Bangladesh's Fashion Design in International Market

Constraints and Prospects

Md. Evan Shahriar

Since the ancient age, there has been an intimate relationship between clothes and humans. Clothing reflects the culture and progress of a society and the personality of individuals. That is why we see diversity in the design of clothing among different cultures and among individuals. As the design of clothes is important to consumers in terms of their taste and cultural orientation, fashion has appeared as the driving force. But fashion or design is shaped by dominant cultures as well as economic, environmental, religious and political forces of the time.

Fashion has also been a global phenomenon long before the term 'globalization' came into being. What happens in the west trickles into the east and meshes with local flavor and determines the fashion trend. Only clothes and accessories of garment and textile manufacturing do not represent the fashion scenario. In the context of fashion, each decade has seen the emergence of a new look and before that trend settles down another appears.

Fashion design is the applied art dedicated to the design of clothing and lifestyle accessories created within the cultural and social fabrics in a given time. Fashion design differs from costume design due to its core product having a built-in obsolescence. A season is defined as either autumn/winter or spring/summer. A Fashion designer should be artistic and creative. They should be able to express their ideas in sketches. They may not be brilliant artists but are able to combine colors, shades, and tones. Designers have the flair and knowledge for creating fabric and using textiles effectively. Designers need to have visual imagination and the ability to think in three dimensions.


Bangladesh is proud to have a variety of handmade crafts like Jamdani, Rajshahi silk, Reshmi silk. Perhaps, the most famous yarn from this part of the subcontinent is Dhaka Muslin, a superfine silk yarn embellished with intricate hand embroidery. But it is a big question now whether the brand exists in the market. While talking to the Cotton Bangladesh designers, garments exporters of Bangladesh say, “We do have Brand Bangladesh, but the specialty of Brand Bangladesh for the most part, truly our own. We weren't able to put up that sort of exposure for international market.” Most of the designers of Bangladesh runs their own boutiques and produces not only for a local clientele but have participated in various international fashion events. But the fashion design of Bangladesh is struggling to strengthen its position in the international market. In this literature, we will try to figure out the reasons of market challenges of Bangladeshi fashion design and put together the recommendations of experts to overcome this cataclysm.

The general problem in Bangladeshi textile production is the small number of available fashion designers. It is difficult to know how many there are, as there is no organization for fashion designers. The lack of fashion designers also means that whenever a designer, trained in-house, moves to new place leaving the former with no expert hand In “The buyer model,” the buyer brings materials and designs, often the patterns, to the producer. The producers learn how to make one particular design; but they neither learn anything about the market research and trend analysis underlie the design nor the actual act of designing and the design management process.

Product development makes sense only where there is a defined marketing strategy based on sound market research. On the other hand, market research can only answer to the known needs and wishes and has to be combined with the innovative product development. Thus designers need to ensure that they are innovating products on the basis of solid market research.

The international trade of textiles is highly competitive. Skill, design and quality are essential. But, equally important is the need to assess national and international demands and integrate them into the production process. There is no doubt that very few of the Bangladeshi designers know the international markets. There is a unison cry in Bangladesh saying that they need help from foreign designers to make their products marketable internationally. This is even more the case if the products are going to be developed into high-value niche products.

There are very few designers in the garment industry or in crafts with a degree in design. The ones that do have a design education are educated abroad - many in India and some in the West. Some of the designers working in the craft businesses have an education from Institute of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka. Although this educational background in combination with experience from the craft businesses, in many cases seem to work well, some say that a lot of people in the trade do not understand the difference between an artist and a designer, “Design is planning step by step and the artists do not know how to do that.” Others say that the creativity exists, but the understanding of the market is lacking.

Designers, of whatever level of training, who can work for a domestic market, are undoubtedly in advantageous position. The practice of trial and error is certainly of value and a lot less costly. The exposure to shifting trends allows a designer to develop a sense of the market and, in time, the ability to predict market trends and design with confidence to meet the demands.

If a designer is required to design for a foreign rather than local market, then certain skills are not able to develop in a full and relevant way. The problem is the same for designers either in industry or crafts. In many respects, they are being asked to design for 'virtual' situations only. After all, very few of the designers in these businesses will ever get the chance to visit the markets they design for, let alone be able to spend time enough in them to really develop an understanding of the nuances of a situation. Accordingly, western designers can best help with the designs for the export markets of Bangladesh. However, as the local market is changing rapidly due to increased buying power of internationally-oriented middle class, the products designed for the export market may very well have a future in the local market.

