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Growing Sustainable Fashion Economies: A Collection of Entrepreneurial Case Studies in Bangladesh and UK



Project partners Department of Enterprise and International Development at London College of Fashion and BGMEA Institute of Fashion Technology give special thanks to principal funders of this project, Development Partnerships in Higher Education (DelPHE), the British Council, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), and the companies featured in this publication. Suggested citation for this report: Parker, E. (2011) Growing Sustainable Economies: A Collection of Entrepreneurial Case Studies in Bangladesh and the UK, edited by Hammond, L., and Higginson H., London College of Fashion.

Contact us Department of Enterprise and International Development London College of Fashion 20 John Princes Street London WIG 0BJ United Kingdom +44 (0)20 7514 7658 BGMEA Institute of Fashion Technology 105 S.R. Tower, Uttara Commercial Area, sector-7 Uttara, Dhaka-1230 Bangladesh +88 (0)2 8919986 / 8950535 and Disclaimer: The views expressed are not necessarily those of the funding body. The case studies are based on the information provided by the companies and have not been verified or investigated.


Introduction Project Context Foreword

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Case Study 1 – Aarong Case Study 2 – Bibi Russell Case Study 3 – Ethical Fashion Forum Case Study 4 – Jatra Case Study 5 – Juste Case Study 6 – Kumunidi Case Study 7 – Prabartana Case Study 8 – Viyelletex

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This set of case studies builds on the work of Steps towards Sustainability: Snapshot Bangladesh, available to download on www.sustainable-fashion. com/resources. The UK Government’s Department for International Development (DfiD) has invested up to £3million per year in the Development Partnerships in Higher Education programme (DelPHE). The overall goal is to enable higher education institutions (HEIs) to act as catalysts for poverty reduction and sustainable development. DelPHE aims to achieve this by building and strengthening the capacity of HEIs to contribute towards the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and promote science and technologyrelated knowledge and skills. The DelPHE programme is based on a partnership between the British Council, DfiD and the participating institutions. The British Council is responsible for the management and delivery of DelPHE. These case studies are an output of the Development Partnerships in Higher Education (DelPHE) project that has brought together London College of Fashion (LCF), the BGMEA Institute of Fashion Technology (BIFT) in Dhaka and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) to deliver research that explores best practice and ways forward to improve the competitiveness of the Bangladesh manufacturing sector to add value in this area. This research project brings together UK and Bangladesh research teams: • London College of Fashion/University of Arts London (LCF) – Dr Lynne Hammond, Elizabeth Parker and Hannah Higginson • BGMEA Institute of Fashion Technology (BIFT) in Dhaka – Reaz Bin-Mahmood and Rushmita Alam • United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) – John Smith and Munira Rahman


The project context

As retailers are increasingly under pressure to ensure that ethical and environmental standards run all the way through the supply chain, there is a need for research projects to explore best practice and ways forward to improve the competitiveness of the Bangladesh manufacturing sector to add value in this area. Bangladesh and the UK are countries that share a reliance on the fashion and textile industry. Through the weaving of cloth, the manufacture of garments, the marketing and promotion of fashion and the consumption and disposal of clothes the two countries and their people are connected by the industry’s complex web. In both countries people have started to ask questions about the environmental, social and economic sustainability of the industry as it currently operates. Misuse of limited natural resources, poor working conditions, overconsumption and waste are some of the challenges that are causing people to reflect on how we can ensure the industry thrives in the future. These case studies document how different companies at various stages of the fashion cycle are innovating to find more sustainable solutions to these challenges. They are not intended to be a blueprint for more sustainable practice. Rather, we hope that they encourage critical and creative thinking about the current fashion system, the barriers that are currently hampering sustainable practice and the opportunities for overcoming these challenges. We hope that those working in industry and involved in fashion education find these case studies a source of inspiration in their own exploration of what it means to work towards sustainability in fashion. Three other longer case studies (People Tree, New Look and Aranya) are available in Steps Towards Sustainability in Fashion: Snapshot Bangladesh A resource for fashion students and educators reports/snapshotbangladesh/



