Why Denim Expert Ltd is one of the safest factories in Bangladesh

March 22, 2019 0 By HearthstoneYarns

Five years ago
today, the Rana Plaza building in Savar, Bangladesh collapsed, marking the
most deadly accident in the history of the apparel industry. Thousands of
workers at their sewing machines and cutting stations were at work in the
five factories when the building crumbled, trapping them under concrete and
rubble. 1,138 of them died, while thousands more were left with
life-changing injuries. Many brands and retailers saw this horrific wake-up
call to change their producing standards and implement strict rules of
compliance, but there is one factory owner in Bangladesh who has been
working hard over the past ten years to ensure everything from the building
itself to its workers are protected and able to grow sustainably.

“I am in a very unique position in the industry. A lot of people like to talk
about what needs to be done when they themselves are not even in the
position to do what needs to be done,” admitted Mostaqiz Uddin, Managing
Director, CEO, and Founder of Denim Expert Ltd to FashionUnited at denim
trade fair Kingpins Amsterdam. There are not many factory owners like Uddin
and Denim Expert is among the few factories in the world which can proudly
proclaim to be among the safest, following inspections by the Bangladesh
Accord and Alliance.

How Mostaqiz Uddin managed to build one of
the safest denim manufacturing facilities in Bangladesh

“Inspectors from the Accord came to see my factory and they were amazed to see how
structurally sound the factory really is,” he said. Boasting a fully
integrated production line, the manufacturing facility, located in
Chittagong, was built on top of 100 feet of underground piling to ensure a
solid foundation. In addition, its steel-concrete foundation and stone
building structure also ensure the building is earthquake proof, thereby
ensuring the safety of his 4,000 workers. “I can take my own responsibility
for my life, but how can I risk the lives of 4,000 people?” He asked,
wondering why other factory owners and manufacturers do not think along the
same lives. “We are in the business, we are making the money – it’s our
responsibility, simple.”

“Five years after Rana
Plaza, we can say that we have one of the safest factories in the whole
world as it has been inspected so many times”

Uddin, Managing Director, CEO, and Founder of Denim Expert

It was Uddin own choice to build the safest
factory he could, a decision he made years before Rana Plaza took place.
Work on the production facility first began in 2005 and it took nearly two
years to complete. “My factory is a bit different than other factories in
Bangladesh. People asked me ‘why are you taking so much time to build a
factory? You could build five factories with that amount of money.’ I said
it is because I want to make it safe. Then people asked me what is the
definition of a safe factory, as they did not know. Unfortunately in 2013,
Rana Plaza happened and then people began to understand what building a
safe factory really means.” Now Uddin is dedicating himself to driving real
change within the denim industry, focusing on how he can help improve
conditions and share knowledge.

In addition to managing Denim Expert,
which products 320,000 products per month and works with some of the
largest names in the fashion industry such as Inditex, Bestseller, Primark
and Arcadia Group, he also launched the Bangladesh Denim Expo in 2014.
“Other manufacturers and companies started coming to me and asking me for
tips and advice on how to improve their own business and practices, so it
seemed like the natural next step.” Out of the 70 plus exhibitors showing
at Kingpins Amsterdam, 42 of them are set to exhibit their latest
innovations at the Bangladesh Denim Expo, which is set to take place from
May 9 to 10. Uddin also runs a sustainable apparel forum in Bangladesh,
dedicated to promoting sustainability and helped launch the first fashion
technology summit in Bangladesh two months ago. “The summit was all about
technology and how it can help improve the textile industry in Bangladesh,”
continued Uddin.

“All the things I do is to promote my industry, to
help make the industry better.” Through Denim Expert, the Bangladesh Denim
Expo and his other project, Uddin hopes to help drive change towards a more
sustainable, transparent and ultimately responsible industry but is aware
he is an exception. “Unfortunately our factory is not represented
throughout Bangladesh, it is the expectation. I can’t say that the entire
industry is working like us.” Although Rana Plaza took the lives of more
than a thousand workers, Uddin does believe that things have changed since
the disaster, in part thanks to initiatives like the Accord and Alliance.
“I think this is the most transparent industry hub in the whole world. No
other country has had their garment industry inspected factory by factory
as we have,” he pointed out, noting that most factory owners followed all
guidelines and recommendations set by the Accord.

