To unite various perspectives on the future of the apparel industry, LightCastle Partners collaborated with The Policy Exchange of Bangladesh to host the inaugural dialogue event on December 19, 2023. The event centered around discussions on circularity, decarbonization, and competitiveness. This undertaking reflects LightCastle’s collaborative approach to enhancing the apparel ecosystem through research, private-sector engagement, and advocacy initiatives.
The dialogue event, attended by industry leaders, policymakers, development partners, innovators, and academics, explored the complexities of upcoming transformations impacting the industry in the coming decades. The inaugural dialogue is a part of the Bunon 2030 – a dedicated initiative to empower Bangladeshi women garment workers in the face of increasing automation, geopolitical turmoil, circularity, and decarbonization, among others, by fostering sector competitiveness.
Bunon 2030 is part of the collective impact initiative of H&M Foundation’s “Oporajita: Collective Impact on the Future of Work in Bangladesh” project, managed by The Asia Foundation.
By 2030, the global population is expected to reach 8.5 billion, resulting in an annual consumption of 68 garments per person and a staggering total of 80 billion items worldwide. With a projected 63% increase in global garment production by 2030, addressing resource strains, greenhouse gas emissions, and water-intensive cotton production becomes imperative.
The $2.4 billion fashion industry significantly boosts carbon emissions, worsening environmental concerns. As per the International Finance Corporation (IFC), water-intensive methods like wet processing use 300 liters of water per kilogram of fabric each year, depleting groundwater. Anticipated triple growth in the textile industry’s water demand compared to domestic demand by 2030 poses environmental risks, such as river and water pollution, affecting marine life and communities dependent on water-based activities
To address these issues, embracing circularity is vital. Bangladesh has the potential to establish recycling systems for the annual 570,000 tonnes of textile waste or “jhoot”, saving around USD 500 million through domestic cotton waste recycling. Utilizing advanced cutting and processing technology can substantially decrease textile waste, but the emphasis on recycling persists. With 70% of its apparel products being cotton-based, Bangladesh is uniquely positioned to leverage existing sourcing materials for efficient fiber recycling technology.
To that end, as a part of our Bunon 2030 initiative, LightCastle hosted the inaugural dialogue event and Kazi Faisal Bin Seraj, Country Representative at The Asia Foundation emphasized the 4th industrial revolution’s impact on the RMG sector, advocating for a secure future for garment workers. The Oporajita initiative seeks a collective impact to safeguard women garment workers’ livelihoods in the apparel sector.
In line with the agenda, Zahedul Amin, Co-Founder and Director at LightCastle Partners, highlighted the importance of sustainability in the RMG sector, emphasizing compliance with environmental standards set by major buyers like the EU. He stressed the necessity of a systemic approach to align incentives with circular business models in the sector.
Side by side, M. Masrur Reaz, Chairman of Policy Exchange Bangladesh, emphasized the need for a holistic approach to foster a common understanding of the circular economy in Bangladesh. He further underscored the importance of sustainable growth in the sector, considering current challenges and the impact of technology on reshaping the supply chain post-LDC graduation.
Then, the session commenced with a keynote presentation on circularity practices within Bangladesh and globally, presented by Faisal Rabbi, Stakeholder Engagement and Public Affairs Manager at the H&M Foundation.
He highlighted that apparel-producing countries contribute 60% of our greenhouse gas emissions. To meet H&M’s 2040 net-zero goal, reducing emissions in production countries, such as Bangladesh, is crucial. The Bangladesh government and the industry must align with fashion brands’ goals, which are not just brand aspirations but also legal prerequisites for future market access.
Subsequently, a moderated panel discussion ensued, featuring prominent representatives from the apparel sector. The panel discussion included key figures from the apparel sector, namely, Md Ariful Hoque from the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA), Vidya Amrit Khan from Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), and Fazlee Shamim Ehsan from the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA).
Md Ariful Hoque, Director General at BIDA, emphasized the necessity for recycled products to possess a competitive edge
Side by side, Vidya Amrit Khan, Director at BGMEA, pointed out the lack of proper textile waste availability and recycling facilities in Bangladesh, advocating for open waste collection from Export Processing Zones (EPZ).
Lastly, Fazlee Shamim Ehsan, Vice President at BKMEA, stressed the need to minimize the water footprint in the dyeing sector and reduce taxes on imported solar panels.
Following the panel discussion an Innovative Solutions Showcase featuring both local and global players in the apparel industry. Innovators such as Reverse Resources, Renewcell, Cyclo, and Classical Handmade Products presented case studies highlighting successful circular business models and practices that have the potential for replication across various segments of apparel production. This showcase aimed to underscore the necessity for innovative technologies, both domestic and international, in the transition to a circular economy, with a focus on identifying potential ecosystem synergies that could be harnessed for sustainable practices.
In the final segment, participants engaged in a collaborative exercise, generating ideas to address identified challenges. In a workshop presentation, Mrinmoy Sobhan, Business Consultant at LightCastle Partners, highlighted bottlenecks hindering circular practices in the RMG system. This effort led to the formulation of strategic interventions for systemic solutions, with contributions from academia, large and medium-sized apparel manufacturers, global fashion brand representatives, development sector players, and innovative local and global ecosystem companies
The event concluded with closing remarks from industry leader Abdullah Hil Rakib, Managing Director of Team Group, emphasizing the need for Bangladesh to recognize its achievements in organizing investments and creating the present ecosystem. Dr. Zaki Uz Zaman, Country Representative in Bangladesh for UNIDO, highlighted the country’s status as the home to the best green factories globally but emphasized the necessity of bridging gaps in understanding between suppliers and buyers. These remarks marked the end of the event with an open invitation for collaboration in strengthening the circular ecosystem.