A motley of colours
The crowd thickens slowly in a glass-fronted shopping area on an otherwise quiet floor of Bashundhara City.
Once you are off the moving escalator to the seventh floor, you will find many en route to the new shopping zone that houses 10 local handicraft brands.
Walk in and you will find yourself in a motley of colours brightened by overhead lights. The outlets showcase an array of exhibits -- from punjabi to sari to quilt. The middle of the zone, a 6,500 square feet rectangular area, gives a relaxing breather to visitors.
It is the 'Deshi Dash', an emporium of 10 local fashion boutiques that have joined hands to show off.
“We want to make it a destination for local fabrics and handicrafts. Our spirit is to work together to promote and develop local textiles,” says Khalid Mahmood Khan, one of the masterminds of the idea.
In more than 23,000 square feet area, the Deshi Dash, opened on August 20, brings different generations of local fashion boutiques together. From the post-liberation fashion trendsetter, Nipun, to latest entrant Deshal have joined the foray to show off their products made mainly from handloom.
Others are: Prabartana, Kay Kraft, Anjan's, Rang, Banglar Mela, Bibiana, Sadakalo and Nogordola.
The aim of Deshi Dash is to popularise local textiles, needle works and crafts, and create a platform to promote the handloom industry, which provides livelihood for nearly 15 lakh people in rural Bangladesh.
“We may look small in numbers. But people who work with us are thousands in numbers. About 90 percent people in the sector remain behind the scene as they work in rural areas,” says Khalid, also director of Kay Kraft.
These boutiques have brought clothing and textiles items from different handloom hubs, spread sporadically across the country.
From legendary Jamdani and Tangail sari of Narayanganj, Sonargoan and Tangail, bed covers and fabrics for traditional wears from Narsingdi and Manikganj, lungi from Sirajganj and silk sari from Chapainawabganj -- all were dangling and put in shelves in a fashion.
A gradual rise of local fashion houses has created a resurgence for local textiles, needle works and crafts and enabled many weavers to stay afloat in the face of competition from low-priced power loom cloth.
As revealed in the Handloom Census 2002-03, contribution of handloom industry to total cloth production dropped to 28 percent in fiscal year 2002-03 from 64 percent in 1989-90.
A significant portion was taken over by mills and power looms, according to the census.
Such an uneven competition in the past forced many weavers to quit their ancestral profession.
The Handloom Census showed the total number of looms dropped to 505,556 in 2002-03, from 514,456 in 1989-90. The number of operational looms also declined over the period.
The threat of losing profession is still there. In absence of adequate fund and institutional support in getting raw materials such as yarn and dye, weavers remain vulnerable to the price charged by the yarn merchants and middlemen.
“Much of their helplessness could have been eased if fashion houses had a collective platform to procure raw materials and supply among weavers. But the main problem lies in fund,” observes Khalid.
He says the practice of collecting raw materials in credit is on the downturn.
A section of weavers still depend on collecting raw materials in credit involving higher cost, although getting reasonable prices for the cloth they produce remains uncertain, say stakeholders.
Fashion houses, focusing on local textiles, have not only helped reduce the number of layers in the marketing chain for handloom products but also allowed weavers to get confirmed buyers, who usually add value after collecting cloth.
Entry of fashion houses also enabled many weavers to diversify their product bases from weaving a single type of cloth to a range.
“Growth of boutiques has helped develop a number of handloom pockets. Diversification in product development has also taken place,” says Khalid.
“People have welcomed fashion houses that are working with local materials.”
Stakeholders say the market for local textiles and crafts is rising, thanks to urban middle and upper-middle class who have propelled the demand for local textiles and design in the last couple of years.
Insiders say the market for boutiques is worth Tk 1,000 crore a year and registers a double-digit growth annually.
Participants believe their collective presence would help boost the demand for local textiles further.
“We are promoting import-substitute products,” says Khalid.
“We want to organise festivals and fairs all over the year to popularise local textiles,” says Lipi Khandker, managing director of Bibiana.
Under the initiative, each of the participants, which has joined the foray based on uniqueness in product and design, and a clientele base, will maintain sales proceeds separately. Each of them will also display its products at its own outlet.
But a shopper, who buys a product from any of the outlets, will be offered a shopping bag having logo of Deshi Dash.
“After you go out from an outlet buying a product, it will be difficult for an onlooker to understand from which fashion house the item was purchased,” says Lipi.
She believes the initiative would benefit all of them as option to choose from ten separate boutiques will inspire shoppers to visit the Deshi Dash emporium.
Shahid A Shamim, director of Prabartana, belongs to the same belief as of Lipi.
“Business will be more sustainable here. It strengthens our client base and offers options to our existing and prospective clients,” he says.
“Deshi Dash will be effective in branding local textiles.”
However much of its success now depends on the customers' response, although some of the participants believe that the venture would start getting returns after a year as Deshi Dash will slowly be a destination for fashion lovers.
“I believe this concept will be appreciated and this place will slowly be a destination for local products,” says Khalid.
And such success may encourage them to realise another dream of expanding Deshi Dash not only to other major cities in Bangladesh but also abroad.
But given the fund dearth, lack of skilled and professional textile designers, problems in organisational and supply chain management, much of the good intention can end in vain.
For expansion, Khalid sought support from Equity and Entrepreneurship Fund under the Bangladesh Bank.