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Saima Chowdhury’s New York-based venture generated $22.8m revenue last year

saima-chowdhury-ventureSaima Chowdhury, a Bangladeshi expatriate who built up an impressive curriculum vitae working for large US corporations such as Nike and Victoria’s Secret, always wished to contribute to her motherland.

She identified that Bangladesh, despite being the second largest garment exporter after China, is yet to explore the high-end segment of the market.

Considering the immense potential, she founded an integrated sourcing company called Noi Solutions in New York in 2009.

Noi connects American retailers with Bangladeshi manufacturers, designs products for retailers, helps build capacity of local suppliers and facilitates shipments.

“Global retailers are coming to Bangladesh mainly for buying basic apparel items, but the country has tremendous potential in high-end products as well due to improvements in capacity over the last couple of decades,” Chowdhury told The Daily Star in an interview in Dhaka.

The sector is unable to utilise its new-improved competence due to poor marketing. So, Noi helps American retailers manufacture goods in Bangladesh and Bangladeshi factories market their capabilities to American retailers.

“There is a huge perception gap between global retailers and local manufacturers and Noi is trying to narrow the gap,” said Chowdhury, who holds a MBA degree from the prestigious Wharton School of Business in the US.

Sample designing is a key part to grabbing orders and Bangladeshi garment factories often fall short when it comes to that, said Chowdhury, also the chief executive of the company.

So, Noi has a team of ten employees that researches trends and brand aesthetics to handhold factories through the process. In other words, it advises factories on what sorts of samples to send to ensure they get the business.

Currently, the company is working with ten Bangladeshi factories and seven American clothing retailers.

Noi last year generated $22.8 million in revenue, up about 75 percent year-on-year. Its outstanding performance did not go unnoticed though: it has been listed among the 500 fast-growing private companies in the US by the-New York based Inc. magazine this year.

Chowdhury, who started her career at Ernst & Young, also aims to expand the business as she plans to generate $100 million in revenue a year in ten years.

As part of the expansion plans, she launched a new brand, Grey State, last month to sell products. While the company also sources from China, Taiwan, India and Sri Lanka, 95 percent of its items are procured from Bangladesh.

Garment exports accounted for 81.18 percent of the country’s total overseas sales of $30.18 billion in fiscal 2013-14, according to Export Promotion Bureau. Bangladesh exports garments worth more than $5 billion a year to the US, the single largest export destination for the country.

Manufacturing in the developing world is challenging, she said. “Every day, there is a different problem — it could be not getting the buttons you need on time from China or dealing with political turmoil.”

“At the end of the day, I am responsible for anything that goes wrong — my job is to figure out how to solve crises so my customers don’t have to.”

Her ability to handle pressure comes from years of watching her father — A Matin Chowdhury, managing director of Malek Spinning Mills — run his apparel factories.

“He has been a huge influence in my life. I have seen him under enormous pressure but he never panicked, even when he faced a really big crisis.”

Chowdhury, who also served as corporate manager of New Asia Limited in Bangladesh, urged the government and garment makers to address the issue of workplace safety and labour rights seriously.

“We are still suffering from the after-effects of Rana Plaza — we don’t want to see any such man-made disasters in the future.”

Report: Suman Saha
Source: Daily Star


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