Stitch in time: Bangladesh micro-enterprises produce masks to combat COVID-19

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Anjuman Ara Latif started Kings Fashion, a small mini-garments microenterprise in Pabna, Bangladesh, a few years ago with the help of her son.

Business was good– she employed 47 people and she made a steady income. She received a BDT 300,000 ($3,500) loan from the Organization for Social Advancement and Cultural Activities (OSACA)– a local Partner Organization of Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF).

However, when COVID-19 hit in March 2020, things took a turn for the worse. Celebrations for festivals like the Bengali New Year and Eid-ul-Fitr were limited, negatively impacting the garment industry.

Like many other businesses, Kings Fashion remained closed during the long shutdown and was on the verge of letting go of their employees.    

OSACA then contacted Latif and asked if her business could shift manufacturing production to masks and personal protective equipment (PPEs). As COVID-19 cases had begun to rise, the need for masks had become critical in Bangladesh.

The project officials helped Latif select the designs and materials for the face masks, including using recyclable and reusable knit fabrics.  They also guided the workers to prepare masks with UN-approved designs from the Directorate General of Health Services.

Soon after, Latif’s company started getting more orders and the demand for face masks significantly increased. More than 20 percent of her orders came directly from their Facebook business page.

Today, Kings Fashion has 17 full-time workers and produces up to 400 face masks on a daily basis. Safety protocols and social distancing are also maintained in the factory.

Kings Fashion remained closed during the long shutdown and was on the verge of letting go of their employees. Today, Kings Fashion has 17 full-time workers and produces up to 400 face masks on a daily basis. 

The World Bank’s Sustainable Enterprise Project (SEP) provides access to microenterprise loans through PKSF and its partner NGOs to adopt cleaner and greener methods of operation.

The project has helped microenterprises like Kings Fashion and the shoe clusters in Bhairab borrow loans to adopt environmentally-friendly technology and enhance their marketing and brand development capacity . The project directly supports 40,000 microenterprises ranging from the agriculture and manufacturing sectors which focus on areas that are environmentally stressed and vulnerable to climate change. 

Since the onset of COVID-19, the program has supported mini-garments and hosiery micro-enterprises to change direction and ramp up production of masks and PPEs to help combat the pandemic.  

Micro loans to small businesses during this time meant that owners could continue to keep their staff, support livelihoods, and generate new business.  PKSF is convinced there is a strong demand for such financial resources.

Since women tend to be the main borrowers in the micro-credit and microenterprise space, this project could also support local female entrepreneurship. In a post-COVID world, supporting these small firms will contribute to the sustainable development of Bangladesh.

So far, 2.2 million masks have been made and 9,000 PPEs have been manufactured. And, as a result, PKSF has encouraged other micro-enterprises to step in as well  with 82.2 million masks and 33,000 PPEs manufactured so far under different programs.

For Anjuman Latif, her courage and desire to succeed unlocked the capital to continue her business and keep it running during the crisis.

“I paid my workers their salary when other businesses could not. With the help from SEP and OSACA, my business is surviving during this pandemic and I am also able to help others,” she said.

This is the second blog in our series of blogs on microenterprises in Bangladesh. In our first blog, we talked about the shoe clusters supported by the World Bank which have embraced green growth and are coping with the pandemic. Read it here.


Zahir Uddin Ahmed

Project Coordinator/Deputy General Manager

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