Apparel exporters say synthetic fibre is the future of the export-oriented garment sector

As the demand for synthetic fibre keeps growing in the international market, Bangladesh is also eyeing more investments in the material to boost garment exports.

Apparel exporters say synthetic fibre is the future of the export-oriented garment sector as most reputed brands and consumers are leaning towards man-made and recycled fibre to achieve sustainability.

Over the next few years, many well-known brands may even stop buying apparels produced from non-recyclable material, they added.

And the gradual rise in import of synthetic fibre over the last few years indicates that Bangladeshi apparel manufacturers are responding to the global demand.

According to the Bangladesh Textile Mills Association (BTMA), local spinners imported 99,345 tonnes of polyester staple fibre (PSF) in 2020 even amid the pandemic, up 3.4% from 96,077 tonnes the previous year.

Currently, 40 spinning mills import PSF fibre to make yarns for producing high-end garments such as sportswear.

The import of viscose staple fibre (VSF) also soared last year as spinners imported 72,504 tonnes of VSF — a 36% year-on-year increase — according to the BTMA.

Moreover, entrepreneurs of the country’s textile sector are also investing in the production of synthetic fibre and clothes.

According to the BTMA, about 80 textile mills are currently producing various types of synthetic yarns and fabrics including polyester, VSF, tensile, and modal.

“The number was below 50 in 2016 and several new textile mills will go into production of synthetic fibre within two or three years,” said Fazlul Hoque, vice president of the BTMA.

Bangladesh has the potential to pivot to the production of synthetic fibre-based textile and apparel to realize greater per unit values, he added.

“The investment in the synthetic fibre sector of our country is growing as buyers are choosing the fabric as a substitute to cotton fibre for sustainability and environmental issues,” said Md Khorshed Alam, chairman of Little Star Spinning Limited.

The use of man-made fibre has increased because of higher production of value-added garment items, he further said.

Faruque Hassan, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), recently wrote in an opinion piece for Dhaka Tribune: “To ensure sustained growth, diversification is key. There is a need to create an enabling environment and incentivize investors to encourage investment in non-cotton garment and textile productions.”

The usage of man-made fibre in end-use categories like sportswear, leisurewear, women’s dresses, home textile, automotive, carpets and other industrial sectors also make it an ideal “fibre of the future,” say industry insiders.

But the response to adopting synthetic fibre-based apparel production has been slow so far.

Though Bangladesh has emerged as one of the leading apparel suppliers in the last few decades, its man-made apparel exports are much lower than competing countries.

According to the International Textile Manufacturer Federation (ITMF), synthetic fibre makes up 78% of the world’s clothing where the remaining 22% is made of cotton fibre.

However, garment exports from Bangladesh constitute 70% of natural cotton apparels, with only 30% made of synthetic fibre, according to ITMF data.

Furthermore, the global man-made apparel trade stood at around $179 billion in 2019 where Bangladesh held only 5% market share.

For context, competing Vietnam held 10% of the man-made apparel trade.

BTMA Vice President Fazlul Hoque said Bangladesh is lagging behind in the sector mainly due to the lack of technology.The textile manufacturers’ association also said that they need to strengthen the connectivity for synthetic fibre and need policy support.

Earlier, BTMA President Mohammad Ali Khokon had said the import of man-made fibre needs to be duty-free like cotton as the demand for yarn is increasing.

The imposition of 5% VAT on the sales of yarn is discouraging for the sector, he added.

In response to the growing global demand, the BGMEA had also demanded a 10% cash incentive for man-made fibre-based products in the current fiscal year.

Their expectation was that with the help of the existing factories, they would be able to export an additional $2 billion worth of garments.

However, that demand also ultimately went unaddressed.

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