After the month-long fasting, when the day of Eid-ul-Fitr comes, Muslims thank the Almighty for giving them the will, strength and endurance to observe fast and obey His commandment during the holy month of Ramadan. Followers of Islam across the globe celebrate the festival with lavish feasts. Like other parts of the world, people wear new dresses to add extra colour to the festivity in Bangladesh. After all new clothes are essential part of Eid celebration. Thus according to their ability people try to buy new outfits for them and their family members. While observing Eid-ul-Azha Muslims need to buy sacrificial animals and many families spend a large portion of their Eid budget for it. Consequently most of the people purchase new clothes on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr. Therefore dresses and several other products are sold in large numbers during this Eid. That is why the traders aim to do their Eid business at the time of Eid-ul-Fitr. Usually shoppers start their Eid shopping from the first weekend of Ramadan. As the Eid day approaches, Eid market reaches its peak. In every Ramadan local tantis, designers, boutique shops and fashion houses come up with their best products of the year, but unfortunately the shops are occupied by numerous foreign attires. Most of the consumers, especially the female consumers, prefer foreign dresses. These foreign outfits are brought in the country adopting both legal and illegal ways and it is our tantis, designers, boutique shop and fashion house owners who ultimately have to count loss in their Eid business due to this unwanted domination of the foreign clothes. When our local traders struggle, foreign traders reap their business occupying local market during our festival. And this is nothing new. This very incident has been happening for the last couple of decades. Once the business of foreign dresses was limited to the capital and other big cities of Bangladesh, but now this trade has spread even to the village areas.
While visiting several shopping malls and markets in Dhaka, this correspondent has found that the Eid market is flooded by plentiful foreign dresses from India, Pakistan, China, Thailand and Malaysia. Especially the demand for Indian saris, salwar kameezes, lehengas, kurtis, and tops is high in our local market. Besides, Eid shoppers are buying Pakistani salwar suits, lasas and shararas, Thai jeans, t-shirts, shirts, lasas, tops, and palazzos, Chinese gowns, skirts and kids’ wears and Malaysian skirts, tops and hijabs. Among the men’s wear Indian punjabis and kurtas, Pakistani punjabis and kablis, and Chinese shirts and pants are also on the priority list. From comparatively cheaper shopping destinations like New Market, Gausia and Chandni Chowk to posh shopping malls such as Bashundhara City, Pink City and Jamuna Future Park, people are flocking everywhere in search of their suitable foreign dresses. Besides, some aristocratic fashion houses including Shoppers World, Nabila, Prem’s Collections, Zaara, Vasavi and StyleSell are also selling foreign dresses.
When asked ‘why are people purchasing foreign dresses?’, Anwar Hossain, a sales person of Bashundhara City’s Infinity Mega Mall, said, “Consumers want to go with the trend. May be they don’t find the essence of modern fashion in local clothes. Thus they prefer foreign dresses. We always try to meet the demands of our customers and satisfy them with quality fabrics and classy designs.” We met Mansura Tahsin, an Eid shopper, when she was buying a dress in a shop at capital’s Gausia Market. We asked her the reason for buying a foreign dress when there are a number of fashion houses where quality local dresses are available. Tahsin answered, “Eid dress creates a style statement for every individual. Whether it comes to local or foreign attire, I prefer the dress that suits me and gives me a comfortable feeling. But it’s also true that when our local dresses are less gorgeous yet expensive, then foreign dresses have excellence of fabrics and variation in designs.”
