Knitwear’s export performance stronger than woven
Shorter lead times, easy availability of raw materials in the domestic market and changes in global fashion have made knitwear items the top export from Bangladesh.
In July-September of the current fiscal year, knitwear item shipments rose 19.70 percent year-on-year to $6.76 billion compared to the corresponding period in the previous fiscal year, according to data from the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB).
On the other hand, exports of woven garments grew by 4.97 percent year-on-year to $4.85 billion in July-September compared to the same period of the last fiscal year.
In July-September, total RMG exports stood at $11.61 billion.
In the fiscal year 2022-23, Bangladesh exported garment items worth $46.99 billion, a year-on-year growth of 10.27 percent.
Knitwear shipments grew by 10.87 percent to reach $25.73 billion and exports of woven garments grew by 9.56 percent year-on-year to reach $21.25 billion.
For the current fiscal year, the export target for knitwear shipments was fixed at $28.43 billion, higher than the $23.84 billion target set for woven items.
Primarily, local spinners have been able to supply raw materials for the knitwear sector in a shorter time after international clothing retailers and brands squeezed the lead time to 45-60 days instead of the previous 90-120 days due to growing competition among retailers and brands.
Given such competition, international retailers and brands want to sell goods across 12 seasons a year instead of eight.
Owing to high investment, local spinners can supply more than 90 percent of raw materials to the knitwear sector.
On the other hand, local weavers can supply only around 40 percent of raw materials for the woven sector because of low investment.
The remaining 60 percent is met through imports, mainly from China, which is time-consuming and expensive.
Additionally, production of knitwear at a low investment is possible. But in the case of woven apparel, a larger investment is required.
Another major factor has been changing trends in global fashion brought on by climate change, which has led to shorter winters and longer summers in Europe.
Most people, including office-goers, now prefer to wear casual outfits instead of formal clothes, mainly due to comfort. This, combined with other lifestyle changes, has seen a rise in demand for leggings, jeggings and athleisure wear.
"Moreover, sweaters fall under the knitwear category although they are mainly produced by woven garment factories," said Faruque Hassan, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
Because of wider use of jacquard technology, Bangladesh has turned into a major sweater-exporting destination.
In the last fiscal year, sweaters worth $5.94 billion were shipped from Bangladesh. In the 2021-22 fiscal, the export amount was $5.64 billion, EPB data showed.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, when people were confined to their homes, the demand for knitwear items from the country increased manifold.
This was because while other countries were not exporting goods, most factories in Bangladesh continued operations and shipped goods globally.
In recent years, Bangladesh has also been increasing exports of man-made fibre garments, causing the knitwear sector's exports to grow.
"Following Covid-19, the global landscape changed a lot and consumers now prefer knitted items to woven items," said Fazlee Shamim Ehsan, vice-president of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
Lower prices of knitted items also played an important part, he added.
Historically, woven garment items have dominated exports. But in recent years, the knitwear sector has been dominating.