When Durjoy Rahman first entered the garment business, he felt the industry was saturated with big corporations and a very limited production base. He was left struggling.
Back then, garment exports to the US were quota restricted, which meant that only the big players had access to the lucrative US market.
At the turn of the century, Durjoy shifted his trading business to Vietnam as the Southeast Asian country had quota-free access to the US market.
"What gave us a new model or an opportunity, was to operate our business from other countries, which were then quota free," said Durjoy, sitting at the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation Creative Studio.
"Going to Vietnam gave our business a boost during the quota regime," he added. The Quota System was abolished in 2005.
Businessman and art collector Durjoy founded 'Winners Creations Ltd' (WCL), a textile trading company, in 1996.
In the nine years between 1996 and 2005, WCL had become a mature company in the international market with a sound structure and strong customer base.
This year, the company is celebrating its silver jubilee. After 25 years' operation in Asian regions and export to the US and European markets, the company, with a net worth of over $40 million, is bigger than ever and stronger than before.
In 2018, he founded the 'Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation' (DBF) to support South-Asian artists in getting a platform in Europe and the wider international arena. Business, for him, is a profession, while art is his passion.
In a recent interview with The Business Standard, Durjoy Rahman shared the stories and secrets of his success in both fields.
"It is all about spirit, motivation and timely strategies to venture into alternatives that truly worked," added Durjoy Rahman.
WCL is a regional company, which operates from Bangladesh, Vietnam and Hong Kong. It has subsidiary affiliated offices in Vietnam, Hong Kong, China, Canada and the USA.
"Right now, probably we are one of the oldest and largest textile trading companies in Bangladesh."
Meeting challenges and finding alternative ways make any businesses unique; this is Durjoy's prescription for survival and success.
"WCL became more resilient and a game changer just by looking beyond borders after the millennium, when it decided to go global."
"When we are in a business negotiation and meeting international customers, they do not regard us as a Bangladeshi company; rather they treat us as a company from greater Asian regions," said Durjoy.
Every challenge beckons new opportunities, which Durjoy tries to grab. With an eye to gain a strong footing compared to other existing entities in the trade, he, over the years, expanded his company with diversified product categories for export.
"We target between 10% to 15% growth every year. Even in the last pandemic year, we maintained a growth of 11.75% just because of product diversification," said Durjoy.
Looking beyond borders also helped Durjoy gain an international image when he established DBF, which is based in Dhaka and Berlin.
The foundation has so far supported many international exhibitions, residencies, symposiums, art projects, education programmes, publications and more.
DBF supported an international exhibition titled, 'Homelands: Art from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan' along with an international symposium that took place at Kettle's Yard, University of Cambridge, UK, in 2020.
It also hosted the 'Majhi International Arts Residency Programme' in Venice, Italy in 2019 and a subsequent exhibition in Berlin, Germany in 2020.
Since the lockdown hit, the foundation established two dovetailing initiatives to help local artists stay afloat.
One is 'Bhumi,' which aimed to support rural creative communities and another is called 'Future of Hope,' in which nine diaspora artists created collaborative works with indigenous artists in response to the ongoing global challenges.
"Art is not meant for local boundaries; rather it goes beyond borders and continents. As a collector, I have been considering how the foundation and I can do more to support artists and art institutions around the world during this critical period," said Durjoy.
Durjoy Rahman's personal art collection, which he started in the 1990s, echoes his interest in both the Global South and the Western cannon.
His 1,000-plus collection includes works by famous European, American and Canadian artists -- David Hockney, Lucian Freud, Andy Warhol and Charles Pachter, as well as South Asian masters like Novera Ahmed, Safiuddin Ahmed, Murtaja Baseer, Rafiqun Nabi, Akbar Padamsee, K G Subramanyam and Jogen Chowdhury.
"Our first corporate office was located in Dhanmondi, which, at that time, was a gallery district in Dhaka. During work break or after work, I used to hop around the galleries," said Durjoy.
Those actually had a great impact on his art collecting behaviour. Being a big fan of cartoons, he used to meet artist Rafiqun Nabi more often.
That also gave him inspiration and he collected the artist's 'Tokai' series and 'Crow', which is now an iconic work. Besides, he is always fascinated with pop art.
"Apart from artworks, I was always curious about design, creativity, antiquity and vintage cars. I met many important collectors and artists of my generations at that time very closely."
Durjoy has long been drawn to printmaking and patterns; in particular, due to his business in the textile industry.
He has already documented and archived the collected artworks in his website called dbfcollections.com so that a wider audience can have access to view.
Philanthropy has come a long way in his support of art and artists. Historically the royals, corporations, business personalities and well-off persons have been the biggest patrons of art and culture.
"I think any business should support philanthropic activities. I must mention that the pandemic has made us realise how business can support philanthropy and why it is important for the support of art and creativity," said the collector, who also provided the frontline fighters with PPE during the pandemic.
New ideas and creativity are very important parts of his business. Alternative approach to solve the crisis is one of the secrets of his business success. Durjoy personally believes in the power of humans.
"Success and achievement are derived not by the outcome of an individual but by teamwork," said the owner of WCL, which has over 120 local and international employees.
With regard to future business plans, Durjoy wants to be more competitive in the days ahead, while with DBF, he wants to work more closely with the emerging and the most creative artists who need more exposure in the international art scene.
"We want to invest more in sustainable business practices and diversified yet sustainable products, which will protect nature and the environment. This is our post-Covid goal," asserted Durjoy.
"Through our art activism, we want to cover more social issues like displacement and migration. We want to work with displaced people and climate migrants with projects like the 'No place like home'."
Durjoy had a carefree childhood, which he recalls with fond memories. He grew up in Dhaka Cantonment because his mother Dr Hasna Banu worked in defence.
She was one of the first few female doctors, who supported the freedom fighters, joining the country's Liberation War from defence.
"My mother had to leave her job and flee during the pre-liberation period because the occupant regime discovered her connection with the freedom fighters," he said.
"My father Syed Mohammad Hashem was a big trader of Jamdani sharee and yarns and had been the chairman of Jamdani Sharee Manufacturers' Association for many years until his demise in 1986."
Durjoy Rahman's wife Dr Sania Ahsan is a senior neuroradiologist working in a prominent hospital.
"I am fortunate that my wife supports art and creativity very passionately and also guides me in many ways."