The Noman Group is like a super-shop for the apparel industry, says Mohammad Abdullah Zaber, deputy managing director (DMD) of the group that shot to fame over 51 years. Its focus on state of the art technology and sustainable operations in its textile and apparel business has helped it earn buyer confidence. Now a $1.30bn business, the group, which employs 90,000 people in 37 units, makes a range of products including those using innovative and sustainable material.
Three of its units have been awarded national export trophies, while one has been given the highest exporter honour in all sectors for the 10th year in a row.
Mohammad Abdullah Zaber told The Business Standard how they started business in 1968 and made footprints in trading in the ‘60s, mosquito nets in the ‘70s, spinning mills in the ‘80s and home textiles in the ’90s to emerge as South Asia’s largest company in terms of textile capacity.
“Our factories are available for spinning, weaving, processing, washing, dyeing, printing and stitching, with a fully equipped research and development facility, chemical laboratory and an accessories supply chain,” says Zaber, whose flagship company, Zaber and Zubaer (ZnZ) Fabrics Ltd, received the national export trophy in the highest exporters’ category from the prime minister on September 1 this year.
This company started operations in 1994. Two other companies of the group—Noman Terri Towel Mills Ltd and Zaber and Zubaer Accessories – won gold and bronze trophies for its export figures in 2016-17.
In a conversation with The Business Standard on Monday, the CEO of ZnZ, Mohammad Abdullah Zaber, elaborated on the Group’s business and how they won the “National Highest Exporter Trophy” in all sectors for 10 consecutive years.
TBS: How did you become the highest exporter in all sectors?
We have a secret to winning the “National Highest Exporter Trophy” for the last 10 consecutive years.
We (the Noman Group) are the lone example of a Bangladeshi conglomerate in the apparel sector that invested only in textiles and garments without diversification in other sectors.
My father Nurul Islam established Zaber and Zubaer (ZnZ) Fabrics Ltd with the aim of export diversification.
Now all of us – one sister and four brother – are also working to that end. The Noman Group has 37 large production units, out of which 36 are in full production.
TBS: What types of fabrics does ZnZ produce?
There are hardly any fabrics that we do not produce. Our range of products include yarns, fabrics, towels, bed linen, denim, non-denim, knit, synthetic fabrics, home textile, bed covers, curtain, comforters, quilt covers etc.
We are always trying to expand in terms of capacity and fabric diversification. This has helped us reach a strong position in the global market.
There is a common saying in the market about my father, “Nurul Islam buys machines every day.”
He spent about 50 percent of his working time studying machines, and on reducing waste and increasing efficiency.
We have installed the latest technology and machines in all our factories.
TBS: What was the turning point for ZnZ to enter the global market?
You may receive a compliment from every buyer – ZnZ is always one step ahead when competing with others.
We always convert new ideas into fashion, and provide designs that have been developed by our in-house European designer.
Noman group is like a super shop for the apparel industry. It has state of the art technologies and sustainable operations that make our factories environment friendly.
TBS: Which countries are presently your market?
The group exports fabrics and other products to many countries, including most European Union countries, America, Canada, and emerging Asian, Africa and North American countries.
We are looking at Latin American markets like Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
Our Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi recently visited Brazil with a business delegation to explore the possibility of getting more of a market share in some Latin American countries.
If the government takes some National Exporter Trophy winners, or those having a high capacity to produce and export value added products, that may help in getting a larger market share.
TBS: Which brands do business with ZnZ?
Noman Group does business with more than 100 renown retailers and fashion brands such as H&M, ZARA, Target, Walmart, GAP, JC Penney, Esprit, K-Mart, IKEA, Tesco, Li & Fung, American Eagle, Carrefour, Disney, Nike, PVH, Nitori, HEMA, Uniqlo and Mango.
We have also participated in a number of leading apparel and textile fairs, includes Heimtextil Frankfurt, Heimtextil Russia, JapanTex, the Australian International Sourcing Fair and Texworld/Apparel Sourcing, Paris in the last 10 years.
Participation at global fairs gives us the scope to present our products in upcoming sessions, and to understand the global trend.
Many Bangladeshi apparel exporters do not participate in such fairs despite having the capacity to do so. If 10 Bangladeshi companies participate in fairs, it will create a positive image for the country.
Since 2017, ZnZ has also been organising a fabrics fair in our design studio titled ‘Mill Week’, aiming to showcase all our new developments to global buyers.
TBS: Do you have any plan to expand your business?
Mohammad Abdullah Zaber: We are in the process of setting up a new factory to produce polyester, nylon, georgette and chiffon fabrics from synthetic fibre.
The synthetic fabrics factory is in the Moana area of Sherpur under Gazipur district. It needed an investment of Tk 400 crore, and it created employment for about 5000 people.
We just started a new plant with a production capacity of 3 lakh yards of synthetic fabrics monthly, but this capacity will increase to 80 lakh monthly.
TBS: What challenges are you facing?
All Bangladeshi apparel sector entrepreneurs are facing a challenge because the country lacks a brand image. But we have a huge compliance apparel industry.
Most buyers visit Bangladesh with the confidence that they will get some good products at a low price because of the absence of a price bench-mark.
Neighbouring countries like India, Vietnam, Pakistan, Myanmar will become bigger competitors of Bangladesh in the near future.
The Taka is still relatively strong against the US dollar. That’s why manufacturers in competitor countries can offer prices that are 10 to 20 US cents less than the same products from Bangladesh.
Bangladeshi apparel manufactures also invested a lot of money to make their factories more compliant as per the remediation plans of the European brand buyers’ forum, The Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, the North American buyers’ forum, and the Alliance for Bangladesh Workers Safety.
But we did not get any advantage from brands and buyers.
As the largest textile producer in South-East Asia, it is a challenge for us to make the business sustainable because the profit margin is going down day by day.
On the other hand, the apparel industry is still facing a shortage of skilled manpower.
TBS: What is your next plan?
We have a strong research and development team. Now we are focusing more on sustainable fabric production using eco-friendly material which uses less water and other resources in the production process.
ZnZ has started using innovative and sustainable products, like producing fabrics from plastic bottles with the aim of reducing sea pollutants to save our planet.
We have already developed some fabrics from waste plastic fibre using high-performing technologies. We have plans to use a natural dyeing process, extracting natural colour from vegetables. It would be eco-friendly dyeing.
We are also focusing on extracting fibre from orange peel, and fibre from pineapple leaves.