Green Growth Champions Across Bangladesh: RMG Edition – Meet Mostafiz Uddin

Mostafiz Uddin, the Managing Director of Denim Expert Ltd., a niche denim manufacturing and washing plant exporting about USD 20 million of jeans and denim products, and the Founder and CEO of the Bangladesh Apparel Exchange, an organization whose work includes promoting sustainable practices, is an RMG industry innovator. To launch our new “Green Growth Champions Across Bangladesh” series we interviewed Uddin about his passion for the environment, worker safety, and Bangladeshi competitiveness in the global apparel market.

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

How did you get started in RMG?

Upon returning to Bangladesh from India after completion of my degree, I planned to go to the U.S.A. on a scholarship. However, God had something else in mind for me! On a flight I met an American citizen who asked me to join him to do something for Bangladesh in the ready-made garment sector. So I remained to pursue my dreams of doing something for the people. Through dedication and leadership I was quickly promoted from management trainee to Executive Director.

One day the owner called me from the USA regarding an urgent client shipment. I briefed my workers, who voiced their support and enthusiasm, agreeing to work the necessary extra hours. To mark my gratitude and respect, I arranged dinner. Unfortunately, a representative of the factory owner asked me to stop the ‘party’.

I found it inhuman that the workers who enabled shipment on such a tight schedule were not allowed to have a feast. I ignored her order and announced my decision to leave the job.

I bought a computer with installments from a close friend and, established my buying house, MAS International, which began serving the sourcing needs of reputable customers from Europe and the USA.

After a few years, I started thinking if I owned my own factory I could set examples for the apparel industry safety, environmental practices, and workers’ wellbeing. The plans for the facility, Denim Expert Limited, were drawn up in 2005 and construction completed in 2009, an unusually long time due to the high standards of safety. My dream was to create a structurally sound (resistance against earthquakes measuring 8 on the Richter scale) safe, secure environment for my workers and employees.

Considering that the RMG sector is globally considered a significantly polluting what investments have you done to mitigate these concerns?

Measures taken by Denim Expert include inter alia rainwater harvesting, using zero discharge of hazardous chemicals, ETP discharge water, use of wastewater in PP spray booth, wash recipe per garment weight, material liquor ratio for washing, reduction of rinse water, multi-functional chemicals, advanced machines for washing, and use of sustainable materials as well as green chemicals in manufacturing jeans. Denim Expert Limited’s laundry recycles 60% of its water usage. Our custom-designed effluent treatment plant (ETP) has been designed to recycle the wastewater before returning it to the earth.

What are the factors/considerations in undertaking sustainable denim production?

While technological upgrading doesn’t come cheap, manufacturers would do well to think beyond cost and consider potential benefits. Many manufacturers have been able to attract new buyers by implementing sustainability measures. Brands often want to work with factories with good employee relations, to avoid controversy. Increasingly, brands are looking at factories’ green credentials.

What should the industry and government do to avoid continued destruction of our ecosystem and water quality?

Some estimate that textile mills use 250-300 litres of water per kg of fabric in Bangladesh, whereas global best practice is said to be around 50 litres per kg or less. Thankfully, these figures are falling in some cases. Many factories invested in water-saving technologies. Though the cost can be high— hundreds of thousands of US dollars—it has a very quick return on investment.
And a novel idea: How about a water tax on the end price of clothing?

What role can technology play?

Beyond benefits gained in fabric consumption and usage and manufacturing efficiencies and logistics, technology can offer alternatives. There’s alternative power supply through the use of solar, hydro, or wind energy; alternative forms of transportation to carbon-emitting vehicles; massive reductions in the water use and hazardous chemicals in the laundering process of garments; and, substantial reduction in energy usage through innovations including smart lighting and heating. From fibre through to finished product there are initiatives and products allowing the development of up-to-the-minute designs, fabrics and finishes.

How do you foresee Bangladesh RMG sector overcoming challenges?

  1. Speed. Brands want shorter runs, but faster.
  2. Safety. Bangladesh’s RMG industry is among the safest in the world.
  3. Recycling and circularity. Bangladesh needs to be where brands can meet their circularity objectives.
  4. Sustainable production. We must stop seeing sustainability as a “cost” and a headache.