It was a short three years ago that Hamider Rahman bought five sewing machines and rented two small rooms at his home in Saidpur, a trade and industrial town in the northern district of Nilphamari. His was not an everyday establishment. He made clothes from garment scraps (jhut).
In 2013, propelled by the popularity of his clothes, he went for an expansion; he rented land to set up a tin-shed to hold 30 sewing machines, raw materials, and his office. He mostly makes trousers, three-quarter trousers, shirts and jackets by using scrap fabrics that are mainly laid out on the floor as wastes by operators of the $21 billion export-earning apparel industry.
"The demand for the clothes has encouraged me to expand the business," said 35-year-old Rahman, sitting in his office in one corner of the tin-roofed factory.
"When you look at a finished product, you can hardly say it was made of garment scraps.”
Rahman, who owns NR Garments that employs 50 workers including 16 women, is one of nearly 500 micro and small garment factories in the country to cater to demand at home and abroad, mainly India and Bhutan.
The sub-sector engages nearly 5,000 people, according to Exportable Small Garments Factories Association.
The number of such micro and small factories, which were only a handful a decade and a half ago, has grown over the years in the face of growing demand.
"Initially, most of us were making clothes at home. Later, many shifted their production units from their homes to commercial spaces as business grew," said Motiar Rahman Dulu, general secretary of the association.
The quality of the final products also improved; most factories now use power machines replacing the manual ones, he added.
One of the main reasons behind such growth is exports, he said. “Our competitive edge is low prices," he said, citing low labour costs, cheaper rent and garment scraps.
"We can offer clothes at 30 percent lower prices than our competitors in Dhaka. That is why our demand is rising," said Shahidul Islam, who began his small business in 2002 with two manually operated machines.
He now runs 10 automatic sewing machines to make garments from scrap fabrics.
"We can do even better if the government gives us land to establish a garments park here."
However, these factories face a gas crisis and they are compelled to send the finished apparel items to Dhaka for washing.
"A gas supply here will cut our dependence on Dhaka. It will also improve the quality of our products and help us flourish," said Rahman of NR Garments.