As the deadly coronavirus forces large and lavish wedding ceremonies to slim down, related businesses and vendors feel the squeeze
After being in a long distance relationship for nearly three years, Rownack Niloy and Chaity planned to get married during the Eid-Ul-Fitr vacation of 2020. Niloy would have been a year into his first job while Chaity would be done with her Masters' examination.
A big fat wedding is not something they had in mind in the first place, but they thought there would at least be photographers to capture the special moment, and good food for the guests.
Little did they know that a pandemic would break out disrupting all their plans. Initially, they thought of postponing their marriage until the coronavirus situation got better.
When they realised that the pandemic will not go away anytime soon, they decided to get married in the presence of 10 family members adorned with masks. Their siblings took photos on mobile phones and meals were cooked at home.
It is not just Niloy-Chaity, but a lot other couples like them are getting married unostentatiously in presence of a few friends and family members.
This has put the wedding industry – which had flourished in our country throughout the last decade – at stake.
A wedding planning does not only involve clothing and ornament businesses, but includes a lot other sectors with it, such as flower business, lighting, sound system, decorations, band parties, event management agencies and photography.
Though December to February is considered as the wedding season, Eid vacations have become an equally popular time to get married.
But the emergence of "small scale wedding" during this pandemic has become a nightmare for the people involved in this once booming industry. They are now spending their days in despair.
The Business Standard tried to reach as many people as possible involved with this industry.
Clothing businesses suffer
Almost eight years ago, Abdus Samad started his business in a 100-square-foot shop in the Elephant Road Sherwani Jori Market. He used to sell and rent out wedding dresses and accessories.
The business was so good that he managed to rent another larger shop in the same market. He was running two shops simultaneously and was thinking of merging them to turn it into an exclusive business.
He even took out a loan to execute the plan. This is when he was asked to close down the market on March 26. After two months they reopened the market in June, which did not bring businessmen like him any fortune as there are no customers.
Where he used to serve at least 12 customers a day in each of his showrooms, he now barely receives two customers a day.
"Sherwani has become a luxury product. People prefer getting married in formal Panjabi these days. It is our luck that some of them are still looking for Pagri (turban)," he said.
Not just Jori Market, but the ever crowded lanes of Gausia Hawkers Market or Mirpur Benaroshi Palli have also become desolate and hollow.
Arman Hossain, manager of Maisha Benaroshi House in Mirpur, said, "The sale of fashionable sarees and lehengas has dropped drastically. The very few customers we get these days buy ordinary sarees ranging from Tk5,000-7,000 each.
"With this level of sale, it is hard for us to manage our capital, keep the shops open and pay our employees, especially when landlords are reluctant to compromise on rent payments."
Under these circumstances, businessmen prefer returning to their villages leaving the sector behind, he added.
Sale of decorative accessories slumps
Selim is a teenage boy who makes ornaments for Gaye Holud – a programme held before the wedding day. His family of five depend on his income.
The family was doing well as Selim was earning Tk1,500-2,000 a day during the wedding season. Such an amount of daily return sounds almost like a dream to him.
Besides small investors like Selim, reputed shops are also counting losses.
Chobi Ghor is situated in the Elephant Road Sherwani market and is famous for providing the best quality baskets and decorative accessories.
ZH Sunny, the owner of the shop, said, "People love lucrative wedding baskets, clay lamps, pots, posters, banners as they add elegance to those programmes. We used to sell products worth Tk25,000 a day, which has now come down to only Tk4,000 a week."
Event management agencies hit a snag
After clothes and accessories, people concentrate on planning for the special day and this is where event management agencies step in.
Razia Haque Konok, the CEO of Elegant Event Solutions, started her career in wedding management in 2011 – a time when the sector just began to bloom in Bangladesh.
Her company takes care of decoration and snacks on behalf of its clients. She has at least 18 permanent employees and more than 40 contractual employees working for her. They used to organise three weddings a day, and had their last programme on March 17.
As the community centres remain closed and public gathering is forbidden, the situation has left them with no work and more worries regarding how long the stagnancy will continue.
Konok initially paid full salary to her employees from savings, but now, paying even 50% has become difficult for her.
"I have heard about the government stimulus package for small and medium entrepreneurs. I am not sure if we fit in that category. I do not know where or in which way I should seek help from the government" she said.
Pointing to the small scale weddings, Konok said, "They are not much help to us as the money offered is inadequate, considering the added cost of putting safety equipment in place."
Bita Fahmid, the CEO of Wedding Bees, reiterated Konok's views when she said the customers these days suggest adding disinfectant booths for weddings.
According to The Event Management and Marketing Association of Bangladesh (EMMAB) there are 300 event management firms in the country, which are employing around 2-2.5 lakh people. The market is worth around Tk2,000 crore.
Wedding photographers feel the pinch
Pulok Kumar, who graduated from Rajshahi University of Engineering and Technology, joined Reminiscence Photography for the sake of his passion for the job.
Sharing his experience amid these troubled times, he said, "Reminiscence Photography used to receive at least 120 offers each month, whereas in the 'new normal' situation, they are getting about 50 offers at most.
"We cannot accept all the offers as we have to take into consideration the number of guests and safety measures. Besides, Reminiscence photography used to cover at least 3-4 international assignments. I doubt whether it will be possible ever again."
At the same time, the payment has become a matter of concern too. Farhan Sami from Illusion weddings said people are reluctant to pay much for indoor weddings.
Identifying wedding photography as the most popular section of the wedding industry, Pulok said this sector involves many other professionals such as cinematographers, photo editors, video editors and light assistants.
He thinks those full-time professionals are suffering the most during this pandemic, because it is a part time profession for around 50 percent of the photographers.
"I am in contact with some photographers solely dependent on wedding photography. They have shifted to various online businesses such as selling safety equipment, fruits or catering for survival," he said.
Professionals involved with the wedding industry think that a lot of other industries are also related to weddings, for example the business of crockeries and ceramics, furniture, curtains, bed sheets and home decoration pieces - as people buy them as wedding gifts.
The pandemic is a misfortune for everyone and they do not know how long it will keep them suffering.