Handloom weavers a hair’s breadth away from collapse

Handloom weavers in Sirajganj are in anything but a festive mood ahead of Eid this year as rising raw material costs coupled with poor sales have brought many to the brink of collapse.

Md Nazrul Islam, a maker of traditional garments based in Nagardala village of Shahzadpur upazila, is currently operating just 20 of his 30 handlooms even though the major Muslim holiday is just around the corner.

Islam, who prepared 200 pieces of traditional garment items such as lungis and saris for sale, said this was the worst festival market that people in his line of work have ever seen.

Besides, handloom weavers are yet to recover from the huge losses sustained in the past two years due to Covid-19.

“But this year too, the poor Eid sales have disappointed us,” Islam said.

Aside from low sales, the soaring price of yarn and dye are also making it difficult for handloom weavers to find respite from their recent troubles.

For example, the cost of producing a single sari reaches Tk 1,000 on average but weavers can sell each piece for just Tk 900 to Tk 950.

“So we are running our factories mostly with the help of family in order to keep labour costs at a minimum,” he added. Alhaz Ruhul Amin, another weaver of the same village, said he had to sell all 41 of his handlooms after facing unbearable losses last year.

“We were thrown into losses as yarn prices rose sharply while finished cloth prices remained the same and so I decided not to continue my inherited business,” Amin added.

According to various weavers, yarn prices have approximately doubled while cloth prices increased by just 25 per cent in the last one year.

Each barrel of 50-count thread sold for Tk 13,000 to Tk 14,000 a year ago but it is now priced between Tk 25,000 and Tk 26,000.

Similarly, the going rate for the same amount of 60-count thread is about Tk 27,000 while it was Tk 16,000 previously. Likewise, 80-count thread costs around Tk 33,000 to Tk 34,000 per barrel even though it was Tk 23,000 to Tk 24,000 a year ago.

“Thread prices increased by 80 to 90 per cent within a year and to make matters worse, the price of dye doubled at the same time even though the price of finished goods did not rise the same way,” said Md Sobur Hossain, a handloom weaver in Pabna’s Jalalpur village.

Hossain borrowed money to continue operating 10 of his 12 handlooms this year in a bid to catch the festival market, but poor sales has only brought him disappointment.

“I produced 200 pieces of lungis in the first week of Ramadan but have sold only 80 of them so far,” he said.

Pabna and Sirajganj are two of the country’s biggest handloom cloth producing regions with approximately 25 lakh to 30 lakh people between them being involved in the business.

About 48 per cent of all the clothes made by handloom across Bangladesh come from the two districts, which once housed more than 6 lakh handlooms, according to Md Haidar Ali, director of the Bangladesh Specialized Textile Mills and Power Loom Industries Association.

“But some 3.5 lakh to 4 lakh of them have been closed as losses caused by constant increases in production costs continue to push traditional weavers into other occupations,” said Ali, also vice president of the Bangladesh Handloom and Power Loom Owners Association.

Aiyub Ali, secretary of the Bangladesh Handloom and Power Loom Owners Association, said his organisation has urged the government to control thread and dye prices in order to save the traditional weaving industry.

During a recent visit to the Shahzadpur Tant Kaporer Haat in Sirajganj and Ataikula Haat in Pabna, two of the biggest handloom clothes markets in the country, it was found that there were no festival sales ahead of Eid.

“Every year I used to sell 200 to 250 pieces of garments on each haat day, but this year I could not sell more than 40 to 50 pieces even though the festival is knocking at the door,” said Md Mohiuddin, a wholesale trader of Pabna’s Ataikula wholesale market.

Traders from different areas used to visit the two wholesale market during this time each year but this has not happened this time around and so, sellers are forced to rely on the less affluent local buyers, said wholesaler Amirul Islam.

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