The traditional weaving industry in Tangail district needs both public and private support in order to recover from the Covid-19 and flood-induced losses, according to local traders.
"Few buyers for the famous Tangail sari are turning up ahead of the upcoming Eid-ul-Fitr," said trader Mirza Shakil.
"This has left local sari weavers and traders frustrated with their unsold stocks," he added.
During a recent visit to sari markets in Sadar upazila and Kalihati upazila, it was seen that sales were less than 15 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
"Several crores worth of saris were sold here in the past."
After the government decided to reopen shops, malls and local markets across the country ahead of Eid, the Tangail sari traders saw a ray of hope.
However, sales have not reached the desired levels, said Raghunath Basak, president of the Sari Traders Association in Tangail.
A huge number of saris made for the two Eids, Pahela Baishakh and Puja last year remain unsold due to the ongoing coronavirus situation.
This year too, local weavers have produced a considerable number of garments with an eye on these major festivals, Basak said.
Earlier this year, local weavers shipped many of their products to markets and shopping malls all over the country ahead of the selling seasons.
However, the saris remain unsold as the government had imposed a lockdown during Baishakh to prevent a second wave of infections.
Tangail is famous for its hand-weaved saris but the traditional industry started struggling when many handloom factories had to closed their doors after the Covid-19 outbreak last year.
Weavers in Tangail produce saris of various makes and qualities, including cotton, jute, jal cotton, benarosi, jamdani, katan, silk, khaddar, baluchuri, and so on.
"They produce both casual and expensive saris with prices ranging from Tk 400 to Tk 10,000," he added.
Saris are the first choice for most Bengali women for cultural festivals.
The Tangail saris, especially those made on handlooms, are popular both at home and abroad for their beautiful colours, textures and designs.
Besides, thanks to flexible prices, the saris are able to meet the demands of all classes and backgrounds.
Other than the saris, local weavers also produce three-pieces, panjabi, scarfs, lungis, gamchas and so on.
They mainly sell these products at several local markets such as Karatia, Bajitpur, Pathrail, Balla, Rampur and Jokarchar.
Wholesalers from across the country come to these markets to buy the products.
The sales of traditional Tangail saris usually see a boost ahead of major festivals like Eid with about Tk 200 crore worth being collectively sold ahead of these occasions.
However, business witnessed a sharp decline in 2020 after the coronavirus pandemic began.
Making matters worse, the weavers in various areas such as Kalihati, a largely weaver-oriented upazila, were badly hit by devastating and prolonged floods between July and August the same year.
Several local weavers said the whole industry is in dire straits but still, neither the government nor any private institution has come forward to help the thousands of people reliant on its survival.
Mofakharul Islam, president of the Balla Weavers Association, said numerous handlooms were already shut at the factories and the workers were made jobless.
"What else could the factory owners do, most of them were running operations by taking loans while both sales and prices had dropped," he said.
"Meanwhile, production costs rose due to increasing raw material prices, including yarn and dye," Islam added.
Several local weavers said Delduar upazila is another hub of handlooms and weavers in the district.
Several businessmen, including Raghunath Basak, Nilkamal Basak, and Kalachad Basak, of Pathrail village in the upazila mainly control the local sari business.
They use poor weavers and small factory owners to produce saris as per their orders and designs in exchange of wages.
Although few traders have made crores through the business, the fate of small factory owners has not changed.
Many of the poor weavers could not survive amid the losses and eventually left their ancestral profession.
Several veteran weavers said that once upon a time, there were around three lakh weavers operating on around one lakh handlooms in the district, particularly in the Sadar, Kalihati, Delduar, Basail and Sakhipur upazilas.
The number of handlooms fell to around 20,000 within a few decades while the number of workers was dwindled to less than one lakh.
This happened mainly due to increasing raw material costs and a drastic fall in the demand for saris.
Many of the skilled workers also left the job in search of better paying professions.
As a result, the once famous local weaving industry has lost its lustre.
"Although the government appointed Bangladesh Tant Board (BTB) to develop the industry and welfare of the weavers, it could not help," local weavers said.
So if the government wants this industry to survive, it will have to pay more attention, they added.
The weavers went on to say that the Tant Board will have to conduct research on how to revive the industry in the face of falling demand for saris.
The board will also have to invite big business houses to work on saving the traditional industry, they added.
Contacted, Rabiul Islam, liaison officer of the BTB's Bajitpur Basic Center in Tangail, said the district's traditional weaving industry has long been struggling due to various problems.
Most recently, it was the pandemic and devastating prolonged flooding that left local weavers in a tight corner.
The BTB mainly provides loans to weavers and also arranges training for them.
Considering the situation, the government is arranging an online platform for local weavers to retail their products.
There are also plans to provide 'weaver cards' to producers so that they can purchase raw materials from the government at the right prices.
"These days, it is reality that women in the country are not wearing saris like they did before. However, it is not so hard to bring innovation and diversification to the lcoal products," Islam said.
"But research and sincere effort is a must for it," he added.