BGMEA/BIFT and Introduction to the RMG sector in Bangladesh BGMEA’s (Bangladesh Garment Manufacture & Exporters Association) dream was to establish an Institute of Fashion & Technology so that the young people of Bangladesh can achieve a higher degree of professionalism, and experience an international education so as to cope with the global nature of our industry and meet the challenges of the future. As Garment Production for export has been the key factor of industrialization and trade in our country for the last 20 years and this industry has provided a route to growth and reduced poverty. So there is a need for a high quality fashion and apparel education institution like BIFT in Dhaka to ensure that the sector can compete and excel in the world of Fashion & Apparel manufacture. Since 1999, BGMEA Institute of Fashion & Technology (BIFT) is providing mid managers to RMG sectors of Bangladesh, which enables entrepreneurs to expand and establish Bangladesh as a world leader of fashion as well as production. BIFT’s courses have been created to produce student's with creative and lateral thinking skills with knowledge of modern management and technologies and a global approach to business. This is a great pleasure that BIFT is currently engaged with London College of Fashion & UNIDO for this DelPHE project. This project has three aims: firstly to ascertain what the current practice of sustainable issues are and what are the opportunities for the industry to deal with it; secondly what needs to be considered when designing and manufacturing eco-friendly products in Bangladesh; and thirdly to transfer this knowledge to BIFT’s curriculum, so that the knowledge can be communicated to the industry through classes/ seminars or workshops. This is enabling BIFT to navigate educational approaches that are moving us towards being a truly international fashion institute. Reaz Bin-Mahmood, Vice President of the BGMEA Institute of Fashion & Technology


Fashion Sustainability – Diverse Perspectives – How can Bangladesh deal with these challenges? Sustainability is a multi-faceted concept that has different meanings to different people. In today’s competitive global fashion industry it is not only the environmental issues that have to be addressed but also the ethical and social justice challenges such as fair trade and economic fairness that helps to build an environment that allows everyone to flourish. To face the global fashion industry challenges, there is a need for research projects that explore best practice and ways forward to improve the competitiveness of the Bangladesh manufacturing sector through adding value in this area. By blending research, education and practical solutions, the DelpHE project is working so as to help the world build a path towards a better sustainability practices. We hope this project will help us to understand this issue – “sustainability” – more comprehensively and guide our RMG sector to deal with these challenges more effectively. If we cannot make a better future for the next generation, at least we should not harm it. We have no right to make it so worse so that our children cannot breathe one day. These diverse concepts or ideas of sustainable fashion, ranging from social issues, maintaining ethical standards, design practice, manufacturing, production, and/or consumption…etc., have led to a range of different conclusions, however, many focus on a common goal, to generate a more ecofriendly environment that finds a balance between consumption, production, environmental and ethical practice. Over the last few years, Bangladesh has made significant moves towards adopting ethical and environment approaches; such as banning of plastic bags as a use of shopping bag and the use of jute products. Rushmita Alam, Head of Fashion Design and Technology of the BGMEA Institute of Fashion & Technology

UNIDO The tri-partite proposal by BIFT (Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association Institute of Fashion Technology), LCF (London College of Fashion, University of Arts London) and UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organisation) was a successful application submitted to the DFID (Managed by the British Council) for funding the DelPHE project on sustainable fashion. UNIDO is very pleased that BIFT and LCF were deservedly successful. BIFT has developed significantly over the last five years to a point where students are winning international competitions and the Institute is participating in International Cooperation projects. In today’s troubled world the necessity of developing sustainable fashion is increasingly evident. What may initially appear to be a contradictory goal (fashion implies multiple change for changes sake, sustainable implies little change!) is increasingly becoming essential to minimize the adverse human impact on our planet. Sustainable fashion challenges the present modus operandi and stimulates original thought and development. UNIDO is pleased to be a catalyst in this very important project. John T. Smith, International Co-ordinator UNIDO

The readymade garment industry is a key sector in the Bangladesh economy and this is the 4th largest exporter in the world but its competitiveness has so far been exporting mid-end apparel products and to some extent lower range of products. BGMEA Institute of Fashion & Technology (BIFT) was established in 1999 to cater to the need for skilled human resources for the Ready Made Garment Sector of Bangladesh. UNIDO is working closely with BIFT to support their vision of improving their international supply chain management skills and improve their abilities to work closely with European buyers and retailers.


