Spotlight

Home Grown Solutions: How Traditional Industries Can Adapt Best Practices to Stay Relevant

An insight into the $919 million ‘golden fabric’ industry employing 4 million.

Diversity

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

With a constant presence from the nascence of the trade till today, Bangladesh has always enjoyed a substantial advantage when it comes to jute. Continually moving forward with innovative developments on a global scale – be it traditional agricultural and industrial markets, or even seemingly unrelated areas like fashion and automobile trends – will ensure success for both individual businesses as well as the nation’s economic prospects.
At present, jute is used in a wide range of diversified products, such as shopping bags, floorboards, decorative fabrics, footwear, paper products and even automobile interiors, in new ecologically friendlier cars, like the new BMW i3. Jute is growing in tandem with technological developments; it is also being used to replace more expensive or scarce materials by companies that are diversifying and exploring other options.
One such company is Janata Jute Mills Limited, an institution that is currently manufacturing a variety of jute products for the global export market. Together with their counterpart, Sadat Jute Industries, they are one of the largest producers of jute goods in Bangladesh. Currently, the company exports diversified jute products to more than 120 countries around the world, with items ranging from Hessian bags and sacks to agricultural and automotive products.
Mahmudul Huq, Dy. Managing Director of Janata Jute Mills and Sadat Jute Industries, believes that while Bangladesh has a vast amount of potential, paradoxically, many jute mills are struggling to remain afloat as their primary focus may be on one single product. Huq details an industry that holds a rich history, “In 1947, 100% of the jute exports were raw jute, whether to India or the rest of the world, but there was simply no industry at that time. Today, only around 15% is exported as raw jute – the rest is all value-added products. The remaining 15% gives us the opportunity to add further value, whatever the diversified product may be.”

Silver lining

Despite being commonly perceived as an archaic industry, perhaps even one that is past its prime, jute is still a major contender for its role in the economic development of Bangladesh. Jute, also known as the golden fiber, is one of the most durable and most affordable natural fibers in the world and one of the country’s prime national resources. Bangladesh remains the biggest both producer and exporter of jute, with Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) data declaring export values for the fiscal year 2015-2016 to be around $920 million for raw jute and jute goods. However, traditional practices are no longer enough to sustain growth and improve commercial viability for the future. This feature sheds light on the future prospects of jute industry. 

PHOTOGRAPH BY DIN M SHIBLY

Compliance

A happy worker makes a ‘happy product’

Being one of the most densely populated countries in the world, Bangladesh has an abundance of labor available; however, most urban informal and rural part-time workers live in constant flux, just above the national poverty line. Paying a fair wage with full-time employment (versus on a “by need basis,” which is only beneficial to the employer), addressing the needs of all employees and incentivizing workers all lead to less stoppage in production due to strikes, absenteeism and other labor-related issues.
Huq prioritizes worker safety and satisfaction, “We are a family business, and our workers are an integral part of our family. For any sector, be it RMG, Jute, Agro, etc., business owners must ensure the well-being of their employees first and foremost. A happy worker will make a quality product, which in turn will satisfy buyers.” In essence, performance and productivity are driven not only by the ability of the employee, but also the motivation provided by the employer. Instilling pride in one’s work also increases national pride, especially when the product is a well-known resource of the nation. Well-motivated employees are more productive, which in turn maximizes output – consequently, investing in employees is an essential component of running a successful business.

Sustainability

Accounting for your actions

This year, at the prestigious Bangladesh Business Awards, in his opening remarks, Daily Star Editor & Publisher Mahfuz Anam said, “Bangladesh is a gift of our rivers, and we are working overtime to pollute and destroy them.” Traditional industries should take steps to ensure minimal waste and environmental impacts, such as installing ETP’s (Effluent Treatment Plants) to combat the pollutants released in rivers and our ecosystems. Having a vision of sustainability for the future is a vital component of any ethically responsible business.
Bangladesh recently endured somewhat of an image crisis with anything “Made in Bangladesh.” The jute sector is not immune to this – the traditional industry must transcend prior notions and improve health and safety standards, not just within the company, but for extended communities as well. Other factors include maintaining compliance according to international standards, for building codes and code of conduct.

Strategize

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail

The jute industry has a bad reputation for delayed shipments and taking orders despite being over capacity – a pitfall that may potentially hinder future orders. Huq believes that a customer’s trust is the key to a flourishing company, “One of our mottos at work with our buyers is ‘when you sign the contract, you can rest – we will handle everything else.” While the government is attempting to eliminate bottlenecks in land, gas, electricity, and infrastructure, in the meantime planning production and anticipating any potential roadblocks are the key to success.
Ultimately, confidence in yourself, your product and the quality of it will pave the way for further utilizing our nation’s resources, to create growth. Huq believes that the country can foster industries with immense success, “Bangladesh is virtually the only jute exporter in the world – I do not know of any other country that exports raw jute, so our scope for further industrialization is still very much present.”

Trendwatch

Keep up or get lost

In a world where both smart and sustainable fabrics are seeing a rise in demand, many fast fashion companies are receiving flack for close to 11 million tons of textiles that ended up in landfills last year. Jute is now being processed for use in wearable textiles, such as woven in saris, or jeans made out of cotton and jute blended denim, appealing to a new wave of eco-conscious consumers.
“This is the way the market is heading; away from the traditional fields – the bags and the sacks and the industrial packaging – and towards a sustainable future. These orders may not be of the same volume as before, but will be of value,” explains Huq. Keeping a finger on the pulse of what is trending and where the global market is heading allows businesses the scope to expand according to current trends. Jute has numerous advantages over the synthetic material, which can be maximized for products that are both nontraditional and value added.

PHOTOGRAPH BY DIN M SHIBLY

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