Old men working for the country's ready-made garment (RMG) industry are extremely rare. Most of the workers are pretty young. For many reasons, workers in their 30s are either let go, or they leave the industry.
For them, going back to their village or hometown is only sometimes feasible, due to a lack of employment opportunities. The workers try to engage in various other professions, and they do anything to survive.
While this is the most common scenario, there is this case of former RMG workers increasingly working as 'fitting tailors,' where they get to use the skill set they acquired working in the RMG factories.
In Dhaka, there are dozens of such fitting tailors in almost every big marketplace, working with industrial sewing machines. The number is growing quite fast.
In the Nannu Market area in Mirpur 11, there are 35 such shops that provide clothes-fitting services like shortening of pants, tightening of sleeves and shirts, and so on.
Most of the workers we talked to left their jobs at RMG factories because they couldn't bear the pressure of production and the treatment of their supervisors, and a part of them lost their jobs as their factories were shut down due to bad business.
Mohammad Babul, a tailor working in the Mecca-Madina Fitting Tailors opposite the Heed International School in Mirpur 11, started working in an RMG factory in 1999 when he was 21 years old. He worked for eight years and then went to Egypt to work in an RMG factory there.
After working there for three years, he moved to Libya where he worked a non-RMG job for two years and then returned home. Since 2013, Babul has been working in this tailoring shop.
We asked why he did not join RMG again.
"The workload in the RMG factory is huge. There is no freedom. Also, I cannot tolerate the treatment and behaviour of the supervisor. Here in this shop I only have to work when there is a customer," Babul said.
There are six sewing machines in the shop, where the owner, Shahidul Islam and three other workers currently operate.
Babul has two children. His family lives with him in Mirpur.
The owner, Shahidul Islam, worked in an embroidery factory before he launched this business in mid-2013.
For the owners, launching a fitting shop increases their income significantly, although there are often loans involved. The workers, too, do not seem unhappy with their income.
When asked how the business was, Babul said, "We four are doing just fine with this work, Alhamdulillah [praise to God]."
"The income is not bad compared to an RMG factory," he said, avoiding a direct answer to the inquiry about their monthly income.
Among the four workers in the shop, three are from the RMG sector.
Md Rokib, who hailed from Munshiganj, started working in the industry in 2003 and left in 2010.
"I did not like it there. Back then, protests and violence were commonplace in this sector. Besides, even availing sick leave was difficult. Supervisors would hurl abuses and threaten to fire us if we were absent from work," Rokib registered his dissatisfaction about working in a garment industry.
"I worked as a helper in a public bus for two years. And then went back home and spent some time there," he added.
Rokib, of course, had to join RMG again.
This time, he worked for four years in a factory in Mirpur 13. He again left the industry and worked as a construction worker. Before ending up in this fitting tailor shop, he worked another job in the RMG sector for one year. The 34-year-old man has been working here for the last one year. He, too, lives in Dhaka with his family of four.
One hundred metres away in Nannu market, several fitting tailors were seen on both sides of the road. The names on the south side of the road were interesting: Cumilla Fitting Tailors, Rangpur Fitting Tailors, Dhaka Fitting Tailors… the list goes on, named after the home districts of the owners. Each shop had 3-4 sewing machines.
Mohammad Mizanur Rahman, the owner of Dhaka Fitting Tailors, used to work in the sewing section in the RMG industry. He worked there for five years and then left the job to join a fitting tailoring shop in Mirpur. After working there for two years, Mizan started his own business where he employed four more workers.
"How long will I work in the shops owned by others? I decided to be independent and established, so I launched this shop," said Mizan.
Mizan lives in the same building where his shop is located along with his family.
Living with the family indicates the earning is good enough. Many blue-collar workers in Dhaka actually leave their families in their hometowns to reduce expenditure.
Asked why they only do fitting tailoring instead of full tailoring of complete dresses, Mizan said this work matches the type of skills they acquired in the garment factories.
While there are a few fitting tailors who do not have an RMG background, Mizan said most of them are from the industry. "Who else would know how to sew?" Mizan said, smiling. As we were talking, Mizan's sewing machine was running in full swing, working on a pair of pants.
Mustafizur Rahman, who came to shorten the pants, said he was a regular customer.
"I always have to shorten ready-made pants by two inches because of my height," said Mustafiz, who lives in a nearby building. He said finding a fitting tailor is now easier than ever.
"There were always fitting tailors around, but the number has increased in recent years. With new buildings and the growing population of the area, new clothes stores have popped up on every road in the neighbourhood.
Fitting tailors have grown proportionately," Mustafiz said.
These fitting tailors are found in every neighbourhood in Dhaka, but the concentration is high in big markets. In Mirpur, they are seen in big numbers in Mirpur section 1, 10, 6, 7, and 11. There are many fitting tailors in New Market and other marketplaces as well.
There is no association of these tailors, so the total number of such fitting tailors in the city is unknown. However, they are sure to employ a lot of former RMG workers who have not forgotten their skills.