Knowledge is power” is an adage I am fond of saying to my team, and this expression keeps springing to mind with the growing attention that is being given to how the readymade garments (RMG) sector of Bangladesh will develop as the nation prepares to evolve from a least developed country to a developing one, with the official developing country status expected to be awarded by 2024.
One area that has emerged in various conversations (most notably at a panel discussion held at the Bangladesh Denim Expo in May 2018) is that Bangladesh needs to make a concerted effort to expand the development of innovative and high-ticket items and to continue investment in innovation in the sector so as to maintain a competitive price edge and offer advanced products in the coming days.
Investment in innovation in the production process is one issue that needs to be addressed. Whether it is the development of advanced R&D facilities, improvements in manufacturing practices, state-of-the-art manufacturing units, or innovations in logistics to improve the through-put time of production—these are all undeniably vital for the evolution of the RMG sector. But it is the education and development of knowledge of our workforce, particularly those involved with the product design and development processes, that I would like to focus on.
The education of our workforce goes beyond basic university or technical college training and certification—whether in design, merchandising or product development. What is critical for the continuing education of these key contributors to the RMG sector is exposure to the target markets and customers and the development of an understanding of the end consumer's needs as well as the specific demands on product design and development that come along with it. The more market knowledge our design and development teams possess, the more efficient the whole development process will become.
How can we, for example, expect a young designer/merchandiser based in Chittagong to fully appreciate what a 19-year-old skateboarder from Biarritz, France, is looking for in his product choices, unless they are exposed to the market and the cultural influences experienced by the target consumer? Gaining insight into external markets and understanding regional trends and differences in taste will benefit all those involved with the design and development of product. And it can only be achieved though exposure to the relevant markets.
What we need to develop is a culture of continual education for our workforce. You are never too old to learn, and our industry is in a constant state of change—in terms of design, fabrication, technology, production methods, and so on and so forth. In my experience, the most effective method to garner knowledge is through exposure to the target market and consumer. Ideally, this would take the form of market visits to customers outside of Bangladesh, so that first-hand knowledge is gained through store visits, attending trade shows and immersion in the actual market itself to experience the sights, sounds and culture that the end consumer is exposed to. The knowledge to be gained through this level of exposure is invaluable and would serve all relevant design and development personnel well in their day-to-day working lives.
This approach may well be financially restrictive to some, but there are other avenues that can be explored to offer designers, merchandisers, product developers and technicians exposure to the target market and increase their understanding of it. The most obvious of these is the Internet. In this age of computer-aided communication, it is possible to research trends and direction on styling, fitting, colour and finishing by trawling through the Internet or by subscription to any number of international on-line trend forecasting agencies. Our young design and development teams should be encouraged to religiously research information relevant to the target customer and gain an understanding of what the end consumer is demanding and how they are styling and wearing the product they purchase.
Factory owners and managers should be encouraged to adopt a policy whereby their staff working in the design and development departments are given the opportunity to meet face-to-face with customers when they visit their offices or factory. Developing a personal relationship with the customer and understanding their needs is a crucial factor in the successful development of product. It is not something that can be achieved effectively through e-mail correspondences alone.
Another area offering exposure to the target market is through increased interaction with the suppliers. Design, development and technical teams should be encouraged to meet with the relevant suppliers when they visit the company's offices or factory. A great deal about the emerging trends and customers' needs can be learned from the fabric suppliers, trim suppliers, chemical suppliers and machinery companies. It can be argued that an excellent product starts with the fabric, so exposure to information regarding fabric development can only benefit the design and development process as a whole.
Not only can the relevant personnel advance their technical knowledge through a meeting with suppliers, exposure to this level of information also offers them an insight into potential developments that can be achieved, using the latest product available. Developing relationships with the suppliers has the added benefit of gaining insight into the demands of other markets; they can learn about their experiences with customers at home and abroad.
The next few years will be an exciting time for the RMG sector and we can expect wonderful things to happen if we establish a system whereby our workforce has the opportunity to continue learning about new developments in markets and product. Exposure and continual education will enable our workforce to develop the products necessary to take the sector to the next level and further increase its contribution to the GDP of our nation.
Mostafiz Uddin is the Founder & CEO of Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE) and Bangladesh Denim Expo. He is the Managing Director of Denim Expert Limited.