Footwear Industry has grown in Bangladesh territory since the colonial era although its modernisation took place only in the late 1980s. During the British period, there was no footwear manufacturing firm producing on a mass scale in East Bengal. However, traditional cottage type footwear industry with limited production facilities existed in a skeleton form in the district towns at this time. Various types of footwear were imported, mainly from calcutta. After Partition of Bengal in 1947, footwear started being imported from West Pakistan. When Bata Shoe Company established its manufacturing plant at Tongi in 1962, it was the first manufacturing plant to produce shoes on a large scale in East Pakistan. Eastern Progressive Shoe Industries (EPSI) established its production plant in 1967 and started exporting footwear to USSR, Czechoslovakia and England. Bata and EPSI held a major share in the local footwear market also. The industry suffered a major setback during the war of liberation but was rehabilitated after independence. Many new footwear-manufacturing units have been established recently. Notable among them are Apex Footwear, Bay Emporium, Legacy Footwear, and Paragon Leather and Footwear Industries.
The number of production units in the industry now exceeds 2,000. Most units are, however, small and medium in size and only 23 are relatively large and have mechanised and semi-mechanised production technology. The annual production capacity of the industry is about 32 million pairs of leather and non-leather footwear. Of this 25.17 million is produced by mechanised and semi-mechanised units. Production capacity of individual manufacturing concerns varies from 750 to 3,000 pairs a day. The shoes produced find their way mainly to the local market; only a few firms produce shoes for export. The industry provides direct employment to about 25,000 people. Nearly 50% of them are engaged in mechanised and semi-mechanised units and are classified, on the basis of employees, as large, medium, and small. Women workers are predominant (55%-60%) in the mechanised sector. About 80% of all footwear units are located in dhaka and chittagong. Production in small units is processed manually. The total volume produced by these indigenous units account for about 7 million pairs per year.
Footwear units vary in product line, production capacity and exposure to domestic and foreign markets. The relatively large ones manufacture multiple items such as leather shoes, sports and trainer shoes, canvas and leather sandals, jute shoes, chappals (slippers) and shoe uppers. These units constitute the largest share of the export market.
Marketing of footwear manufacturing units at home is done through a network of wholesale and retail shops which employ an estimated 50,000 persons. Marketing of imported footwear is done through importers/local agents. Local manufacturers use a network of Dhaka based, district level and thana level wholesalers to sell to retailers and finally to consumers. Exports are organised through sales to foreign regional wholesalers and through them, to foreign retail traders and consumers.
Bangladesh has gradually been converted from a footwear importing country to a footwear exporting one. The annual export of footwear items has increased from a meagre Tk 0.14 million in 1972 to Tk 1.9 billion in 1997. The real development, however, has taken place since 1990, when exports exceeded the Tk 1 billion mark. Exports of leather footwear grew by 527% between 1990-91 and 1996-97. The list of export markets of footwear from Bangladesh includes Japan, the volume leader with a market share of 34%, followed by UK (11%), Spain (9%), Germany (8%), Russia (7%), Italy (5%), and USA (2%).
The main authority that controls the footwear business in Bangladesh is the Ministry of Commerce. fbcci (Federation of Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry) and EPB (Export Promotion Bureau) play significant roles in promoting export-oriented and local footwear businesses. But key organisations that protect and serve the interest of the industry are footwear associations, prominent among whom are the Bangladesh Paduka Prostutkarak Samity (BPPS) and the Bangladesh Paduka Byabashayee Samiti (BPBS). BPPS is an association of footwear manufacturing concerns, while BPBS represents footwear traders. BPPS, established in 1984, and registered in 1988, had 149 members in 1999. However, large export oriented firms such as Bata and Apex are not affiliated with this organisation. BPBS was established in 1983 and now has about 400 members. By 2006, Apex emerged as the single largest footwear exporter of the country. On that year it earned US$ 42 million by exporting its products to West Europe, North America and Japan. [Ishtiaque Ahmed Khan and Md Wahidul Habib]