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Bangladesh Set to Overtake China as Leading Global Clothing Producer

Could mainland manufacturers be set to lose out to their Bangladeshi counterparts in the international garment production stakes? There were plenty of exhibitors at the Apparel Sourcing show who certainly believed that was on the cards.

Photo: Tie-breaker: Will Bangladesh pull ahead of China as number one garment producer?
Tie-breaker: Will Bangladesh pull ahead of China as number one garment producer?
Photo: Tie-breaker: Will Bangladesh pull ahead of China as number one garment producer?
Tie-breaker: Will Bangladesh pull ahead of China as number one garment producer?

While it has long been mooted that China's dominance of the global clothing manufacturing sector is drawing to an end, seldom has this been made more manifest than at the recent Apparel Sourcing show, Europe's largest garment sourcing event. Indeed, according to a number of attendees at the Paris-hosted expo, Bangladesh, with its lower production costs, is in pole position to overtake the mainland, with even many Chinese manufacturers bowing to the inevitable and shifting their production facilities to the South Asian nation.

Not all of the threats to China's hegemony, however, are strictly geographical in nature. In fact, a vocal minority maintained that, as the technology matured, 3-D printing represented a threat both to established mainland manufacturers and their upstart Bangladeshi counterparts. This was largely on account of the fact that such systems offer fashion brands the tantalising prospect of being able to custom-create personalised garments on site, without the need for mass production.

These factors aside, Apparel Sourcing itself faced something of a downturn. According to Michael Scherpe, President of Messe Frankfurt France, the show organisers, attendance was down about 2.6% for the 2018 event. This, however, still saw some 29,000 fashion aficionados visit the show's five dedicated display halls – Avantex, Leatherworld, Shawls&Scarves, Texworld and Texworld Denim.

While the decline in attendees was matched by a decline in optimism as to the sector's short-term prospects among many exhibitors, there was at least some good news. Despite the drop in overall footfall, 80% of visitors originated from beyond France's borders, something of a record for the event.

In addition to the hundreds of stands that comprised the main body of the event, a daily round of conferences and catwalks shows were also on offer for the show's many attendees. One such round-table conference, within Avantex – the event's dedicated high-tech and smart fibres zone – had a particular focus on the textile micro-factory phenomenon, a development that has been driven by growing demand for localised production facilities and more reactive supply chains.

One of the most high-profile contributors to this particular discussion was Christian Kaiser, Project Research Manager for the Deutsche Institute für Textil und Faserforschung (DITF), one of Germany's largest textile research centres. Highlighting the role high-tech design systems had to play in the development of such micro-factories, Kaiser said: "From a design perspective, CAD design, 3D and augmented reality are really our starting points. From there, we are looking at merging their capabilities with our state-of-the-art digital textile printing and finishing facilities."

The panel also went on to discuss the impact a new generation of large-format inkjet printing systems – particularly with regard to polyester and pigment sublimation for cotton and mixed – was having on creating flexible opportunities for small-batch production. In particular, this increased 'speed to market' technology was seen as facilitating fast turnaround for new / topical styles within the fashion and sport sectors.

Outlining his company's contribution to this field, Mike Horsten, EMEA Business Manager for Germany-based HP Textiles, said: "No matter where they are based around the world, the print machines used by our various clients can all 'talk' to one another via the cloud, allowing colour and print profiles to be easily shared in order to counter any colour-matching problems."

Photo: Bangladesh: State-backed garment sector soars.
Bangladesh: State-backed garment sector soars.
Photo: Bangladesh: State-backed garment sector soars.
Bangladesh: State-backed garment sector soars.
Photo: China: Losing its shirt to South Asia.
China: Losing its shirt to South Asia.
Photo: China: Losing its shirt to South Asia.
China: Losing its shirt to South Asia.

Despite their apparent fall from favour, however, Chinese companies, retained a robust presence throughout the event, most notably via a memorable showcase of the work of a number of mainland fashion designers over on the Premium Brands Ready to Wear stage. One particularly dazzling sequined jacket came courtesy of the Ningbo-based Aiyimei Group, which employs 3,200 people across a range of disciplines, including garment making, textile printing / dyeing and knitting.

As well as individual exhibitors, the China Textile Information Centre (CTIC), a Beijing-based trade body, had installed several outsized 'silent salesmen' booths, information points designed to showcase the mainland's many strengths across the garment manufacturing sector. Pre-eminent among these was the Fabrics China Trend Forum, a range of displays designed to position China as a global leader in innovative textiles manufacturing.

In addition, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) was also hosting its own bespoke Hong Kong Pavilion. This year, it was focusing on six of the SAR's clothing businesses in particular – Asia Smart Industrial, Asiatex Enterprise, Come Base, Eto Knit Company, Hi-Style Manufacturing and the Yester Group.

For its part, Come Base was looking to promote a knitwear range very much targeted at the more mature ladies. At present, the Kowloon-headquartered company manufactures in Dongguan, with its US$7 million worth of export sales largely destined for the EU and the US.

Another Kowloon-based business – Asiatex – was looking to throw the spotlight onto its proprietary range of printed silk garments, which it currently sells under the Pure Grasse brand. The company produces up to 300,000 pieces per month from its Zheijiang factory, many of which are manufactured for major international fashion labels.

It was in the fashion accessories sector, however, that China put in an especially impressive showing, with Zhejiang Golden Point Textile attracting particular attention. Outlining the company's positioning, Vice-president Toby Zahos said: "From our Shaoxing facility, we now provide finished textiles to a number of leading international brands. One of our most popular lines comes courtesy of Bi Changyu, a local artist who suffers from autism and who has been hailed as the Chinese Picasso."

While Chinese manufacturing remained prominent, there were also clear signs of the trend towards outsourcing production away from the mainland. Leading the way here was the Hong Kong / Guangdong-based Yester Group, with Manager Ngai Chi Leung saying: "In order to stay competitive we have moved production to Dhaka. This has provided us with a quality product at a price that still gives us a workable margin."

Overall the investment made into the textile industry by the Bangladeshi government has propelled the country to the global number two slot, a development that has transformed the fortunes of many local businesses, including Zaber & Zubair Fabrics. Outlining the company's raised stature, Director Sajedur Talukdur said: We are very proud of the world-class fashion fabrics we now produce. As part of the Noman Group, one of the largest vertical operations in South East Asia, we now output more than 110 million metres of textiles every year.

Photo: Apparel Sourcing 2018: Global pant procurement and vest investors under one roof.
Apparel Sourcing 2018: Global pant procurement and vest investors under one roof.
Photo: Apparel Sourcing 2018: Global pant procurement and vest investors under one roof.
Apparel Sourcing 2018: Global pant procurement and vest investors under one roof.

Apparel Sourcing Paris 2018 took place from 17-20 September in Le Bourget Exhibition Center.

David Wilkinson, Special Correspondent, Paris

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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