Bangladesh has bagged $42 billion through readymade garment (RMG) export in the 2021-22 fiscal year. Bangladesh is now the second-largest RMG exporting country in the world, with about 6.5% stake in the global market share. The RMG sector accounts for around 84% of the country's total exports, employing some four million people.
Although the country's RMG industry is well-positioned and is the largest contributing sector to the nation's economy, all of us involved in the RMG business are aware of the intense competition that exists in the global fashion industry at present.
Times are changing and Bangladesh continues adopting advanced apparel manufacturing technology. Apparel factories of our country are embracing innovation in all the areas, ranging from purchasing raw materials to CAD (computer-aided design) tools that expedite the whole product design and development process, maximising fabric utilisation, reducing standard minutes in garment manufacturing, reducing laundry costs and the possibility of rejected substandard products. Innovation has contributed to sustainable and ecological impacts of the whole sector.
Undoubtedly, if Bangladesh wishes to remain competitive at this critical juncture of its journey, its RMG sector needs to take the lead in innovation.
Given the importance of innovation for our RMG industry and, by implication, the nation as a whole, there appears to be a stark lack of innovation within our educational system and institutes in Bangladesh. Currently, most innovation introduced in the RMG sector is purchased from foreign companies.
Not only does this involve the procurement of physical machines and technology that comes with them, but it also generally involves the contracting of foreign nationals to ensure the correct implementation of the product or project, and the general maintenance of that product when it is in place.
Relying on expertise from outside our shores is not at all sustainable for Bangladesh's RMG industry in the long term. They offer a short-term solution; they leave the Bangladesh RMG industry dependent upon the services and innovation of foreign companies at a time when the sector should be finding its own solutions to problems that it will, undoubtedly, face. So, for the continuous development of the Bangladesh RMG industry, we need to nurture our homegrown talent in the field of innovation.
We are blessed with a population of some 167 million people, about 70% of whom are under 40. Indeed, it is time to invest in and improve both current and future employees' tech capabilities to encourage them to embrace technological advances so they can bring new innovations to the RMG industry that we can proudly call our own.
Bangladesh's RMG sector is starting a new chapter in its journey. The safety overhaul that the industry has undertaken after the Rana Plaza is an important part of that journey. Bangladesh is at present one of the safest garment manufacturing hubs in the world. When buyers purchase from Bangladesh now, the "Made in Bangladesh" stamp provides certain reassurances regarding safety and sustainability. This is a genuine added value. So, it is time for the Bangladesh RMG industry to reap the benefits of this value addition riding on innovation.
To future-proof itself, Bangladesh's RMG sector needs to take a slightly different path over the next decade. This path could potentially lead to continued job creation but the majority of these jobs will be in higher value-added areas integrating innovation.
This will not only lead to more jobs than the four million jobs the industry already provides, but will also lead to better jobs. So, Bangladesh needs to think carefully about how it can develop an education system to provide the RMG sector with the industry leaders of the future who will allow the sector to compete at the higher end of the value chain, and address the need for competent middle management in the era of the 4th industrial revolution.
Abdullah Hil Rakib is the Managing Director of Team Group. He is a Director of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers & Exporters Association (BGMEA) and a Member of the Trustee Board of BGMEA University of Fashion and Technology (BUFT).
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.