Top local conglomerate Pran-RFL Group, after grabbing sizable shares in various sectors, is now keen to put its global footprint in the apparel industry, by strengthening its apparel wing, Chorka Textile Limited.
Visiting their factory at Danga area of Palash in Narsingdi recently, Chorka Textile began their journey in 2013 on the banks of the Shitalakkhya River.
Ahsan Khan Chowdhury, chairman and CEO of Pran-RFL Group, accompanied the visiting media delegation during their recent visit.
He said that there was a big global market worth $42 billion for lingerie and innerwear.
“However, compared to that, Bangladesh has not yet developed a sufficient backward linkage industry. We have to rely on imported fabrics and accessories,” he added.
They have to import 50% of raw materials including yarn, fancy lace, synthetic fabrics and special trims, and collect another 50% from local sources including yarn, elastic, sewing thread, cartoon, poly, label, paper trims and packaging items, he added. Around 30-35 factories in the country are producing undergarments, which are exported to about 25 countries and earn about $4 billion export earnings, he also said.
Chorka manufactures men and women’s undergarments, swimwear, active wear, sleepwear, casuals and children’s clothing.
They exported products worth $90 million in the fiscal year 2020-21.
Their products are primarily exported to the US, UK and European countries such as France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Poland, Netherlands, and Switzerland.
Moreover, some brands from Canada, Australia, China, South Africa and India also import their products.
The factory currently employs 7,000 workers, of which 51% are women.
At present, production happens in 120 lines and in single shifts.
There is dormitory facility for about 2,000 workers and transport facilities for the rest – including buses for road communication and boats on the Shitalakshya River.
Talking to some of the factory workers, they told this correspondent that they were happy with the work environment, and the facilities that Chorka provides.
They also said that the chairman usually spends every Saturday at the factory.
“Whenever he enters the premises, he asks about the wellbeing of everyone he passes by,” one worker said.
Moreover, all the instructions regarding wages and allowance are also followed.
There are also special incentives for skilled, hardworking and attentive workers.
Workers are also provided with heavily-subsidized lunch, where they have to pay only Tk5 per meal.
There are also opportunities like a medical center, children’s day care center, school for both workers and children, and special discounts on purchasing any daily necessities from Pran-RFL outlets.
In future, the factory plans to expand its production line from 120 to 300, export goods worth $300 million annually, and introduce double shifts.
Why near a village and not an industrial zone?
Most of the apparel factories in the country are located in Mirpur, Savar, Chittagong or Gazipur areas.
But Chorka is located in a secluded village in Palash of Narsingdi.
Asked why it was set up there, the chairman of Pran-RFL Group said that most of their factories are located outside the traditional industrial belt.
“The establishment of factories here has resulted in employment of local workers and reduced migration of workers. After us, many entrepreneurs have initiated setting up factories here which contributes to economic decentralization,” he added.
Potential to reach the $240 billion export mark
Ahsan Khan Chowdhury, chairman of Pran-RFL Group, said that Bangladeshi apparel owners are doing business with great sincerity. There has been a lot of improvement in the management sector and there are also opportunities for further improvement.
He also said that if all the entrepreneurs were sincere about efficient management, it was possible to surpass China in the near future.
Bangladesh has the potential to touch the $240 billion export mark, he observed.
“The apparel business has become very challenging, with profit-making nearly impossible without reducing waste. We are manufacturing mattresses and masks from false fabrics and plan to manufacture yarn by them in future,” he added.
He also said that clothing is a basic human need, so Bangladesh has to find new markets and manufacture clothes according to their needs.
Pran-RFL exports goods to 141 countries of the world.
“But why are we stuck in a few countries for exporting our apparel goods? We also need to find markets outside Europe and America and expand it to the Middle East, Africa, Australia-New Zealand and small Pacific Island countries,” he added.
He also said that the sector has to work for skill development of the workers by ensuring education and arranging proper training for them.
“To diversify the apparel sector, we need to look at productivity, efficiency, world-class marketing, value addition, methods of working and industrial engineering,” he added.