Screen printing in Dhaka
Saqib Sarker

Chronicle of a screen printing business

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Ibrahim, a spirited young man in his 30s, doesn’t look like a shrewd businessman. Very amiable and jolly, Ibrahim is originally from Barisal. He came to Dhaka and started working at the Banga Bazar market as a shop assistant and then a manager. From here, he got into the screen printing business.

In 2008 when Ibrahim first started, he had only two people working with him. “We rented a room and we were there for nearly three years,” Ibrahim said.

Ibrahim used money that he saved up from his salary and took some money from his father. “When I got into this business you didn’t need a lot. But now you need to have a lot of money to get started. You could start with Tk 50 – 60 thousand. But now you need to have Tk 300,000. That’s because everything has changed.”

“You needed to have frames. These are now metal (pointing to a heap of frames). But before we had frames made out of wood. We used to work on the floor then. Now we do it on tables; like garments,” Ibrahim said.

The increase in start-up money is mainly due to adapting more efficient production technologies and other related factors. “You need to deposit hundred and fifty thousand k for a room like this,” Ibrahim said showing the room, approximate 15” X 12” in size.

“The rent for a room like this is 20 k per month. I pay 8 – 9 k per month in electricity bill. I now have over six employees,” Ibrahim said with a simultaneously timid but proud smile.

“I had a good start. I worked as a manager in the market. So, a lot of people knew me,” Ibrahim described how he get off to a great start.

“That time (2008) I made 50/60k per month. It was because I don’t do shoddy work. I honoured my relationship with people.

Also back then we didn’t need electricity. And salary for a worker was 4 k maximum in 2008. But now you have to pay 6-7k. I pay 8k in electricity per month now,” Ibrahim explained how it was possible to produce without spending a lot.

“It wasn’t bad at all in the beginning like I said. But the business started to really grow after three years,” Ibrahim said.

When asked how much he makes per month now, Ibrahim thought for a moment. “It depends really. Some months you make over 100,000 but some months you may be getting around 20k.”

“One of the big reasons for less business is that there are no (political) rallies now. The government doesn’t allow rallies now. So, we lost a lot of work. That’s a problem,”

The room and the set up are quite deceptive in terms of how much work Ibrahim can get done here.

“My biggest orders are like up to 20k pieces of printing. The delivery time depends on colours. If the design has more colours it takes longer and the less colorful ones take shorter time obviously,” Ibrahim explained.

It is difficult to imagine how he manages to produce thousands of printing in one day, considering that the whole process is by hind.

“If it’s one or two colour then we can do 5 – 7 thousand pieces a day,” Ibrahim said.

This, of course, comes with a price. The working hour is grueling. The workers start at 10 in the morning and, depending on work load work up to 3 am, a tremendously long 17 hours of work.

But the workers all seem content. And there were at least two children working. A small boy called Mohammad Hasan, aged not more than 12 years, smile happily when asked if he is happy to work there.

Another worker, Abdur Razzak, said we call him Chris Gayle. “I think he can be famous if journalists help us,” Razzak remarked slyly.

All the workers are from the same area in Barisal and they feel very close to Ibrahim because he is like a brother to them.

“Yes, we work a lot but we can take rest whenever we want,” said Muhammad Ruhul Amin, who has been working with Ibrahim for two years now.

When asked if they think they get paid enough Ruhul Amin said, “See, that depends. If you don’t bear our cost for food and accommodation then it’s not enough. But we live here for free and Ibrahim bhai pays for our meals.”

Everyone else nodded approvingly.

Ibrahim’s factory, named after his son Rafim, is an amazing example of how much can be done with extremely little resources. Ibrahim is the kind of entrepreneur whose story we don’t hear very often but should be told with more importance.

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