We must lead, not follow, in the digital age

We make clothes in Bangladesh, and we do it extremely well. But how good are we at marketing and selling these clothes? The traditional route to market for Bangladesh garment manufacturers is through agents and other middlemen, who in turn connect us with global fashion brands and retailers. Exports through these routes have been the backbone of Bangladesh’s economic success for the past 30 years, and there is no reason why it should not continue for many years to come.

However, selling directly to brands will always be a critical part of the business proposition for Bangladesh.

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So, in an industry that is evolving at breakneck speed, I think it’s time for our manufacturers to start thinking more deeply about their route to market (and to end consumers). I also believe that our decision-makers should focus more on this area, ensuring that we have the right skills and capacities to thrive in the digital age.

This week I read an interesting article from UK on Amazon. It was focused on people who started multi-million pound businesses, selling their products through Amazon. In some cases, revenues of more than 10 million euros per year have been achieved.

I’ve talked about Amazon as a potential sales channel for tailors in the past, so I won’t go into too much detail here. In summary, Amazon allows other sellers to list their products on its website, and will even do the delivery (or “fulfillment”) for them using its huge logistics network.

Amazon’s massive scale means that if a seller can get the right products and marketing, they can end up selling huge amounts of merchandise quite quickly.

Can Amazon also be a direct route to customers for Bangladesh RMG sellers? I think we need to think more broadly in this regard, while considering all avenues to market and the issue of digital marketing in general.

In the past, our tailors could just focus on their core business, making clothes, and let others worry about digital marketing and sales. I now think this issue has become so central to our industry that it is too important to ignore. It is too vital for our industry as a vital part to turn it over to third parties and hope for the best. We all need to understand what is happening in the digital space.

There are a few changes I would like to see, for example. In our schools, universities and technical colleges, I think we should now be focusing a lot more on training and development in digital sales, marketing, coding and other related issues. It means understanding the mechanics of online marketing and sales, getting acquainted with developing websites that are ripe for search engine optimization (SEO). Better SEO makes it much easier to find a website.

In addition, I would like members of the RMG industry in Bangladesh to become leaders in digitization in the same way that they are leaders in garment manufacturing. Let’s look really high in this area.

The second thing I would like to see is more support for Bangladeshi garment companies that choose to sell direct to consumers, through the internet. This could take the form of grants, free access to training and other support networks. I think our business leaders should push the boat in this area and see if it is possible to foster great digital successes in our apparel industry.

There is a Chinese company called Shein. You may not have heard of it yet, but this Chinese online fashion seller is now valued at around $ 30 billion. The company has more than $ 10 billion in revenue annually, although it was established just seven years ago.

Shein is shaking up fast fashion by selling direct to consumers from its base in China. The company is asking that its garment manufacturers not be located more than a five-hour drive from its sourcing center in the Chinese city of Guangzhou. This in order to allow a better speed of sale.

The company also stipulates that its suppliers should be able to complete the design and production process in around 10 days, again giving it a leg up on traditional fast fashion brands.

When I read stories like this my first thought is: why not Bangladesh? Imagine a newly developed online fashion player based in Bangladesh coordinating their own network of finely tuned suppliers to respond quickly and transparently to the needs of international consumers. Shein is a Chinese success story in online fashion sales, and there are many more like it.

Where are the equivalent stories from Bangladesh? These stories don’t exist because we haven’t yet properly embraced the digital space. We rely on others to do it for us. This must change in the coming years. If we continue to focus on just one aspect of the supply chain, the manufacturing of RMGs, I think we risk being left behind.

I want to make it clear here that I am not advocating that we abandon traditional RMGs to become business models of fashion brands. On the contrary, I suggest that we explore and embrace digital avenues in order to exploit potential new business opportunities.

The pace of change in the internet is rapid, and it can be confusing at times trying to keep up with the evolution of our industry. It is definitely not a place for the faint hearted.

But the question I would ask our industry leaders is not “can we afford to embrace digitization?” But “can we afford not to?” “

Mostafiz Uddin is the Managing Director of Denim Expert Limited. He is also the founder and CEO of Bangladesh Denim Expo and Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE).

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