In the summer of 1998, Mijanur Rahman, a 22-year-old man, left Feni for Dhaka in search of a better life. He had just sat for his higher secondary school certificate exams and wanted to pursue his education further. However, his poor family forced him to look for a job in the capital city.
"When I came to Dhaka and rode on rickshaws, the bright lights from different garment factories drew me in. Then and there, I imagined myself as the owner of such a garment factory," Mijan recalled. "But I never dared say it to anyone."
The ready-made garment business had always enthralled him. He imagined people busy with the shipment of garment products, workers entering the factory, working and then coming out of the factory in groups after completing their shifts.
With the help of some good fortune, he began his career as a trainee merchandiser at a garments factory in the city.
"Those days, around 400 workers worked in a single factory. These 400 individuals meant the world to me," added Mijan, now a 42-year-old successful RMG businessman.
In the latest election of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), the apex trade body of the apparel industry, Mijanur Rahman was elected as one of the 20 directors in Dhaka.
Now he owns four export-oriented garment factories: Fabrica Knit Composite Limited, FNF Trend Fashion Limited and Taharat Composite Limited and Taskia Composite Limited.
He has created employment for more than 7,500 people through his enterprises. The export volume of his business touches $120 million every year.
How it all happened
Mijan was born and raised in an extended family in the village Dakkhin Kuhuma in the Chhagalnaiya Upazila in Feni. His family used to run a rice wholesale shop in the small town of Chhagalnaiya.
However, when Mijan was a class-4 student, tragedy struck when his father passed away, leaving the whole family to face financial challenges. Despite financial hardship, Mijan studied till the HSC level at the Feni Government College. Then, it became too tough for his family to afford his education expenses.
"As a result, I had to come to Dhaka in 1998 to struggle and make a living," said Mijan.
The same year, Mijan got a job as a trainee merchandiser at Shanghai Apparel and Shanghai Fashion Limited of the Mannan Group. One of his uncles helped him get the job. His monthly salary was Tk2,000.
Mijan was very happy getting the job. On the first day of his office at the factory, the company gave him a desk with a computer.
"When I got the computer, I got very excited. I had never imagined that I would get a computer soon after joining," said Mijan. "I remember crying out of joy at the time."
Mijan took a three-month computer training course in Feni when he was an HSC student. On the first day, he was given the task of making an invoice template. Earlier, the company used to make invoices on a typewriting machine.
"I made an invoice and printed it out. My reporting boss became very happy with my performance," said Mijan.
Later, he got admitted to the B. Com program at the same college he studied HSC. As a result, alongside his job, he went to Feni to attend classes three times a month so that his registration would not be cancelled.
He worked at the factory for around six months. Unfortunately, the company closed down the factory and laid off staff during the financial crisis.
"After the closure of the first factory, I applied for a job in another garment factory in the Jurain area. I joined the new garment factory as an assistant merchandiser," said Mijan.
Alongside working as an assistant merchandiser in the factory, he continued to prepare and give his B.com exams.
"I met an India-based buyer who, one day, offered me a job in India with him. Interestingly, he chose me for my honesty," said Mijan. "Although the buyers often insisted that I accept many things, they could never buy me."
Then Mijan went to Mumbai in India in 2000. There too, alongside his job, he got admitted to a textile engineering college to do a diploma course. Furthermore, he worked as team leader of the merchandiser section in the company.
"At the beginning of 2003, I came to Bangladesh just for a visit back home. But later I changed my mind and decided to stay here," said Mijan.
In Bangladesh, he worked for two companies for one year to size up the business environment and become familiar with the businessmen in the country. Now his main target was to set up his own business; 'a buying house.'
The turning point
In the middle of 2005, he set up his buying house, Fashion Power Bangladesh Limited. The first order came from a Swiss buyer for 6,000 T-shirts.
He placed the order in a factory at Narayanganj. He delivered the shipment for the products well and earned a handsome amount of service charge.
"This order was the turning point in my business career," said Mijan, adding that with this income, he was able to rent an office and buy a computer.
The order and expansion of the buying house kept happening thanks to its good reputation and high quality service. The number of customers continued to increase. At its peak, in 2009, the buying house employed 60 workers.
Later Mijan ventured into the production side in the industry. In 2009, he bought a small factory in the Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC) in Narayanganj. He bought the factory for Tk60 lakh, which came from the buying house profits.
"It was a knitting factory that made T-shirts, polo shirts and employed less than 300 workers," said Mijan.
Later in 2013, he bought another factory in the Ashulia area on the outskirts of Dhaka. He is now the owner of four garment factories, two printing factories and an accessories factory. He has created employment for more than 7,500 people.
"My aim in life was never to become a doctor or an engineer. I have never gotten any inspiration from any of my family members in that regard," said Mijan.
"Even though my grandfather had a dream of educating his grandchildren, my uncles' families always discouraged me," said Mijan. "At the end of the day, it was I who pushed myself to become better."
"Merchandising jobs are filled with opportunities to earn money dishonestly. However, I was always honest in my profession. No one can ever claim that I took a single taka as a bribe," Mijan explained.
The challenges ahead
Mijan said that the main challenge his businesses are facing is the dwindling price of the product.
"We are damaging our market because there is floor price. We are accepting all kinds of orders to make ends meet. The price of yarn has gotten high as well," explained Mijan. "However, there is no one who can protest against this."
Another pressing problem is that garment factory owners are manufacturing similar products. As a result, there is very little scope for negotiation with the buyers on price.
Mijan also highlighted two necessary reforms for the RMG sector, specifically, product diversification and backward linkage.
"If you want to survive in the global market, product diversification is a must now," said Mijan adding that the industry will also have to emphasise strong backward linkage.
"I will continue to work on product diversification myself," said the first-generation businessman.
For the future, Mijan plans to continue expanding his business. He dreams of creating employment for more than 1 lakh workers while overcoming the many business challenges he currently faces. "I try to work seven days a week. Leisure means work to me," said Mijan. Still, Mijan explained that he makes time for his family by occasionally travelling the world with them.