Bangladesh is becoming a toy-making powerhouse

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DHAKA : For well over a decade, Monir-Uz-Zaman had a business that imported toys from China and sold them in his wholesale shop in a busy market here in Bangladesh’s capital.

But in 2004, his nephew, who had lived in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou for two years to help Zaman with purchasing, asked his uncle, “Why don’t you start manufacturing toys here [in Dhaka] instead of just importing?”

For Zaman, it was a literal million dollar question, and one he had thought about before. This time, however, it seemed worth trying. In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S., the changed social environment made Muslim visitors feel less welcome in Western countries. Bangladeshi businesspeople and students began looking more toward China. More Bangladeshis were making trips to China and were seeing close up its manufacturing skills.

“I was told [by my nephew] that if I bought a few machines and molds, and started manufacturing toys here in Dhaka, the cost would be less than half,” Zaman said.

In early 2005, Zaman imported some machines and raw materials, turning his small warehouse in Demra on the outskirts of Dhaka into a factory. He started producing plastic toys such as pistols, action figures and cars. In a few years, his profits had doubled — then tripled. The business now has annual revenue of roughly $3.5 million.

About 200 people are employed at Zaman’s factory, 60% of whom are women. “I am thinking of expanding my factory further and start production of high-end toys like remote-controlled cars, helicopters and large action figures,” he said.

Zaman is not alone in embracing toy manufacturing in Bangladesh.

Prior to 2010, there were about 20 small manufacturers in the sector in the country, employing around 1,500 people. Now, over 40,000 people are directly working in toy manufacturing, according to the Bangladesh Toy Merchants, Manufacturers and Importers Association. Over the same period, employment in apparel manufacturing, the country’s dominant export sector, remained stagnant at 4 million.

Shahjahan Majumder, who founded the association in 2010 and served as its first president, established his first factory, for rubber toys, in 1977, and a second one, for plastic toys, in 1986.

The association has played a key role in turning what was once a cottage industry into a commercial one. The group now has 206 members, of which 85 are manufacturers.

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