People limiting movements to their homes for social distancing needs apparently proved a boon for local knitwear manufacturers, as their shipments have fared relatively well in 2020 on the back of increased demand globally.
Knitted garments are those of the soft, comfortable and stretchable kind meant mostly for indoor use such as t-shirts, polo shirts, inner-wear, sportswear, sweaters and hoodies.
Their use has risen significantly because people have increased the amount of time they spend at home and prefer to wear such comfortable clothing.
Its outdoor counterparts are the stiffer woven garments such as formal shirts, trousers, denim jeans, suits, chiffon and georgette dresses.
Both type of fabrics witnessed a slump in exports as a part of the pandemic's fallouts.
But knitwear shipments, which dropped 31 per cent year-on-year to $5.7 billion in the January-June period, scored a rebound in the year's second half.
In figures, this was nearly a 4 per cent year-on-year growth to $8.52 million, out of the total $15.54 billion garnered from garments, shows data from the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB).
On the other hand, export earnings from woven continues to linger in the negative, slumping 29 per cent year-on-year in the first half and 10.22 per cent in the second when it fetched $7.01 billion.
Summing up the whole year, both subsectors of the apparel industry, the biggest export earners, suffered from the pandemic, although on a lesser extent by knitwear.
The EPB data shows the 2020 earnings from knitwear to have declined 13 per cent year-on-year while that from woven by 20 per cent.
Bangladesh's major advantage in knitwear manufacture and shipment is a shorter lead time as the raw materials can be easily availed from local markets, which is not possible for woven.
Local spinners can supply nearly 90 per cent of the demand for raw materials such as yarn and knitted fabrics, which has drastically improved the lead time, saving as much as 20 days.
Maintaining a strict lead time, starting from the placement of orders to the shipping of goods within the time specified by buyers, is very important in the competitive world of garments.
In case of woven, a majority of the raw materials need to be imported from abroad, mainly China and India, as local weavers can meet just about 40 per cent of the demand.
Over the last four decades, local entrepreneurs invested more than $8 billion in the country's primary textile sector, mainly in spinning for the knitwear sector.
During the pandemic, the disruption to supply chains such as import of fabric from China, Bangladesh's single largest source for it, had a detrimental effect on woven garment production and shipment.
Besides, shipments of woven items such as formal shirts and trousers has fallen for a downturn in demand as people are increasingly opting to work from their homes and limiting movement outdoors.
Local manufacturers are cashing in on increasing orders being placed for knitwear items by western retailers and brands.
Some factories, especially the bigger units, are already completely booked till the next season.
The Daily Star spoke to some garment suppliers to get an insight of the success in knitwear shipment.
"We have done very well in July, August and September and we exported more than what our projection was," said Bakhtiar U Ahmed, chief operating officer of Fakir Apparels.
"Currently, the shipment of knitwear is not so well as the buyers are staying conservative in the wake of the second wave of the pandemic virus. It is like a go-slow approach," he said.
Usually, his company exports knitwear items worth $125 million a year but in 2020, they managed to reach $114 million.
"However, we have increased our target in 2021 to $133 million. I am very much hopeful that my company can achieve the target as work orders are coming in with the arrival of vaccines for Covid-19 in the markets," Ahmed told The Daily Star over the phone.
Moreover, he predicts that people would start spending more money on clothing items once they start going outdoors as before for the presence of vaccines, said Ahmed, adding that currently some 10,000 workers were employed in his factory.
He said Europe, his main export destination, was hit hard by the second wave and many countries had announced going into another bout of lockdowns.
As a result, the buyers now were a bit conservative in placing orders, he said.
On another note, Ahmed apprehends that price hikes of some 30 per cent of yarn and over 8 per cent of chemicals might end up acting as deterrents to increasing knitwear exports.
Although yarn prices have gone up in the local markets, the supply is still normal, said Ahmed, who mainly exports fleece jackets, trousers, sweat shirts, jackets, trousers and polo shirts.
During this pandemic, knitwear shipments increased to European markets, the single largest export bloc for Bangladesh's garment items, said Md Fazlul Hoque, managing director of Plummy Fashions.
He cited, among others, the factors of increased demand for longer stays at home and the lead time advantage.
Hoque said to have set a target for exporting knitwear items worth $27 million in fiscal 2020-21. "I am hopeful that I can achieve the target as we will do better from the second half of the year," he said.
Usually knitwear items are the casual dresses, said Mohammad Hatem, senior vice-president of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA).
Apart from the reasoning cited in this report, he attributed the increasing exports to Bangladesh's prices being lower than that of other countries.
As a result, buyers have continued doing business with Bangladesh even during this pandemic, Hatem said.
Yarn prices went up in local markets mainly because of a cotton price hike in international markets, said Abdul Hai Sarker, former president of the Bangladesh Textile Mills Association (BTMA), a platform of spinners, weavers and the primary textile sector.
Cotton traded at 70 cents and 71 cents per pound between January and September last year but it jumped to 85 cents and 86 cents per pound over the last three months.
Sarker observed that international cotton prices might maintain the uptick in the coming months for higher demand.
The demand for knitwear items went up as people are able to use those as casual wear and do not need to wash those frequently like woven garment items, Sarker also said.
People can wear a knitwear item 15 times before it required washing but in case of woven, this could not happen, he said.