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Special series : Bangladesh - Top interview
The export of denim products is rapidly growing mainly to the US.
Asst General Manager
Abdullah Siddiqui Nizam
HA-MEEM GROUP Deputy Managing Director Delwar Hossain
Front view of the plant
The new plant under construction. Expansion is made at full speed to meet the yearly growth of the business.
The official name for Bangladesh is the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. In 1947, the country became independent from the British colony of India as Pakistan, and later in 1971, after 9 months liberation war the east half of Pakistan became Bangladesh. Half of the population consists of the generation born after the independence as Bangladesh, and there are less and less people who know the relationship with Pakistan. Most of the border lines in the West, North and East are shared with India, and there is a short border line with Myanmar to the South. Approximately 140 million people live in this land of 147,570 km2, which makes the population density very high. The capital of the country is Dhaka with approximately 10 million people, and the language is Bengali.
In terms of the country’s economy, the growth rate is as high as 6.71% in 2005 and 6.51% in 2006. However, this growth rate is not so high when compared to other countries in fast growing Asia. Some of the reasons are considered to be an insufficient infrastructure, unstable political and social situation and complicated administrative processes for obtaining government approvals. Most of the country is flat, and the southern part is a delta area with many rivers. In the dry season, it is quite dry, however, in the rainy season, many parts of the land are submerged. In other words, they are destined to encounter periodical floods, which contribute to the reasons for the country’s slow development and prevents further economic development.
In 2006, they recorded 12.17786 billion US$ in exports and 17.15856 billion US$ in imports. While their exports increased by 20%, their imports also increased resulting in a trade deficit of 5 billion US$.
Their major industry is sewing, and textile products account for 67% of their exports. Another major export item is jute products with a 5% share. As such, the country relies heavily on its sewing industry. In the North, cotton is being grown, but the majority of the material for the sewing products for exportation come from China or the US. The improvement of the quality of their own cotton and nurturing of the material industry are major issues.
When looking at the countries exported to, the major customers are the US and European countries, which amount to 28.8% for the US, 16.8% for Germany and 10.0% for the UK. The sewing industry is expected to grow further based on an ample labor force. On the other hand, there is strong pressure from the US and European customers for improved compliance. This is also a major issue for the future.
In this country, the Ha-Meem Group is one of the companies leading the apparel industry.
Processes and the machines are arranged to meet the skill level of the operators.
As our production volume is increasing every year, it is difficult to tell you the exact number as of this stage. However, in the spring of 2008, 108 production lines were in operation in 23 plants, representing our entire company, producing approximately 2 million pieces per month.
Regarding the types of product, 55% is denim products and 65% of that are bottoms. Of the 108 production lines, 86 are apparel sewing lines.
In addition to the above plants, we have five denim washing plants with a processing capacity of 130,000 pieces per day. We also have a plant for sand blasting and brushing. We have started to focus more on the post process of the jean products.
In addition to the knit plant where sweaters and other products are being manufactured, we have an embroidering plant as well. While we do not manufacture heavy material clothes, we cover almost all other types.
“The bottoms plant employs a chain system for production, basically, and one line consists of 70 sewing machines and 115 operators. Such a line produces approximately 1,000 pieces a day, or 1,800 pieces in terms of shirts.” Says Mr. KAZI Morshed Ali, General Manager of the plant.
Quality control personnel are assigned to each line, and carefully watch the products. The idea of “no defective products from any process” is firmly set in the mind of the employees.
Daily operational hours are fixed, basically, which is 08:00 to 17:00. Overtime work is limited to 17:00~19:00.
Bottoms account for 65%. The daily output varies depending on the design of the product, but somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500.” Says Mr. ALI (right). He is an old friend of Sk Md. Kamruzzman, Manager of JUKI Bangladesh Ltd.
As far as you can see, all sewing machines are JUKI. The latest sewing machines are introduced for the lockstitch, mainly the DDL-8700 with an automatic thread trimmer.
Specifications are displayed in each process, and instructions by the leaders are clearly conveyed to the operators.
The latest sewing machines are introduced, supporting the company’s high quality production.
(1) High speed computer-controlled shape-tacking machine, the LK-1930. It is the latest model covering a wide sewing area of 10cmx6cm and having an operational panel which can memorize up to 691 sewing patterns. It is an easy-to-use machine by which various stitching types can be selected by a single touch.
(2) High speed safety stitch machine, the MO-6716S.
(3) 2-needle needle-feed lockstitch machine, the LH-3128. Various gauges are provided for light-weight material, heavy-weight material or jeans/heavy-weight material. Operators praise this machine because of its adaptability to different materials.
(4) Computer-controlled eyelet buttonholing machine, the MEB-3200, and high speed computer-controlled lockstitch button sewing machine, the LK-1903, are collectively located in the post process area. The scene where dozens of these machines are lined up is a spectacular sight.
(5) Lockstitch and Automatic Welting Machines, the APW-895, waiting for their turn to work.
Now they produce 2.4 million pieces a month.
- Your company is one of the leading sewing plants in Bangladesh. I understand that your company was established many years ago.
- The HAMEEM group was established in 1981, and this is the 26th year for the company. The group started as a trading company handling apparel products and material. It has only been 10 years since we started manufacturing.
- When you were mainly trading, what were the major products you handled?
- Mostly clothing, and we were selling material such as cotton in addition to denim products, cloth products and knit products.
