As canceled orders from Western retailers lead to a mounting surplus of clothing in Bangladesh, one Edinburgh businessman is rolling out a new venture to nip that excess inventory in the bud.
Called “Lost Stock,” the scheme allows consumers to purchase a 35-pound ($43) “blind” box filled with 70 pounds ($85) worth of clothes based on the purchaser’s size and aesthetic preferences. (Think Stitch Fix, except you can’t exchange anything you don’t like.)
The boxes will be assembled in Bangladesh and shipped to the United Kingdom, according to Cally Russell, who tapped his connections as CEO of online clothing retailer platform Mallzee—which bills itself as the “original Tinder of fashion”—to access 20 million pounds ($24 million) worth of garments.
“When I read on the BBC news website a factory worker saying ‘If coronavirus doesn’t kill my workers then starvation will,’ instead of getting angry I thought let’s do something through the connections we have,” he told BBC news. “We want to help 5,000 workers by the end of the month and 100,000 by the end of the year.”
Russell said he hoped Lost Stock would save perfectly wearable clothing from the landfill or incinerator. More than $3 billion in orders—amounting to roughly 980 million items—have evaporated in Bangladesh alone, according to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, leaving heaps of finished or in-progress garments in a state of limbo and factories holding the bill.
“We are now going to stop some of this stock from being lost and in doing so we will be helping the factory workers and customers will be getting a great deal as well,” Russell said.
He said he homed in on Bangladesh because of the garment industry’s outsized importance in the South Asian nation’s economy. Bangladesh’s $30 billion clothing sector, which employs 4 million workers, accounts for 80 percent of its export earnings and 16 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Already, the BGMEA estimates that more than 2.27 million workers and their families have been affected by the fiscal fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A recent study carried out here found that 47 percent of these workers now have no income,” said Muhymin Chowdhury, head of challenge fund and fundraising at Sajida Foundation, a nonprofit that has been working with Russell on Lost Stock. “With so many of these workers having absolutely no income they don’t have access to basic necessities.”
Every Lost Box sold, Chowdhury said, will provide a food and hygiene package to support a family for a week. “Additionally, Lost Stock purchases garment products at a fair price from Bangladeshi factories helping support them longer term,” he said.
Despite the country’s ongoing lockdown, more than 1,750 factories in Bangladesh have come back online since April 25. At least 25 percent of BGMEA’s 2,274 members have not been able to reopen because of canceled work orders, however, and the factories that have resumed are operating at just 60 percent to 70 percent capacity. Many factories worry they’ll be left without work after mid-June, owners told bdnews24.com last week.