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Lingerie rules the roost at apparel buying house Ali & Haque Fashions Bangladesh

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Touted to emerge as one of the prime future growth drivers for the Bangladesh apparel industry and seen by many as the most promising product category after denim, the appeal of intimatewear is fast gaining ground not only amongst the manufacturers, but also the buying houses which sees in lingerie the prospects of a better future as regular and run-of-the-mill products now have not only ceased to bring in the desired margins, but are also losing sheen in the global apparel market. Dhaka-based sourcing entity Ali & Haque Fashions Bangladesh headed by Fahmida Ali as the Director is one such name.

“Although we source various types of knit and woven items, but lingerie and underwear are our main products. In men’s section, we do boxers, trunks, hipster, briefs and sleepwear, while for the females it’s more of bra (padded and regular) and panties…,” maintains Fahmida, underlining that depending on value-addition and order volumes, her profit margins could range from a minimum 3 per cent and go up to 5 per cent.

Fahmida Ali

Having started her career as a Merchandising Officer with Apex Lingerie where Fahmida worked for four-long years, intimatewear has always been her forte and the preferred choice when it came to starting her own business. “I consider myself very lucky to have got the opportunity to work for such a reputed organization like Apex Lingerie where I have learnt many vital aspects about lingerie manufacturing,” says Fahmida, who caters to a whole range of brands and retailers in Europe and USA, including names such as Walmart, JCPenney, Woman Secret, Inditex, ECC, JD Williams, etc.

For Fahmida, marketwise both Europe and USA are equally enticing, though for different reasons! “US market is always volume-based. We get big volume orders from US whereas Europe is more about quality. We get around 4,00,000 to 6,00,000 pieces order per season from Walmart alone for USA, whereas when it comes to Europe we get approximately 20,000 pieces order per month from the European buyers,” explains Fahmida, adding, “Although quantities are less in Europe but prices are decent…” So while sourcing for European clients Fahmida’s focus hinges all around value-addition, primarily in terms of accessories and trims and partly fabrics, to garner better price points.

“Actually value addition mostly depends on trims and accessories and not the fabrics only. Good elastic, embroidery and use of fancy metallic items as embellishments are what it takes to command better prices… The quality of fabrics also counts a lot in intimatewear,” explains Fahmida, who offers her products in intimatewear in the FOB of US $ 0.95 to US $ 1.80 for 100 per cent cotton-based products in the men’s section for US. “In basic ladies innerwear for US, our FOB is about US $ 1.15 per piece which can go up to US $ 1.50 per piece depending on value addition and fabrics. For Europe the FOB range is slightly higher; it starts from US $ 1.50 apiece and goes up to US $ 2.20, depending on innovation and embellishments,” underlines Fahmida. Bangladesh’s Achilles heel being accessory (which are in short supply locally) owing to which most of the manufacturers have to depend on China, Fahmida feels it is always a better option to go for the nominated suppliers. “Only the fabric we source locally is for Walmart. Otherwise each and every accessory item is provided by the nominated suppliers. The same is the case with the European buyers who have their nominated fabric and accessory suppliers… I do not want to take any risk by sourcing locally as European buyers are extremely quality-conscious,” Fahmida says.

To ensure better quality products, Fahmida – who considers Gazipur as a strongly emerging hub for lingerie alongside the time-tested and established bastion of Chittagong – prefers working with limited but top-of-the-line manufacturing units like Mondol Intimates, Mahadi Group, HB Fashions and Unity Fashions (Chittagong), and Rose Intimates to mention some.

“Every buyer has their own quality requirements which are varied and wide-ranging. To ensure better quality I have a strong team of QCs which visits the supplier factories once or twice a week and regularly during the production period,” maintains Fahmida while underlining that in terms of fabrics men’s and women’s innerwear would be dominated by cotton and cotton-based fabrics mostly in the coming days while women’s section will also see a rising demand for polyester and blended fabrics.

“From Bangladesh’s perspective, padded-bra is more in demand and would continue to remain the same in near future… It’s the players in the mass market, like Walmart, which are mostly sourcing the regular bras,” adds Fahmida, keen on concentrating on sourcing for the time being to settle down the sourcing business that she started only in 2013, before making her foray into production, which is her ultimate goal.