It is a good sign for Bangladesh that The Fashion Designing profession has recently emerged as one of the most demandable careers among the youth. These young folks have their own creative style of dressing and belief in setting a trend rather than following a trend set by others. A career in fashion design not only involves meeting glamorous people and interacting with rich and famous but also gives an impetus to the creative flair of the people who possess a sense of style. But still Bangladesh is struggling to establish a standard in fashion design for international market.

There are several findings, which will explain the reasons why Bangladesh is struggling in international market with their fashion design.

  There is small number of qualified product designers available in RMG sector.
“Non-qualified” designers having experience with product design learn through trial and error and provide the

     design services.
The concept of purchasing designs for manufacture has not developed in Bangladesh.
The service providers have, in general, designers who do not have any relevant training and education.

    They are generally with 10-12 years of general education and learn designing while in job.
Designers with art college background join the designing firms but leave after few years. After then, they normally

    set up their own businesses or work individually as freelance designers
There is little creativity as the customer normally comes with his/her own idea about the design
The designers are usually low-paid, as there is more competition and cost-cutting. Many service providers have

    closed down their ventures in the last few years
The clients bring their own design concepts but are not much concerned about the quality of design. There is,
    therefore, no demand of quality design work. The demand is mainly for cheaper work. This is the reason why
    designers with fine arts background do not stay in the same designing house. They receive salaries lower than their
The export market is buyer/buying house dependent. They bring in their own designs for the production in Bangladesh.

To overcome this situation several tasks should be undertaken by companies using design effectively. The tasks include responsibilities such as:

Submitting proposals based on market research at a management level on how design can be integrated into the
   company's aims and objectives,
Thinking and planning strategically how design can be placed within the company's structure to ensure optimum
Recommending the use of design as business resource to generate revenue and encourage cost reductions to benefit 

   the company,
Assessing the risk factors in new design ventures and managing innovation,
Actively seeking appropriate opportunities to use designers' skills within the company,
Giving guidance to designers and others when necessary on design practice in relation to the overall design strategy.

The list mentioned is not exhaustive but does show some of the crucial points, which can be put to good effect in the context of businesses in countries like Bangladesh. Certain resources, however, are required in order to encourage these kinds of practices, most notably the trained designers who are able to manage design. This use of design as a resource in business is a long way off in Bangladesh. Many say that to be a full-pledged professional designer, it is necessary to knock the door of Design Institutes. A good institute will ensure that along with the requisite theoretical inputs. A person will get adequate practical exposure to the entire gamut of processes right from the formation of textiles and fabrics to the most elaborate design elements.

Several institutes like BIFT, Shanto-Mariam University of Creative technology, National Institute of Fashion Design, Pearl Fashion Institute, Design and Technology Center, Lankan institute of fashion & technology have started giving training of several kinds, like merchandising, knitwear Design & Technology, apparel manufacturing, marketing and merchandizing. Exporters say that these institutions are not only very young but also very weak. There are many warning voices being heard in Bangladesh as far as cooperating with “non-established” institutions that may be too weak to survive. On the other hand, the weaknesses also make a need for support very obvious. But the academics are claiming that the exporters are not cooperating with the institutions by providing internship options for the upcoming designers from the institutes. The students from these institutes are blaming the exporters for not providing sufficient job opportunities for them. The upcoming designers think that media can play an active role in this sector. There is a large gap between the needs of the textile and clothing industry and the supply of graduates, be it in textile technology and/or in design. It should also be mentioned that no institution in Bangladesh offers master's level education or the opportunity of MPhil or PhD research works in the field. Experts think that the teachers from these institutes need further education, either through higher education abroad or entering internships in (fashion) companies. As far as student exchange programs can be developed, this would most probably have positive effects both in industry and in the partner design institutions.

The future of the Bangladeshi textile production lies in the development of high-value-added products, suitable for long-term export markets and for the local market in short-term. In order to develop such products, Bangladesh needs strengthening of its design potential. This should mainly be done through training Bangladeshi designers with the help of the foreign designers. This way, product development and training in the workplace will be combined, giving both short term and longer-term effects. This is a large sector; supporting the newly established schools through training the designers for this industry should be considered as important investment for market sustainability.

Outfit design : Bibi Russell

Photo Courtesy: Bibi Production

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