When he joined his family business in 2001, it was a small export-oriented garment company. But with a decade of hard work, Ananta Jalil has transformed his AJI Group into a leading name in the apparel sector.
It was in 1996 when his elder brother set up a small apparel unit in Mirpur. It had a workforce of 400 and used to make shirts for European buyers.
The garment sector was booming when Ananta joined business. "Garments were selling like hotcakes at that time," the 36-year-old told The Daily Star in an interview recently.
The company was shifted to Hemayetpur in Savar in 2004 as part of an expansion plan. "We thought we would not be able to expand our business if we remain within the capital city," Ananta said.
But success did not come overnight. He was involved in the family business while studying business management and fashion design in the UK. He had to maintain regular contacts with buyers and make arrangements for their visits to Bangladesh.
During vacations, he used to work at various departments of the company to gather firsthand knowledge of production and the entire business cycle.
The premature death of his elder brother in a road accident in 2008 left him alone to shoulder the responsibility of turning the group into a large one.
He did not fail. Now sprawling over 32 bighas of land, the vast industrial park of the group houses 11 factories and employs more than 7,000 workers.
His apparel units make around 1.6 million pieces of high-end garment products such as fancy polo shirts, sweat shirts, trousers and T-shirts per month. His clients include Jordache, C&A, Walmart, ASDA, New Look, Tesco, Arcadia, Ralph Lauren, Kappa, Tokyo Laundry and Next.
In fiscal 2013-14, the group's earnings from exports were more than Tk 315 crore, up from Tk 250 crore in the previous year.
His contribution to the garment sector has also been recognised by the government. Since 2009, he has been a "commercially important person" in both industrial and commercial categories.
In 2015, Ananta plans to hire another 1,500 workers as he is setting up denim and knit units and denim washing plants.
He also said the sector has been under pressure for the last few years due to political instability. Orders for high-end garments are now shifting to other countries like Indonesia and Pakistan, he added.
International buyers have been offering lower prices for the last couple of years, he said. For example, he said, the prices of garments have come down to $4.80 apiece now, from $6 a year ago.
“We are being forced to take the orders.”
AJI Group increased salaries and wages by Tk 14 crore in 2014 after the sector's minimum wage came into effect.
He said his company has to foot the bill of Tk 7 crore a year to meet compliance.
“The buyers have not increased prices. Rather, they have cut the prices by 25 percent.”
A year ago, a subsidiary of AJI Group was fined Tk 65 lakh for keeping its effluent treatment plant (ETP) shut and setting up a building within the industrial park without permission. The group has already paid Tk 45 lakh and sought a waiver of the rest.
He said the factory was visited on a Sunday when all factories in the Savar area remain closed. "This is why, our ETP was shut. Though I was not supposed to pay the fine, I have paid most of it.”
Ananta said his company not only complies with local laws and regulations but also meets the requirements demanded by international buyers.
It has obtained standardisation certificates from Brussels-based Business Social Compliance Initiative; US-based Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production; London-based Sedex; Zurich-based International Association for Research and Testing in the Field of Textile Ecology, and Paris-based Bureau Veritas.
Ananta said he has cordial relations with his workers. As a result, his factories have never been hit by unrest. “I have also ensured that workers' salaries at my factories will not be less than any other factories.”
He said a stable political and economic environment is very important for businesses to expand their operations. "No matter who are in power, the government should maintain peace and stability for the sake of the economy and businesses."
“If we have a congenial environment, we will set up more factories and employ more people. Those who have the ability to create jobs for others should not feel discouraged.”
The successful businessman also urged the government to ensure adequate gas for garment factories.
Ananta is also a popular film actor. He, however, entered the film industry for a business purpose after sensing that films could be an exportable item for the Bangladeshis living abroad.
Since his debut film five years ago, he has produced six successful movies.
However, making movies has taken a toll on his leisure. “Since starting to make movies, nobody has seen me chatting for two minutes. I don't have a social life and I can't attend social gatherings. It seems I have become a robot.”
Ananta is now preparing for two movies: Sainik will be based on the work of Bangladesh Army, and the other movie is Spy.