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     Volume 4 Issue 18 | October 22, 2004 |

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Buy Bangladeshi

Aasha Mehreen Amin

A couple of weeks ago there was a great deal of excitement over a promotional event hosted by the proprietors of a popular mall in Gulshan. Apparently two Hindi soap opera stars were coming to inaugurate the event. Many women no doubt rushed to the beauty parlour to look their best for Mr Bajaj, a character in one of the most seen soaps. The mall in question also happened to be 100 percent Indian. During a visit to the place, a supervisor announced proudly: "Everything here is Indian. We don't sell anything local". What she said was indeed true for not only were the saris, jewellery, shalwar kameez sets etc, all from India but even some of the salespeople. It maybe mentioned that the 'local' clientele at this mall is considerable. Many shopaholics consider this mall to be the ultimate shopping experience because of all the glamorous stuff they sell.

So what's the point? Well, for one thing, it is hard to understand that when there is already such a huge invasion of Indian and other foreign products in the regular markets, why do we need a separate shopping complex devoted to exclusively Indian goods? Of course the answer is that there is a demand for it. The popularity of Hindi soap opera and Hindi film actors and actresses, no doubt fuels the demand for clothes that will make people look like them.

There is of course nothing wrong with wanting to look like a beautiful film star. But the problem is that as a result of this obsession with foreign products, our local manufacturers are suffering. Industries such as handlooms, textiles and handicrafts, not to mention cosmetics, toiletries and even biscuits face unfair competition from foreign producers. A few years ago, for instance, Bangladeshi biscuits were just as good as those from any other country. But in the last decade or so we see innumerable brands of cookies and biscuits mostly from Malaysia and Thailand pushing out the local brands from the shelves. Now we even have to eat mangoes from Pakistan and India or 'golden delicious' apples from Cape Town because there is such a dearth of local fruits available in the market.

But it is not just the non-availability of the products but also the lack of interest among Bangladeshi consumers to buy things from their own country. Many people still believe that Bangladeshi goods are just not at par with their foreign counterparts. This argument no longer carries much weight for certain products such as garments, saris and fabrics given the fact that the local versions are of high quality and design. Even the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries are coming up with goods of high standards.

The need to make our own products more fashionable and attractive cannot be emphasized enough. Recently, even the PM, in a refreshing change of subject, has appealed to the public to buy Bangladeshi-made products instead of foreign products for their Eid and Durga shopping. This she said would help the thousands of poor weavers whose livelihoods have been badly affected by the recent floods. In recent years handloom products especially, have become more popular among local consumers but not nearly enough to capture a substantial share in the market. Urging people to take pride in Bangladeshi goods, is certainly laudable move.

But just telling people to buy things from their own land is not enough. Ultimately in a free market people will go for good quality and low price. In this respect many goods smuggled in from neighbouring countries enjoy an unfair advantage as their prices are at par or lower than the local goods. Lack of good design is another crucial factor that stands in the way of popularising our products. While some fashion houses are trying to keep in tune with current trends, most manufacturers do not invest much on designing the product to make it more appealing than the foreign counterpart. In terms of exports, the handicraft industry has suffered the most with exports falling steadily. Without a proper design institute, handicraft manufacturers find it increasingly difficult to cope with a fickle foreign market, in terms of trends and tastes.

Since its independence, India closed its doors to foreign made goods for over two decades to protect its own goods. Which is why Indians had to make do with Indian cornflakes, sodas, chocolate, cars, makeup, saris fabrics and pretty much everything else. Of course we cannot expect an approach as strict as this in present 'globalised' times. But it is high time that our own industries are given the state support they need to be able to compete with their rivals fair and square. From our part consciously buying locally made products will go a long way in helping them to get a decent share of the market. Who knows, we might even have a mall or two selling only Bangladeshi products with parlour-fresh women rushing in to meet their 'Made in Bangladesh' heartthrob of a star.


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