Bangladesh factories / manufacturers have to respond to increased demands from retailers to become environmentally friendly, and ensure that their supply chain activities are compliant to international standards. These pressures and challenges require new knowledge to be embedded into higher education systems to drive future and positive change. At the end of the year 2009 the United Nations climate change conference took place in Copenhagen, which was about environmental friendly issues and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in Geneva hosted an EcoChic fair, “featuring fashion show” in which well known designers created garments out of natural fibres manufactured in the “most sustainable way”. Sustainable fashion implies a commitment to traditional techniques, not just the art of making clothes, but also to ensure that the next generation of seamstresses and tailors have the skills necessary to develop clothes that are not only beautiful but extremely well made. British Council manages and DFID funding DelPHE (Development Partnership in Higher Education) give the opportunity to work on this tripartite research activities both in UK and Bangladesh. UNIDO is facilitating as a link to coordinate UK and Bangladesh institutes. Munira Rahma, National Co-ordinator UNIDO BEST



Aarong: working with 35,000 producers

Aarong, a successful, design-led fashion brand retailing clothing linen, shoes, accessories and home décor products in Bangladesh, was established by BRAC, an influential Bangladeshi non-governmental organisation, in 1978. The company has gone on to enjoy huge success; it has eight stores across Bangladesh and an authorised dealership in London. Aarong’s CEO, Tamara Abed, argues that they are successful because the company has managed to balance doing the right thing whilst keeping prices affordable both in Bangladesh and internationally. Aarong is a member of the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) and its mission is to create livelihoods for women in their own villages and to establish a marketing chain for artisans. The company sources products through both their own foundation, the Ayesha Abed Foundation (70% of textiles), and directly from individual artisans (30%). Through their network of 13 regional centres and 623 sub-centres, the Foundation manage production from approximately 35,000 marginalised women working on dyeing, printing, embroidery and stitching for garments and home textiles. The women work out of the centres, rather than in their homes, a decision made primarily for quality control reasons. As well as benefiting from employment, through village based organisations the producers also access BRAC services such as healthcare, education and micro-credit. The Ayesha Abed Foundation provides financial and technical assistance, and training to develop the women’s skills in various crafts. Wages vary according to the time of year but they are generally in the range of 2500 to 4000 taka (£23 - £37). The current minimum wage for an entry level worker in Bangladesh was set at 3000 taka in July 2010, and so Aarong acknowledge that these wages are lower than this rate. However, Tamara argues that because BRAC provides services such as healthcare and education and the cost of living is lower in rural areas it is difficult to compare the working conditions of these artisans workers with


mainstream garment factories. Nevertheless, Aarong recognise the need to look into the needs of the women that produce for it and determine whether their wages are high enough. Websites


Bibi Productions: fashion for development

Founder of Bibi Productions, Bibi Russell’s interest in fashion was sparked as a small girl when her father gave her a book on Chanel. In 1972, she was the first Bangladeshi to study fashion design at London College of Fashion, before establishing herself as an international model for Vogue and Armani and other well-known fashion brands. She now heads-up and designs for Bibi Productions, which sells a range of hand made products including sarees, dresses, kurthas and shirts, as well as jute bags and jewellery that are sold nationally and internationally. Bibi’s collections for Bangladesh are entirely made in Bangladesh and are inspired by the vibrant colours of rickshaw arts and textile traditions found across Bangaldesh. She uses natural fibres, internationally approved dyes and avoids plastic. Her production is based on quality rather than quantity, ‘I don’t want to sell one or thousands, I want to sell hundreds’. Her priority is changing the lives of the rural people she works with and she reinvests all of Bibi Productions’ profit back into the people involved in the company, arguing that fashion can play a role in socio- economic development. She says, ‘Through art and design, it is my intention to sensitise and demonstrate the immense skills and expertise of the local artisans, to preserve the heritage, to foster creativity, to provide for employment opportunities, to empower women and to contribute towards the eradication of poverty’. Bibi talks of her long-term commitment to the communities in which she which works. The initial training for artisans producing for Bibi Productions takes two years, by which time the producers are not only skilled in their craft but are familiar with the different sizes of UK, Italy and Spain. Thousands of artisans from villages across Bangladesh produce for Bibi Productions and 45 people work alongside Bibi in the head office in Dhaka, where some products are also manufactured and quality control takes place.


