In 2020, Bangladesh exported denim products worth $561 million to the US
Bangladesh became the largest denim exporter to the US last year, in what can be viewed as a bright spot for the country’s beleaguered garment sector that has been hit hard by the global coronavirus pandemic.
In 2020, Bangladesh exported denim products worth $561 million to the US, down by nearly 4 per cent from a year earlier, according to data from the US Office of Textiles and Apparel.
However, it was enough to give Bangladesh a market share of about 20 per cent, up from 15.7 per cent from a year earlier.
“This was a result of our relentless and collaborative efforts,” said Faruque Hassan, managing director of Giant Group.
Mexico, which became the market leader in the US for denim products in 2019, saw its share contract to 16.7 per cent from 21.5 per cent last year.
China, which was in pole position until 2018, saw its share of the US’s $2.8 billion-denim market shrink further to about 11.9 per cent from 18.6 per cent a year earlier.
Vietnam, which is biting at Bangladesh’s heels in the global apparel trade, saw its share of the market increase steadily over the past five years. It now stands at number three position, a notch above China.
In the last few years, Bangladesh witnessed a huge amount of investment in denim fabric manufacturing, which increased the country's production capacity to reduce import dependency for fabrics, said Sayeed Ahmad Chowdhury, director of Square Denim.
As denim manufacturers now can purchase denim fabrics from local sources easily, the lead time to ship products came down drastically from the previous years.
“This helped a lot to manufacturers to attract more buyers, which is also an opportunity for us to grab more market share in export destinations,” he added.
In the last couple of years, Bangladesh's capacity to meet the demand for denim fabrics rose to nearly 50 per cent from 30 per cent a few years ago, according to industry people.
There are 32 mills producing denim fabrics for the export-oriented denim manufacturers, according to the Bangladesh Textile Mills Association.
“On the other hand, we were able to start production after the Covid-induced lockdown earlier than Mexico. Mexico lost the market and we gained from their losses, but it is not an ideal situation to compare,” Chowdhury said.
In addition, the US-China trade conflict and the relocation of Chinese investment helped Bangladesh to grab more market share.
The US policy on banning procurement of cotton and even raw materials from China's Xinjiang region was a blessing for Bangladesh, said Sharif Zahir, managing director of Ananta Denim Technology.
“Since we are strong in denim manufacturing, buyers were diverted here and placed more orders.”
Besides, the trade war and the then uncertainty caused by the Trump administration also compelled buyers to relocate their businesses.
However, the prices of goods is a big concern for the exporters: the raw material prices have gone up but the buyers are not calibrating their prices, Zahir added.
“To attract buyers' attention and present your products to global consumers, you need to promote through exhibitions. For the last few years, I did it through several expos focusing only on denim products,” said Mostafiz Uddin, founder of the Bangladesh Denim Expo.
The expos informed the local manufacturers of the latest trends and also brought in technological know-how.
“Today's success is a result of our nurturing of the last six years. As a manufacturer, we spent a lot to innovate and develop new products.”
For instance, the washing technology developed locally helped manufacturers to produce value-added items, said Uddin, also the managing director of Denim Expert, a leading denim manufacturer.
To retain the momentum, promotional activities and research and development must continue, he said, adding that the government and sector leaders can come forward.
“As a business leader, in the days to come, my focus would be promoting the sector by paving ways for high-value products. To this end, knowledge-based solutions must be looked into,” said Hassan, who is leading the Sammilita Parishad panel in the upcoming biennial polls of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters’ Association.