Nishat Hamid, Director of Shasha Garments Ltd & EOS Textile Mills, and SDG Standing Committee Member at BGMEA, discusses the importance of decarbonisation and circularity for the sustainability of the RMG industry.
What has your experience in the RMG sector been like over the past 6 years?
The past 6 years have been very interesting for me. When I started, Shasha was already in the middle of diversifying from textiles, specifically denim, into twill woven business. In 2016, Shasha acquired EOS Textile Mills Ltd, a Bangladeshi subsidiary of Berto Industria Tessile, the largest Italian investment in Bangladesh carrying the 150-year Berto legacy in our homeland. I was actively participating in that transfer of shares and it was brilliant to see Shasha expanding to cater to the high-end market.
I also briefly worked in the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) led PaCT (Partnership for Cleaner Textile) program. It is a holistic program that supports the entire value chain in adopting resource optimisation practices in the Apparel (RMG/Textile) sector. I predominantly focused on business development targeting factories for resource efficiency. This contributed to its overall goal of bringing a systemic and positive environmental change in the Bangladesh Apparel sector.
It was also reassuring to see that we at Shasha had already implemented many resource optimisation practices similar to such programs. Shasha has been optimising resources, particularly in our denim units where water consumption has always been a big factor. Historically, it used to take 50 litres of water to produce 1 metre of denim, but we have managed to bring that down to as low as 6 litres today.
Shasha also started ‘Sustainability Reporting’ almost 6 years ago. This helped depict the different variables that directly or indirectly impacted the environment as a result of Shasha’s activities. This created transparency in revealing our operational practices and the responsible choices we made. Consumers want to know that the products they buy have been produced responsibly, under fair and decent working conditions and without harm to the environment. Hence, Shasha wants to increase transparency and communicate its impacts on sustainable development.
Reflecting on the past 6 years, it is truly gratifying to see the substantial investments and dedicated efforts made by our team at Shasha in research and development. We have been committed to discovering methods for reducing groundwater consumption, finding innovative solutions like utilising yarn made from recycled ocean plastics, and optimising our resource management while enhancing transparency in our sustainability reporting.
Please elaborate on the importance of decarbonisation and circularity for the RMG industry in Bangladesh.
Both decarbonisation and circularity are becoming crucial for our country’s RMG/Textile Industry. The end goal is to become sustainable and environmentally friendly. Although Bangladesh has been making progress in becoming more environmentally friendly by establishing green factories, green factories focus more on the architectural side. To achieve decarbonisation, it is essential to also look at green processes. We need to monitor our water usage, and understand the efficiency of wastewater recycling systems and proper chemical usage. These are all crucial aspects of the green initiative and I think this is where the RMG sector is already heading towards. When we talk about circularity, we refer to a circular system which establishes a life cycle that allows raw materials to be reintegrated and reused in production. I am with BGMEA’s SDG Standing Committee, and we see a big focus on circularity nowadays, heavily influenced by the European Union (EU) Green Deal. In accordance with the Green Deal, a big part of circularity requires having traceability on textile waste. It is important to trace the waste that comes out of garment units to understand its journey from the origin (field) to the end user (final consumer).
Shasha has been very active in achieving circularity. We export textile waste to Renewcell, an award-winning textile-to-textile (T2T) recycling company based in Sweden and to Reverse Resources, a platform that digitises global T2T waste flows and supply chains. Subsequently, we are able to trace the types of waste that are being generated and take action accordingly, either to minimise or recycle it.
Shasha is the first 100% export-oriented denim mill in Bangladesh. Ever since Shasha was established, it has always been on the pioneering front of these green initiatives. So it is not so much that we have taken action as a response to the EU Green Deal, but rather the preemptive measures that we have always been taking, are in alignment with the EU Green Deal. I believe, like Shasha, the rest of the RMG industry in Bangladesh is headed towards a decarbonised and circular system.
What change would you like to see in the RMG sector in Bangladesh?
A big concern that needs to be addressed is our groundwater level. Many green initiatives that we are seeing now have come as a response to the realisation that our groundwater is being depleted, coupled with the fact that there is a constant risk of another global energy crisis. If our groundwater level continues to decrease, you will get ‘hard’ water which, in turn, has to be ‘softened’ in order to be used for dyeing and other water-based activities. Such corrective measures will take more resources as well as energy going forward. Considering that close to 80% of Bangladesh’s export basket comes from the RMG sector, if these natural resources are not utilised properly, we will be facing a big crisis ahead.
The partnership between Bangladesh and global Brands must also be discussed. Bangladesh currently has the highest number of green factories, many of which have also revised internal processes for better R&D, water saving, carbon mapping, ESG, etc. Bangladesh has come a long way on these fronts. However, orders are usually based on our lower pricing. Having said this, Brands have also immensely helped in the trajectory growth of Bangladesh’s RMG business. Bangladesh is one of the top Apparel exporters globally owing to the support from these key international brands.
What are some things that should remain in focus in Bangladesh’s RMG industry?
The good news is that the RMG sector is also evolving and it is here to stay. BGMEA is playing a vital role in spearheading the reduction of carbon footprint through GHG emissions and tracking ESG components in the RMG sector. R&D, product innovation and market expansions are areas that we need to continue to focus on and with the BGMEA’s ongoing efforts, we are hopeful for a fruitful future.
Our main philosophy at Shasha is not to have a manufacturing unit but to build an institution so the legacy continues. Shasha has always taken precautions to ensure it respects and takes care of the natural resources it relies on. We heavily invest in R&D, track resources and waste from start to finish, and make data-driven decisions at every stage of production. We have always done it and will keep doing it in the future. Over the last decade, I have also seen a lot of factories undergo transformations to become more energy efficient, and today Bangladesh has one of the highest numbers of green factories. However, I believe we still have a lot of room to do more.
What are your plans and expectations in the next five years in terms of your career?
We at Shasha have developed an in-house program called ‘Balance’ which is a balancing act between Fashion and Sustainability. I am also excited to continue developing and strengthening our key strategy at Shasha which is centred around R&D. There are several exciting things in the pipeline and I am looking forward to keeping myself occupied with them. We are in the process of establishing new RMG/Textile factories and a green washing plant with a specific focus on serving the European and North American markets through global brands. I am looking forward to delivering on this journey of Sustainability and am hopeful that we are poised to achieve record-breaking success in the years to come.