- The material for denim is cotton. Do you use domesticly produced cotton for denim?
- We use cotton material imported from the US. Recently, the quality of the domestic products seems to be improving. However, because our major export customer is the US, we use US produced cotton.
- What was the reason for a trading company to start manufacturing?
- As we were planning for products and selling those products, the number of our customers increased. We started receiving various requirements from our customers such as sudden increases in production volume or for the development of new items. Gradually we were put in a position where we could not satisfy the requirements in terms of new items, quality and production volume unless we began manufacturing ourselves. That is why we started manufacturing. The first plant was a small one in the city of Dhaka having 5 manufacturing lines. We started with 500 employees. That was 16 years ago.
- What is your current organization? I am amazed that you have grown substantially each time I visit. It’s hard for me to keep up.
- We now have 32,000 employees, and we are manufacturing denim jeans, shirts, bottoms, ladies’ wear, children’s wear, jackets, knit wear and sweaters in 23 plants. In addition to those, we have factories for denim material, washing jeans, manufacturing cardboard boxes and plastic products, and embroidering. In terms of apparel products, we are manufacturing 780 thousand pieces a month of shirts in 20 lines and 1.6 million pieces of pants and overalls in 66 lines, totalling 2.4 million pieces.
90% is exported to the USA.
“High quality” is the key for repeat orders.
- You were exporting from the beginning, as I understand. Who are your export customers?
- Currently, we export 90% to the USA and the remaining 10% to Europe. Based on our production capacity, we consider 8,000 pieces to be the minimum production lot. Exporting to Japan is difficult because the lot sizes are small and quality requirements are severe.
- What are the brands that you produce for?
- For the US market, Levi’s (Kids Head Quarters), GAP/OLD NAVY, JC PENNY, Khol’s, VF (Nautica, Lee, Wrangler), OSHKOSH, PVH, TARGET, WALMART, PARRY ELLIS, KELL WOOD, just to name a few.
For the European market, NEXT, H&M, ZARA, CARRE FOUR, TESCO, HEMA, M&S MODE, etc. 55% of the total production is denim products.
- We hear that you are receiving more orders than you can handle, and as soon as you expand production capacity, it soon reaches full capacity. You are continually repeating this cycle. We believe that sales efforts are the key for such success. In addition to that, is there anything that you can think of regarding a unique management policy that seems to be working well? I am sure all manufacturing companies would want to increase orders.
- Nothing special. However, there is one thing we are particular about. That is quality. We aim at quality when introducing new facilities and new technologies. I think those efforts are resulting in favorable assessments of our products.
When constructing the first factory, we had the issue of which machines to install. We selected JUKI because of its reputation as the highest quality machines. Price-wise, there were other attractive offers, but we made our selection because quality was our top priority. Still today, 99% of the machines are JUKI. The remaining 1% are machines not offered by JUKI. So we cannot buy from JUKI even if wanted to.
I believe this is the major factor leading to the high quality of our products and to the trust of our customers, and eventually to follow-up orders.
Further growth in denim products is expected.
Washing capacity is 130,000 pieces a day.
- We see that orders are continuously increasing, resulting in the continuous expansion of production capacity with new machines.
- Yes, even though we are receiving more orders, management of the company is not so easy because of the production capacity expansion. But we are investing in the introduction of new machines. Because new good machines are coming out, and unless we introduce those good machines, we will not be able to satisfy the requirements of our customers, not only in quality, but also in productivity.
- You are hiring experienced operators, but at the same time, training non-experienced operators. Similarly, you are putting a lot of effort in the training of sewing machine engineers.
- That is correct. Even if we have good machines, it will be of no use if the machines stop. Therefore, we put emphasis on the training of engineers. Most of the problems can be fixed by our people, and cases in which we have to ask for JUKI’s help are very rare. However, there is one area that we cannot fix. That is the electronics part, as recent sewing machines use a lot of electronics. This is a problem for us.
- We are trying to stock enough spares so that we will be able to react immediately when customers have problems. But I guess further improvement will be necessary.
By the way, denim fabric is a relatively new item for your company. And it seems to be growing rapidly.
- Yes, denim jeans have been manufactured in China and Pakistan since 1992, but production in Bangladesh started only a few years ago. We are manufacturing denim material, too, and 55% of the total output is denim products today. And our washing plant has the capacity to process 130,000 pieces a day.
Technology level is improving by hiring experienced staff.
Importance is placed on compliance to laws and regulations.
- Because of your rapid growth, hiring an adequate number of operators would be a tough job. Is it?
- We are constantly hiring operators, and fortunately 90% of our new employees are experienced people. They have experience at other companies. The type of sewing machines used seems to be an important point to the operators, as we understand. We have no problem as far as recruitment is concerned.
- You are training new non-experienced employees as well.
- Yes, we hire not only experienced people but also non-experienced people. Therefore, we have our own training facility in the company for the non-experienced people. Because we are able to hire experienced people, there are not so many non-experienced people. The wage for the operators is 90 dollars/month on average, and it is a fixed salary system instead of the piece rate system.
- You are naturally clearing the minimum wage requirement. Right?
- Yes. In addition to that, we are meeting the requirements for human rights and other compliance issues by implementing safety measures, prohibiting excessive overtime and prohibiting child labor. So the employees seem to have peace of mind in working for our company.
- Thank you very much.