Bibi shares her ‘fashion for development’ philosophy and practice in Asia, Latin America and Africa through her role as UN Goodwill Ambassador. Her design inspiration comes from the villages where she works, whether that is in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India or elsewhere. She believes that the product has to be relevant to the producers and the market in question.

Stories/Week-of-March-2-2008/Bibi-Russell coverstory.htm

Websites Audio story


Ethical Fashion Forum: building networks

The Ethical Fashion Forum (EFF) is a UK based not for profit network focusing on social and environmental sustainability in the fashion industry. EFF’s website is a one-stop shop for information about all aspects of sustainability and fashion, including issues, suppliers and competitions. A regular newsletter is available highlighting key events, resources, and opportunities within the sustainable fashion world, as well as regular bulletins reporting on the latest developments in sustainable fashion market, business and supply. EFF’s online community, the Ethical Fashion Network is free and open for anyone to join. It connects thousands of individuals, businesses, and organisations interested in a more sustainable future for fashion. A Bangladesh group has been set up on the site to link everyone interested in sustainable fashion and Bangladesh. Developing an online country network can be an important step towards making links that will strengthen sustainable fashion within a country. Countries like Brazil and South Africa have thriving networks on the site sustained by educational institutions or individuals who have a passion for sustainable fashion and use the resource to organise social and professional events focused on sustainable fashion. EFF have also launched the Ethical Fashion SOURCE [], the global platform for sustainable fashion, which includes the SOURCE Directory; an industry database where designers, suppliers, manufacturers and other companies along the supply chain are represented. It provides an opportunity to showcase designers and producers working sustainably from Bangladesh, UK and other countries around the world. The SOURCE is a not-for-profit social enterprise that provides a service for fee-paying professionals from start-up companies to big business. It offers different levels of access for students and types of businesses. The SOURCE also has dedicated business intelligence reported by


the monthly online SOURCE Magazine; providing information about everything you need to operate business sustainably including markets, finance, trade shows, and case-studies of brands. The Ethical Fashion SOURCE Expo is the annual industry trade show run by EFF for suppliers of ethical and fair trade fabrics, components, and manufacture to the fashion industry. The event provides an important opportunity to meet suppliers from all over the world face-to-face, and provides a platform for ethical or fair trade suppliers

or manufacturers to promote their products and services directly. Designers pioneering in sustainable sourcing have the opportunity to be part of an exclusive showcase, the Designer Pavilion, as part of the Expo. Websites


Jatra: design led Bangladeshi brand

Jatra is a ten year old Bangladeshi designer-craft brand, which sells hand-made clothing, jewellery and homeware. The company has a dynamic product range with new ideas developed daily by it’s designers and product developers. Clothing products tend to be made from natural fibres including cotton and crafts from silk and jute sourced in Bangladesh. Coconut shell, wood, paper and recycled materials such as glass are also used for homeware and the paper bags used to carry products home are made from newspapers. Anusheh Anadil, the founder and managing director of Jatra is a prominent fusion musician in Bangladesh. Through her brand she has created an off-beat trend within Bangladesh, which is now also enjoying success internationally. Jatra’s two Dhaka showrooms reflect the distinctive signature vivid colours of the brand’s designs that are inspired by the rickshaw and folk art of Bangladesh. According to their website, ‘Jatra’s motto has always been to create quality products which should sell on their own strength and not because they were being made in a poverty stricken land by people who badly need a source of income, with tags that create pity’. The company employs 150 workers in their workshops in Dhaka, and buy from 365 selfemployed artisans. Workers in the Dhaka workshop are paid by piece, and their monthly take home pay is not less than 8000 taka – considerably more than the minimum wage for garment workers in the ready made garment factories set at 3000 Taka in July 2010. When Jatra established a new relationship with artisans, it provides work whilst raising awareness of ethical and environmental factors. Once the artisans are solvent, Jatra starts to monitor artisans to ensure they are meetings ethical and environmental standards. Website