Unfortunately this statement is true to some extent. Albeit Bangladesh is the second highest exporter of readymade garment products of the world, but the country mainly produces dresses targeting the Western market. There are some eminent local fashion houses but many of their dresses are too pricey compared to their designs and fabrics. It is because they can produce attires of same designs, colours and fabrics in limited amount. But the foreign dress producers prepare huge number of dresses of same designs, colours and fabrics due to the high demand of their products, which reduce their production cost. As a result price of their dresses seems affordable to our customers. They bring dresses of latest designs with perfect embroidery, which is also a key feature that encourages our shoppers to buy their outfits. Countries like India, China or Pakistan have more variety of fabrics than us. And their improved machineries deliver more finished products. Besides, our shoppers watch different serials and programmes of several popular foreign television channels like Star Plus, Sony, Star Jalsa and Zee Bangla, where their favourite TV stars wear such attires. And all these factors together motivate them to choose foreign clothes and dresses.One common accusation against the Bangladesh’s shop owners is that when they sell foreign dresses, they charge at least two times higher than the original market price (price that is charged in those respective countries). That is why a new trend of buying Eid dresses from India, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore has begun in the recent years. Due to the short distance and comparatively similar culture, Bangladeshis rush to Kolkata in large numbers for their Eid shopping. They don’t need to face that much obstacles, compared to Thailand and Malaysia, to bring dresses from India. Before Eid Indian High Commission in Dhaka also issues additional visas to facilitate the Bangladesh’s shoppers. Indian traders’ shops at Kolkata’s Mirza Ghalib Street, Mallikbazar, Belgachhia, New Market, Chitpur, Tallyganj, Entaly, Anowar Shah Road, Rajabazar, Park Circus, Metiaburuz, Khidirpur and Park Street experience brisk sales. During Ramadan Kolkata’s hotels struggle to accommodate Bangladeshi shoppers. Though the number of Eid shoppers travelling to India ahead of Eid is huge but if we estimate the amount as 100,000 and if the shoppers buy goods of a minimum amount of $1,000 each, they end up spending Tk. 850 crore! But many spend up to $5,000! And if we consider the number of shoppers who visit other countries for buying Eid dresses, then the expenditure figure will be higher.
Eid shoppers are spending money abroad at a time when our local weavers are struggling to meet the minimum necessities of life even during this peak season. Usually they begin to work for the Eid market two months before the Ramadan. But now foreign saris, particularly Indian saris, are dominating the market and consequently our local tantis are going through a tough time. News reports from different markets of tant products of Sirajganj, Pabna, Tangail, Narayanganj, Narsingdi and Comilla have confirmed that everyday hundreds of tantis are waiting to sell their products as the number of buyers of tant clothes and dresses has reduced. Expense of producing tant fabrics has increased for the high price of yarn and the cost of tant products has also risen. Thus the weavers are facing the burden of additional expense.
In the meantime Bangladesh’s potential fashion houses are facing the direct impact of this situation. They are in a critical position as they neither can make any compromise about the quality of their products nor can increase price. Fashion houses collect clothes directly from the handloom weavers and their designers work on them. As the designs portray the desire and demands of the customers, fashion conscious youths are choosing local clothes. But another big portion of our shoppers are ignoring local brands and boutique shops because of their fascination to the foreign attires. Tailoring is another profession that has been adversely affected by this situation. Tailors were already struggling to face the impact of RMG products as export-bound RMG factories provide their leftover clothes in the local market at a cheaper rate. Sudden emergence of foreign readymade dresses has multiplied their plight. They had a certain section of customers who particularly visited tailoring shops ahead of Eid. But now foreign attires come with flexible sizes. As a result shoppers only modify the size of their dress according to their body shape from the tailors and many of the old customers who once depended on the tailors for perfect size of the dress have stopped giving orders. Thus the tailors are receiving orders for adjusting the size of the dresses, but the volume of orders for preparing new dresses has reduced to a great extent.
Bangladesh’s clothes have a special repute throughout the world as traditionally the country creates the finest fabric with outstanding designs. But currently the local consumers are choosing glamorous dresses overlooking the finery and excellence of handworks of our local dresses. Bangladesh has an Eid market of around Tk. 32,000 crore. Local cloth and dress traders can cover the business of only Tk. 6,000 to 7,000 crore when Indian cloth producers make a trade of Tk. 20,000 crore from our Eid market! Besides the legal business, plenty of Indian dresses are brought in Bangladesh illegally through different border areas. Thus the country is deprived of a certain amount of tax as well.
Global fashion is in flow of continuous variation or modification for a flavour deviation. In Bangladesh it has its own way and devotion. In this age of globalisation everyone has the liberty to create his/her style statement. There is no way to make someone bound to wear local dresses to prove his sense of patriotism. At the same time a section of our shoppers need to come out of their stereotyped mentality that inspires the idea that foreign clothes have a relation with aristocracy. Besides, local cloth and fashion industry has to prove its potential highlighting its quality of fabrics and diversity in designs. Eid shoppers will stop buying foreign dresses only when quality goods will be available in the local markets at competitive prices.