October 27, 1969, was a special day in Dacca – the capital of the then East Pakistan.
Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin Aldrin, the Apollo-11 astronauts who marked the first ever human footsteps on the moon, had arrived at the Tejgaon Airport on that day as part of their World Goodwill Tour.
They were scheduled to have a citizen reception at the Hotel Intercontinental. Hundreds of people crowded at the airport and along the road to the hotel to welcome the guests with cheers.
Mohammad Reazuddin, a garment trader, planned to welcome the three astronauts with men's shirts sewn at his tailoring shop Reaz Store.
The gifts were duly presented to the guests and Reazuddin received an appreciation letter signed by Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin.
On that special day, many onlookers returned home with the memory of seeing the astronauts. Reazuddin, on the other hand, began to dream of taking his brand to foreign markets. If these three Americans had appreciated his product to this degree, then other Westerners would also be interested, he thought to himself.
Reazuddin's dream came true within a decade as, on 28 July1978, a consignment of 10,000 pieces of Reaz Shirt were exported to France. Thus he became the first exporter of ready-made garments from independent Bangladesh.
Reazuddin joined his family garments business in 1958. They used to sell fabrics supplied from Karachi and other domestic sources. Two years later, partnering with his nephew Maizuddin he opened Reaz Store at Chawkbazar and started domestic sale of tailored garments, including men's shirt, women's leggings and other items. Eight sewing machines ran all day long to stitch the ordered items at their Urdu Road factory.
Reaz Store especially made high quality shirts for men for which Reazuddin sourced Japanese fabrics from some Marwari traders.
Within a few years, Reaz Shirt became a famous brand across the country. There were dealers in Chattogram, Sylhet, Jeshore and other commercial districts. To meet the demand, Reaz Store had to increase its factory capacity from eight to 20 sewing machines.
"The brand had become so popular that the then government allowed my father to present the three astronauts with Reaz Shirts," said Salauddin, younger son of Reazuddin.
He added that in the 1960s, the maximum price of a Reaz Shirt was Tk100, which was very expensive for that time, and men from elite society wore it proudly.
At the time, Korea, Singapore and Thailand were big exporters of readymade garments. After receiving appreciation from the three astronauts, Reazuddin paid several visits to Karachi to explore Reaz Shirt's export opportunity.
The Liberation War of 1971, however, halted his plans as his tailoring shop and factory, among other commercial establishments at Chawkbazar, were burned down by the Pakistani military.
After liberation, Reazuddin restarted his business. In 1973, he renamed his store Reaz Garments Limited and got registration as the first garments factory in independent Bangladesh. As the managing director of the company, he managed banking and marketing while director Maizuddin oversaw production.
For a new start, they invested in creative advertisement.
To promote the 'Made in Bangladesh' theme, Reaz Shirt sponsored a bicycle race in Dhaka. When the players of Kolkata-based Mohun Bagan club visited Dhaka, they were presented with Reaz Shirts. Advertisement with a picture and complement from Chuni Goswami, a Mohun Bagan player who was famous in India that time, was published in newspapers. Legendary actor Abdur Razzak, fondly called as Nayok Raj Razzak, was made the brand ambassador of the Reaz Shirt.
Reaz Shirt's pavilion at the first ever Agriculture and Industry Fair held in 1976 received warm accolades from the visitors.
Next year, Reazuddin tried to pursue Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) officials to facilitate export of Reaz Shirts. Despite discouragement from most officials, the then textile ministry secretary Idris gave the green signal. Samples of Reaz Shirt were sent to France. The high quality of the product drew a positive response from buyers.
Reazuddin had to expand the factory on a 1.5-katha land at Urdu Road. The number of sewing machines doubled. Eventually, he needed more workers.
In 1977, the visionary businessman attempted to recruit women in the sewing job. "There were many unemployed women in our locality. My father wanted to engage them in income generating activities. Initially, he received a negative response as parents of the women feared that employment of their girls would tarnish their family's reputation," said his son Salauddin.
To counter the social dogma, Reazuddin convinced his eldest daughter Fatema Begum to work in the factory. Fatema, who had just passed matriculation, didn't refuse her father. Her salary was Tk100 per month, which encouraged other neighbouring girls. At first, five women joined Reaz Garments as workers.
On 28 July 1978, Reazuddin exported 10,000 pieces of Reaz Shirt to French buyer Holander France. The consignment was worth 13 million French Francs, equivalent to Tk427,000. Next month, a photo of Reazuddin handing over a box of Reaz Shirts to TCB Chairman Munir Uz Zaman was published in newspapers, marking the pioneering step. Subsequently, Reaz Garments got revolving L/C for 90,000 pieces of shirts.
Seeing the huge opportunity for export, industrialist Nurul Quader Khan and South Korean company Daewoo jointly formed Desh Garments and established the country's first ever large-scale and 100 percent export oriented apparel factory at Kalurghat, Chattogram, the same year.
For the next two years, Reaz Garments received three more export orders for 80,000, 90,000 and one lakh 10 thousand pieces of Reaz Shirts. Its factory expanded with four lines of paddle-run Singer machines.
In 1998, Reaz Export Apparel was established at Board Bazar of Gazipur. The factory had a production capacity of 5,000 pieces of shirt per day, while the Chawkbazar-based factory produced 3,000 pieces. More than 200 local workers and a few technicians from South Korea and Sri Lanka worked with Reaz.
Till 2008, Reaz Shirts were exported to more than 10 foreign destinations including Australia, South Africa, France, Ireland and Germany. The annual export volume had reached Tk30 crore.
"Reaz Garments mostly manufactured school uniforms on a tender basis. That's why we were less involved in the fashion industry. We had a contract with the famous fashion brand George [later bought by Walmart]. Every month, we used to export two to three lakh pieces of school uniform," Salauddin said.
Born on 3 October 1934, Reazuddin had died on 5 April 2005, leaving his wife Mamtaz Begum, children Fatema Begum, Giasuddin, Marium Begum, Ayazuddin, Neazuddin and Salauddin.
After his death, Reaz Garments survived only three years.
Salauddin explained the reasons: "Due to a failed project and bankruptcy of one of our buyers, our liability grew to Tk10 crore. We found this a huge burden."
Moreover, the RMG sector was then on a roller-coaster. The senior family members sensed that Reaz Garments would not be able to compete in the market when many ventures were taking huge loans from banks.
"Even, the then managing director of Janata Bank, Aminul Islam, proposed and promised necessary support. But my mother told him that she didn't want to see her children worried about bank installments," Salauddin, who joined the family business in the 1994s, recalled.
Soon, the debts were paid off at the cost of Reaz Garments.
For his successors, Reazuddin always spoke about his principles – maintain good deals with banks and customs, cut coats according to available cloth, care for machines and pay workers on time.
"My father was a simple man. He didn't want to expand the factory beyond capability. He had no black spot. That's why his wife wanted to keep the legacy and reputation unhurt," Salauddin said.
Reazuddin couldn't study beyond class three. But nobody found him illiterate as he was an avid reader. Salauddin recalled his father, "He hired private tutors who taught him reading and writing in English. Every night we found him either studying books or writing."
He was a good organiser also. Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association picked Reazuddin as its vice-president on its first board led by AM Subid Ali.
Reazuddin engaged all his children in his business. But now, none but Salauddin carries on the legacy. Currently Salauddin runs a buying house ASK Apparel and Textiles Sourcing Limited. He is also the advisor of Bunon – a textile sector-related knowledge sharing platform.
The Reaz Garments is no more. But the family still holds the license.
"If Allah allows, I will restart production of Reaz Shirts someday," Salauddin concluded.