juste: a start-up fashion brand’s experience of sourcing ethically

Tamsin Lejeune, founder of high-end fashion brand juste, developed the company’s supply chain with Bangladesh based companies. Within four seasons she built relationships with suppliers, established a market for the brand and secured financial backing. When starting out Tamsin contacted suppliers listed on the IFAT (now the World Fair Trade Organisation) website but when she received almost no responses she took the opportunity to make face-to-face contacts at an IFAT conference. One of the contacts she made was with Ruby Ghuznavi from Aranya (featured in Steps towards Sustainability: Snapshot Bangladesh) in Bangladesh, who inspired her to visit Bangladesh. Tamsin undertook a whirlwind trip to Bangladesh in 2005, meeting many producers before deciding to work with Aranya. While the fair trade production sector in Bangladesh incorporates highly skilled producers of textiles, print and embellishment, high-end garment construction skills were very limited at the time. Therefore, juste’s first collection was designed on the basis of very simple pattern cutting, with a tailored finish achieved through wrapping techniques. Tamsin aimed her brand at London boutiques selling high end fashion products. Buyers were supportive and interested in the story behind the product, however, they advised that the wrapped designs would be less appealing to their primary market – women over 35. In order to overcome this Tamsin identified a sampling unit which was already producing highend designer fashion product and built connections between this sampling unit and the fair trade fabric suppliers to create a supply structure to ensure the quality required. Tamsin enlisted a number of talented “Designers for juste” who created samples which could be made by the producers in the new supply structure and which were well received by buyers. The fact that buyers had played an advisory role in the design process was an advantage, making them more inclined to review or stock ranges.


Tamsin says that frequently, fair trade brands see no alternative than to manage the entire production process from design through to delivery. Working with fair trade suppliers with limited experience in high-end fashion products can put enormous strain on small brands with limited budgets. It can be avoided through partnership at the production end of the supply chain. Bangladesh offers a particular opportunity in that it has a major commercial garment production sector which can be called upon to support or partner with the fair trade sector. juste traded successfully for four seasons before

Tamsin made the difficult decision to focus her energies on developing the Ethical Fashion Forum, also profiled in this publication. Whilst juste was making a difference for the suppliers it supported, the Ethical Fashion Forum makes it possible to facilitate fair trade and ethical supply chains for thousands of businesses, and consequently benefits hundreds of thousands of people behind their products. Website


Kumundi Handicrafts: community engagement

Kumudini Handicrafts, based in Narayangonj, a famous jute processing centre outside of Dhaka, Bangladesh, make traditional and contemporary textiles and clothing for local and international markets. The organisation is just one part of the Kumundini Trust, which was set up as to support the welfare of rural Bangladeshi people. Starting with jute, the handicraft business was established to give employment to women that lost their husbands and sons in the 1971 War of Independence. Today 100 people including highly skilled weavers, block printers, embroiders and dyers are employed in the workshop at the Kumundini headoffice. Product development staff also work from Narayangonj, and lead on design or work collaboratively with buyers on product specification. Kumundini works with a further 25,000 women artisans directly and indirectly across 17 districts in Bangladesh. These women tend to fit the textile production around their daily tasks, and mostly work from production centres that have been established across rural Bangladesh. They are organised into small groups, headed by a team leader. Team leaders come to the head office every two to three months to deliver finished products and to collect new designs and materials that she will then distribute to the women in her group. Their main focus is on socio-economic development, but Kumundini also aspire to be environmentally friendly, although they acknowledge they have some way to go. They use both natural and chemical dyes for example and if they buy in fabrics they request that these are free of optical brighteners and banned azo-dyes. The company now has three stores in Bangladesh. In 2010 they were also exporting 6500 pieces per season of 14 designs to the UK for People Tree, and this is increasing by at least 10% each year. According to Kumundini, the relationship with People Tree is long-term and positive; People Tree designers and pattern makers visit regularly and Kumundini staff attend training workshops that


brings together People Tree suppliers from across Bangladesh. This training covers a wealth of subjects that are focussed on building the skills of producers, for example on maintaining quality management – a common challenge for many artisanal producers. Website


