. However, the scenario has now changed as many hotels are leaning towards using linens and other bedroom accessories for the rooms that have been made in Bangladesh.
Speaking more about this, Zeeshan said, "From my experience, I have seen many hotels using Malaysian beddings and linens but I wanted to change that. After researching for a while, I saw that all these things can be made locally."
"At first, I was apprehensive about the quality of the fabric but then I saw that the Bangladeshi made linens were of better quality and more durable than the Malaysian ones. Although it was hard to find, we managed to source everything and the prices were good as well," explained Zeeshan.
Seeing the local market's prospect in the hotel and tourism industry, Zeeshan introduced rattan furniture and curtains made from locally loomed fabrics to the lineup.
"While sourcing these items, the artisans told us that most of the hotels demanded Chinese or Malaysian products so even if they wanted to, they could not produce at a larger scale as there was no demand for the locally made ones," Zeeshan explained.
In the process of providing bedding and toiletries items to hotels, Zeeshan got in touch with around 50 local artisans. By touring the country, he got acquainted with more artisans who made sari and other handmade items.
"Most artisans were skeptical and unaware of the platform at first but as we walked them through the process and educated them about the mechanics of e-commerce, they were willing to give BeshiDeshi a shot. And once they saw profit being generated from here, they were more inclined to do business with us," Zeeshan told the correspondent.
But the BeshiDeshi team wanted to venture further and take on more challenges. So they got in contact with more artisans to learn about their process.
"They told us that there were many NGOs that supported them financially but not in selling the products. After a while, we realised that the scope of our research matches their demands and hence we started our journey in 2018," Zeeshan told the correspondent.
"And we have come a long way since then," he added.
BeshiDeshi offers all types of goods starting from fashion, to jewellery, baby clothes, jute products, leather items (both artificial and genuine) etc., which are sold both at home and abroad. Additionally, locally sourced tea from Sylhet and honey from The Sundarbans are also available on BeshiDeshi.
Zeeshan said "We are trying to promote all types of fresh produce of Bangladesh but the pandemic has halted our process so we have started working partially."
On top of highlighting the handmade agro-industry of the country, BeshiDeshi has also maintained a healthy employee gender ratio, where 53 percent of the workforce is female. The BeshiDeshi team has also provided startup capital to many brassware artisans from their personal funds. To help this dying industry sustain, they are seeking funding and working capital for the artisans.
However, the team only does this when they receive large orders. Otherwise, it is an unwise choice due to its unsustainable nature in the long run.
Zeeshan claims that BeshiDeshi does not specialise in one kind of product. Instead, they focus on the "Made in Bangladesh" tagline. However, some of their most sold products are home decor items, baby clothes and honey from The Sundarbans. But sales declined at the start of the pandemic.
"During the first few weeks of the pandemic, our sales fell. But as the countrywide shutdown was enforced and people were stuck at home with nothing to do, sales of our home decor items picked up and increased threefold," Zeeshan informed. This also allowed the artisans' incomes to rise.
Before Covid-19 pandemic, BeshiDeshi was partaking in various activities both at home and abroad. "We used to export many of our products to the NRB fairs but we had to stop due to the pandemic. We want the situation to get better so we can start trading internationally again," elaborated Zeeshan.
A large part of BeshiDeshi's plans includes working with NRBs in different countries. He explained, "We want to have partners in other countries who can host small-scale BeshiDeshi shops there so that we can focus more on exporting home decor items. We see our plans coming to life by the first quarter of next year."
When asked about their principles and ethics, Zeeshan said, "Our main objective is to promote heritage and traditional Bangladeshi goods that come straight from the source. We are also responsible for creating sufficient demand for these goods wherever opportunity strikes, both locally and globally."
BeshiDeshi bases a large part of their development activities around the artisans' skill development, which will help them sustain in the long run