“We [as manufacturers] need to be morally
responsible and ethically strong and honest about our own practices”

Mostaqiz Uddin, Managing Director, CEO, and Founder of
Denim Expert

However, at the same time, he is
very aware that there is still a long way to go and there remain many areas
in which the textile industry can improve in. “We still have some factories
that are not ‘fit’, but we are continuously working and progressing to make
sure they are. We are committed to changing for the best and welcoming the
European support and advice.” And even though his own factory is among the
safest in Bangladesh, he is continually focusing on how Denim Expert can
improve worker conditions, as well as become more sustainable, transparent
and responsible. For example, Denim Expert just launched its first in-house
sustainable denim range for men for Spring/Summer 2019. The collection was
made using the latest technologies, such as laser, thereby significantly
reducing the manufacturing facilities consumption of water.

Uddin is
also keen on implementing a system, such as Product DNA, to map, trace and
publish the traceability of his products – even if his customers are not
asking him as he believes that companies should be transparent in all areas
of their business, at every stage in their supply chain. “I am making these
denim products for my customers, I want them to be transparent. I want to
use respect-code.org tracing system as I want
that level of transparency in my business. I think that the responsibility
and traceability should come from manufacturers themselves, not
legislation.” Although he is aware that companies like Inditex and
Bestseller already have their own tracing systems in place, he still is
missing this sense of responsibility for transparency among other denim and
garment manufacturers in Bangladesh.

“For me, I make things very
simple. I do not believe in just relying on compliance – that is just a
minimum standard to meet. I am not here to fulfill things at the lowest
levels, I want to ask what is our own responsibility. Until businesses step
up and take responsibility for sustainability, traceability, transparency
and social rights we will always be waiting for the government to regulate
us.” This is a bold statement for any business to make, especially an
apparel producer in a country which lacks strict legislation concerning
working conditions and minimum wages. But as Uddin pointed out, it should
not solely be up to the manufacturers – brands and retailers also need to
come together and establish a minimum standard, a certain level of
compliance they all demand. This way, they can present a united push for
better conditions for workers that manufacturers have to meet, ensuring
equality for all and a leveled base.

“We can really change the apparel sector if we want,
it is all about our willingness. We have sent people to the moon, so why
can’t we make the denim industry more transparent?”

Mostaqiz Uddin, Managing Director, CEO, and Founder of Denim Expert

“The whole industry should be united in looking at what is best
practice for the sake of the planet,” he continued. “For example, if we ban
PP (potassium permanganate) spray in Bangladesh, but China continues to use
it, then what? Equality will only come if we stand together.” Collaboration
is key to making substantial change, as Uddin is disheartened how
retailers, factories, and governments have been passing around the ball of
responsibility. But he is not hopeless all is lost and believes change will
happen soon enough. I feel as if people are becoming more and more
conscious each day, asking who made my clothes. Smart manufacturers will
react to this, as will smart retailers to safeguard their businesses for
the future.” Those who fail to respond to consumers increasing demand for
transparency, who are not ethically or morally strong enough, are unlikely
to thrive in the future, according to Uddin. Although he understands that
financially it may be difficult for some players to shift their production
facilities to become more sustainable, he is adamant there is a balance to
be maintained.

“My business has not grown over the past ten years,” he proclaimed,
before explaining that is has grown in different areas. “We have grown a
lot ethically, sustainably, responsibly, in terms of traceability. I ask
how we can be more responsible when it comes to looking after our
environment. I want to enrich our ethics and in five years time I hope to
be an example for the rest of the industry.” Uddin is a proud owner and it
is clear that he loves his workers and they love him. Unlike many business
owners, he sees his workers as part of his family and is well aware that
happy workers define his success. What’s more, his workers are a source of
inspiration and pride for him, and he would rather improve working
conditions for them than focus on achieving certain certifications. “If I
am honest, I am more proud of the fact that my workers write messages to me
on my social media wall than if they weren’t,” he said when a certain
member of parliament asked if he felt embarrassed by this.

In order to maintain high safety standards at Denim Expert, all workers
are routinely trained in health care and fire safety. The HR and compliance
department carry out monthly routine evacuation trainings unannounced and
workers who handle chemicals are regularly trained. In addition, the
company also focuses on providing appropriate salaries for workers,
extensive medical care, and education. Denim Expert also provides workers
with financial support for major life events such as marriage or medical
treatment. Now Uddin is calling on other manufacturers in Bangladesh, and
other producing countries to step up and take better care of their workers.
“Treat them like they are part of your family, ultimately you will only be
more successful. You will grow. Plus, you will never be able to achieve
what you dream of achieving without your happy worker.” It is not just
Uddin’s workers who see him a game change, other industry insiders
acknowledge his positive influence on the denim industry in Bangladesh.
“People really see him as a change maker in Bangladesh,” said Mitchell
Vassie, owner of Vassie Creative Direction Concept and Design Agency. “He
truly is one of a kind and his workers do really love him.”

Photos: Courtesy of Denim Expert Ltd.

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