Prabartana: handloom specialist

Prabartana is a specialist in handloom textiles from different regions of Bangladesh, including nakshibuti sarees from Tangail, jamdani from Dhaka, silk from Rajshahi and chapainababgonj and varieties of jacquard saris from Shahzadpur Prabartana. The project was established in 1989 by UBINIG (UBINIG is the abbreviation of its Bengali name Unnayan Bikalper Nitinirdharoni Gobeshona. In English it means Policy Research for Development Alternatives), an organisation that supports peoples’ movements with the aim of revitalizing the weaving sector of Bangladesh. Their research into handloom industries concluded that unemployment and hardship for the people involved in the industry would follow if the industry wasn’t supported. Through Prabartana, weavers are supported to improve the quality of their work and are encouraged to develop their creativity and new designs. Alongside this, education, skill training and other activities are organised to enable communities to take full advantage of the weaving sector. Prabartana also aims to enhance the role of women in Bangladesh by challenging the traditional division of labour within weaving. It is a homebased activity involving men, women and children but men have tended to operate the looms, source raw materials and market products. Prabartana’s products are made by both men and women weavers, aiming to ensure tasks are divided by qualification rather than gender. Prabartana have a store (showroom) in Dhaka for it’s handloom products where customers can find out more about how the textile are produced and craft workers can exchange ideas and learn from one another. Some of the company’s products are exported, including to Ganesha in Covent Garden and South Bank, London. Websites: about.htm



Viyellatex: eco efficiency

Viyellatex, established in 1996, manufacture men’s, women’s and children’s knit and woven clothing in Bangladesh. Marks and Spencer, Tesco, Puma and Esprit feature amongst its clients. It is a significant player in the Bangladeshi industry with it’s turnover in 2009-10 standing at nearly US$200million. The company positions itself as a leader in environmental responsibility in the sector, stating in its mission that it is ‘committed for cleaner and greener environment’. The company has taken several steps towards minimizing energy, water and waste in production including: • Converting a conventional fabric dryer to heat recovery saving 25% of energy • Recycling fabric waste • Converting cotton dust and waste from 8000 workers’ lunches to compost – more than 150 tonnes of compost was collected last year • Treating textile production effluent water in the workers’ toilets saving more than 80million litres of underground water per year • Collecting 60 million litres of rainwater for use in dyeing and other processes The company also has plans for the future to build a carbon neutral factory by 2011, designed to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rules devised by the US Green Building Practices Websites Viyellatex Sustainability Report 2010 C6AC9C6C-6FBF-418C-AE77-D6121281532C/4363/ GRIViyellatex2009.pdf article/116.html




This booklet aims to showcase UK and Bangladesh companies that are championing innovative sustainable business practices. These case studies are intended to inspire and trigger innovation that could be used by entrepreneurs to build better sustainable fashion models and economies. The booklet intends to encourage designers, buyers and entrepreneurs to consider adopting ethical supply chains so as to promote better business decisions. Even if consumers pay higher prices for clothing how can we ensure that this does correlate with better ethical and environmental values? What are the new business models of the future and how can these new forms of businesses balance slow growth, with financial vulnerability especially during the early years of start up? These case studies indicate that it is possible to grow new enterprises with sustainability at the core of the business philosophy. Dr Lynne Hammond, Director of International Partnerships Development at London College of Fashion


Image Credits Cover Liz Parker (Kumundini) Aarong Liz Parker Bibi Liz Parker Ethical Fashion Forum Image: Design by Ada Zanditon, INNOVATION Award winner 2010, Jatra Jatra Juste Design by Jihye Yang for juste, made from jamdani fabric sourced through Aranya in Bangladesh. Kumundini Liz Parker Prabartana Prabartana Viyellatex Viyellatex

Graphic Design Shomil Shah Printed on paper from responsible sources

Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to check and verify other data referenced within this publication. It was correct, to the best of our knowledge, at the time of going to press (August 2011)

Growing Sustainable Fashion Economies  
Growing Sustainable Fashion Economies  

A Collection of Entrepreneurial Case Studies in Bangladesh and UK. A resource for fashion students and educators