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Hundreds of kilometres away from Dhaka, a remote village in northern Bangladesh is silently creating a shift in RMG practices that can potentially change the face of the RMG industry.
Mizanur Rahman runs a shop selling sweaters at a busy market in Noyarhat Bazar of Gaibandha district, Bangladesh. He also has a sweater factory right behind his shop, and his products fetch one of the best prices in that market. Mizanur owns eight jacquard machines in his factory, which are run almost 24/7 with high-end operators.
Noyarhat Bazar is located almost off the grid, right in the middle of low farmlands that cultivate rice. Additionally, running these jacquard machines require the availability of high-end operators and a maintenance crew.
How then, is Mizanur managing to successfully run his business in this backdrop?
The answer lies in circular economy practices, and recycling lies at the heart of it. The yarn used in the factories of Noyarhat Bazar comes from recycling discarded sweaters and wasted yarn from the export-oriented sweater industry.
Mapped in Bangladesh, a project of Centre for Entrepreneurship Development, BRAC University, reveals the story of a circular economy which extracts yarns from discarded sweaters from the formal RMG industry to create higher value products for the local market. To further the cause of recycling, the fancy sweaters that are being made there use recommissioned broken down jacquard machines, using expertise from technicians who are returnee migrant workers with years of experience in the RMG industry.
The jacquard machines that are used in Noyarhat Bazar are reconstructed machines, with their parts scavenged from older machinery. Entrepreneurs like Mizanur Rahman purchase several older machines, and collect the functioning parts to be used in their jacquard machines.
The skilled workforce required to operate these jacquard machines are primarily composed of returnee migrant workers who moved back to their home communities. Additionally, the emergence of this industry is creating new livelihood opportunities in rural areas, and it has been encouraging more migrant workers to return to their home communities.
Despite the emergence of jacquard shops, the ecosystem is all about manual machines. Almost every household in Noyarhat Bazar owns a set of manual machines that they use to make clothes, supplementing their income from the fields. The homestead gets their payment for the pieces they produce. The yarn is provided by the mohajon or the store owners.
And this yarn is where the most remarkable circularity is taking place. The yarns mostly come from the yarn market in Dupchanchia in the neighbouring district of Bogura or Shantahar districts.
The yarn manufacturers collect their raw materials from the sweater “jhoot” markets of Dhaka, Gazipur and Narayanganj. Jhoot is the local term for all the waste materials that come out of the RMG industry. This jhoot is separated and graded by the jhoot merchants for different recycling industries.
Once these jhoot sweaters reach the yarn “manufacturers”, they are manually shredded from the garment and then processed and re-coned for reusing. Women living in marginalised communities are primarily hired to implement this task. This also creates new livelihood opportunities for them.
The parts of yarn or the garment that cannot be re-coned are collected by the cotton manufacturers, who crush the garment to produce raw material for the comforter industry.
The sweaters, socks and scarves that are made in Noyarhat Bazar are distributed all around Bangladesh and are the lifeblood of that community. Although the area is located only 200km away from the Indian border, the products are not exported there due to their higher costs relative to what is available in the Indian market.
Like the workers in Mizanur Rahman’s factory who return home to make a full circle, the garments too make a full circle when they are unwinded and transformed back to sweaters. This circularity keeps the community going and also helps the planet to stay clean. While practicing a circular economy is a goal for many nations, Bangladesh is making it a reality.
Syed Hasibuddin Hussain is a Project Manager of the Mapped in Bangladesh (MiB) project of Centre for Entrepreneurship Development (CED), BRAC University