Historical analysis of Bangladesh Handloom: Glorious past and Catastrophic present (part 2)

Nusrat Jahan Nipa, Lecturer, Uttara University

Research guideline professor: Liu Xhian

(Zhejiang Sci-Tech University, Hangzhou, China)


6. Handloom, a struggling sector

This Handloom sector is holding a very enthusiastic side of our clothing heritage, but in this era of machinery, handloom is facing a massive draw-back. This sector has a royal and magnificent past, but the present situation of this sector is still ‘under construction’. No matter how beautiful the fabrics or the clothes are, if there’s no balance in producers to consumers- this sector can never survive.  Due to costly raw materials, lack of coordination ability, insufficient technology and unavailability of proper action and goodwill is the root cause of this industry.

In April 2018, per kilo of 30s carded cotton was sold at $3.44, but within one week this price raised up to 2.38%. On the other hand, from December 17, 2017, to January 21, 2018, price was raised up to 8.86%, but the price of handloom still remains the same. Bangladesh’s yarn products have increased by 7 to 12 cents within a week and in five weeks, this price got increased over 20 cents. By the unstable price of yarns, the handloom market got unsettled. Consequently, the handloom weavers had to clear all the additional costs from their pockets. Apart from the increasing labor-costs, transportation costs and the extra manufacturing costs- the rural weavers had to sell the products without having any profit and left with a large number of debt.

Bangladesh’s handloom sector has four major types of weavers based on their participation in the fabrication. These four types are- 1. Master Weavers, 2. Independent Weavers, 3. Dadan Weavers and 4. Karigar (workers) Weavers. As the production price got raised, poor weavers can’t maintain a stable life either.

This troubled situation forced the weavers to shift their livelihood from handlooms to others. In 1990, Bangladesh had 212,421 handlooms. But in 13 years, around 0.1 million handlooms were shut down. Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) published a report back in 2018, within last 15 year, 45.39% of handlooms, which is approximately 0.116 million handlooms were lost.

Weaving machines
Types of handlooms Quantity
1.      Operational Handloom 313,245
2.      Non-Operational Handloom 192,311
3.      Pit loom 169,700
4.      Waist loom 141,684
5.      Frame loom 292,12
6.      Semi-automatic loom 150,407
7.      Others (including Banarasi & Jamdani loom) 14,553

7. Getting back the Supremacy

Comparing to the renowned history of Handloom, the present days are nothing but holding a blurry future ahead. But in recent times, government and NGOs are trying to pull-off this sector from being disappear. Unfortunately, government and NGOs are taking steps less than needed, to help this sector to survive.

img-28817.1. Government Development Projects

The government had taken few steps even when the tragic crisis didn’t begin. But most of the times, the results didn’t come out as expected. Back in 90s, The government tried to help the weavers by providing a loan of Tk 18,000 (for each weaver). But this attempt didn’t help the weavers to expand their production. In 2001, another similar attempt was taken by the government, but due to the high rate of returns and overpriced prime materials, most of the handloom workers left with being bankrupt.

But lately the government is trying to create many more scopes for handloom sector. Government is planning to create ‘loom zones’ on 120 acres of land both in Madaripur and Shariatpur district.

The administration is also planning to provide funds, restarting the closed handloom yards and renovating handloom for engaging more people in this industry by June 2020. Bangladesh Handloom Board is arranging to establish ten training centres and a pair of market promotion outlets.

7.2. Non-government Organizations (Aarong)

A few non-government organizations are working to regain the magnificent reign of this sector and Aarong (a part of non-profit development agency- BRAC) is one of them. Back in 1978, Aarong was created to help the poor silk farmers and artisans in Manikganj. Aarong had a motive to provide a financially secure platform for rural handicraftsmen. They included rural women for providing a better employment so they can participate in producing handlooms. 35,000 artisans out of 65,000 workers, are employed at 14 centres of Aarong. Including handlooms to other handicraft products, Aarong offers a decent amount of loan without any large amount of interests.

This organization cum chain departmental shop, provide loans of Tk3,000 to Tk500,000 in rural areas. The strategy of this establishment is to connect both customers and producers with the product. Aarong enriched the quality of the handloom products by making a bridge between 21st century’s ultra-modern or modern fashion and 16th century’s handloom production. The result came out pretty good as customers both inside and outside the borders- started accepting it in a very overwhelming way.

Aarong tried to improve their business policy by offering the customers ‘handmade clothing items’ without any trouble. They made the payment options to delivery very easy that the customers didn’t even need to think twice before purchasing a very well-made cloth coming from rural areas. Aarong is ensuring a better working platform for the weavers along with fair wages that created a widespread response all over the country.

8. Handloom; another side of the coin

img-1190This enthralling industry has a memorable dominance throughout the history. However, the authority couldn’t hold the supremacy after a few decades. Handloom contributed a superior platform for rural employment and a larger marketing environment as well. Compare to apparel industry, handloom has been just a paper-boat floating on the ocean. In 2018, Bangladesh earned over USD 32 billion solely by exporting apparels. Within one year, 84 percent of annual exports were contributed by this garment industry. But if we stop taking care of this sector with a great intention, sooner or later we would run out of Tangail cotton sari to Jamdani. It is high time government and non-government organizations should start coming forward to evolve a ‘complete’ plan to conserve this industry. Otherwise our glory of handloom will be lost forever.

Lack of capital, unstoppable implementation of technology (i.e. power looms), not getting paid enough and many more problems are stating the lack of co-ordination. There should be a connection between Stakeholders to marginal producers which can solve many difficulties at once. But moreover, conducting research and allocating funds can help to re-create this industry to establish a wide-reaching platform across the border. There are plenty of options that would put a spotlight on this industry like promoting handloom products, make a preferable marketplace for both local and international buyers, lessen the competition of Indians or imported products, create a great demand for local handmade clothing products and of course give enough opportunity to the handloom entrepreneurs.

If there’s goodwill, this industry will sooner become a treasure of Bangladesh’s exporting sector. But before all everything, we have to appreciate the fact that handloom is nothing but a divine story of our culture and heritage which carries another side of the coin of our economy.