It’s time to talk about growth

38

Business as usual is no longer an option

At the recent Davos event which took place in Switzerland, executives from leading fashion brands and associated industries met for a roundtable discussion and launch of the CEO Agenda of the influential Global Fashion Agenda (GFA). 

This agenda outlines key sustainability priorities for fashion executives and one aspect of it caught my eye. This was where it called upon industry executives from the fashion world to “redesign growth.” 

The Agenda claims that the current fashion business model is “pushing the earth beyond its limits and challenging social justice.”

Bangladesh and its RMG industry needs to be following these conversations closely. GFA organizes the annual Copenhagen Fashion Summit in Denmark, which is the most influential sustainability event in the global apparel industry. 

This event sets the tone for broader conversations about sustainability in our industry and is attended by senior representatives from all the major fast fashion brands — basically, our main customers.

When I hear the phrase “redesign growth” coming from such an influential body,, it drives home to me what a major challenge the RMG industry in Bangladesh is facing. Since its conception, our industry has been all about growth, and with good reason. 

Annual industry growth rates of 10% and more have created millions of jobs and lifted many of our citizens out of poverty. Growth is what leaders in our industry always talk about, it is the key metric of success. Slow growth or no growth is viewed as bad and leads to introspection and, sometimes, industry infighting.

Here’s another thing: In days gone by, to not grow — to stand still — was viewed as the enemy of business. To stand still was to die.

So what now with talk of “redesigning growth?” Are we talking about slowing growth down or not growing at all? And, if so, where does this leave countries like Bangladesh and its RMG industry?

I agree with suggestions that the whole world needs to rethink about the idea of growth. Let us be honest with ourselves — a global economy which has up until now been built around growth and consumption is what has got us into the problems we are in now.

Look around the world and the damage wreaked by this model is there for all to see, whether that be in rising sea levels, melting ice caps, extremes of weather, flooding, serious droughts, freakishly warm weather, and much, much more.

Business as usual is not an option. We hear this phrase so often but it bears repeating. If the world continues on its current growth, consumption, and disposal model, the planet we live on might be uninhabitable by the time our grandchildren are adults. That is the stark reality in which we live.

What would a new economy look like and what are the implications of this for Bangladesh? This is the question we need to all be asking ourselves.

While I am not a mind reader, when GFA talks of redesigning growth, the implication for me is that they are talking about doing things differently, more sustainably, with less focus on simply producing increasing amounts of garments and more focus on producing durable garments, high value garments, recycled garments, garments which are designed for circularity and garments with value added features.

Conversely, in a future world, there will probably be less focus on producing garments which quickly end up in the trash bin, on garments with very low value, on garments which are difficult to recycle.

Some people reading this might think it sounds alarm bells for Bangladesh. Without question, I believe our industry will need to change and adapt moving forwards and that huge investments will need to be made to future-proof our industry, to allow it to adapt and thrive in the “new normal” of future.

But remember, these are also questions which every garment producing country in the world are facing. Most of the leading producers, with the exception of China, have focused purely on growth for as long as one can remember.

Most, if they have any sense, will be asking similar questions to the ones raised here: How can they remain relevant in a world where growth is no longer the be all and end all?

The most important thing Bangladesh can do is to remain at the forefront of these conversations and be fully aware of how the world is changing and how it can be at the forefront of that change. There is no point in burying our heads in the sand on these issues.

When our customers meet in Copenhagen in a few months’ time, they will be told that growth at all costs is no longer an option. They will be told their current business models are wrecking the planet. They will be told fast fashion is bad for the planet.

Actually, they have been saying these things for several years but at some point the penny is going to drop and business models are going to change. We are already seeing some evidence of this in supply chains and this process will only increase moving forwards.

Growth will not be the be all and end all in the future. If Bangladesh is to remain relevant it needs to be part of the conversations taking place on these issues, ready to adapt and re-evaluate how it does things and with what purpose.

Mostafiz Uddin is the Managing Director of Denim Expert Limited. He is also the Founder and CEO of Bangladesh Denim Expo and Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE). He can be reached at [email protected].