GROWING BIG with little trick
In 1992, Nazmul Hassan began to export crushed leather and other leather products in his humble way, with Japan his major buyer. Before long he noticed that the leather he would export would return to Bangladesh in the form of class, expensive footwear.
Nazmul quickly discovered the trick -- it is the Japanese technology that transforms his crushed leather into high-quality products. So, he decided to bring that technology home and venture into the footwear industry.
Looking to make high-end footwear, he set up Leatherex Footwear Industries Ltd at Dhaka Export Processing Zone in Savar in 2000 and steered the company to an average export of $4 million a year.
A fully export-oriented firm, Leatherex makes sandals, men's shoes, women's pumps, boots and Italian shoes. It now employs some 1,200 people, including about a dozen technicians from Japan, Germany and Italy.
“We opened the footwear factory in Savar to increase value addition and help the country diversify its exports,” Nazmul, managing director of the company, told The Daily Star.
“More value addition at home could help us save a lot of foreign currencies as leather, which accounts for up to 80 percent of shoes' value, is locally available.”
Leatherex has seen such a growth that it won the National Export Trophy just two years after it began operation, becoming one of the youngest companies ever to have had the feat.
It now makes about half a million pairs of footwear annually.
Four years ago, Leatherex set up a new company altogether -- Venezia Crafts and Leather Goods -- to make eco-friendly leather products such as bags, belts, wallets and crafts items for global markets.
“Venezia has been designing leather goods for Japan, the EU, Gulf and Canada markets. All the products are made combining the natural beauty of leather with professional craftsmanship,” said Nazmul.
In 2011, he set up a joint-venture -- Scarpe e Moda Ltd -- in Dhaka EPZ to make footwear under Italian technical know-how. The joint venture makes products mainly targeting the European and US markets while Leatherex, the mother company, focuses on the Japanese market.
Leatherex Footwear has achieved national export trophies five times -- gold in 2005-2006 and in 2008-2009; silver in 2002-2003 and 2009-2010; and bronze in 2010-2011.
Despite the personal success, Nazmul is worried about the delay in relocating the tannery industry from the capital's Hazaribagh to Savar.
“We have to relocate the hazardous tannery to save environment and also to get more orders from foreign buyers,” he said. “Orders will go outside if we cannot relocate the tannery immediately.”
Leatherex, Scarpe and Venezia Crafts together now export products worth around $8 million a year, with a 10 percent annual growth.
The country's leather industry exported products worth a record $1.29 billion last fiscal year, up 32.12 percent year on year, according to the Export Promotion Bureau.
Of the total products, 60 percent go to the EU countries, 30 percent to Japan and 10 percent to the rest of the world.