Sonnet Textile’s odyssey to become FIFA’s t-shirt maker
Bangladesh will not participate in the FIFA World Cup to be held in Qatar this year, but football fans in the gallery will be wearing official Fifa T-shirts with the green and red label ‘Made in Bangladesh’ “. Chattogram-based Sonnet Textile Industries Ltd produced around six lakh Fifa T-shirts for the world’s biggest footballing spectacle.
The factory produced the t-shirts for the Russian sports chain Sportmaster, under license from Fifa. And it’s not the first time he’s done it. Sonnet has produced two lakh official Fifa logo jackets for the 2018 Russia World Cup. The local clothing manufacturer has also received a work order for three lakh T-shirts for the 2020 European Cup.
While those prestigious global commissions are put aside for the time being, Sonnet has its own story about its creation and journey, which also sounds very interesting.
The story begins with Gazi Md Shahidullah, who started his career in clothing as a computer operator in a ready-to-wear factory in 2000. He then established a good relationship with Md Humayun Kabir Chowdhury, the general manager of the factory. In 2002, the pair moved on to a clothing company called Clifton Group, where they would meet an employee named Md Yasin.
Shahidullah, Humayun Kabir and Yasin were not the same age, but they shared similar thoughts. The next job change came in 2007, when the trio moved to another garment factory.
Following disagreements with the new employer on various points, they plan to create their own factory. As such, they quit their jobs in 2008 and started borrowing from relatives. The trio’s savings and loans from their families and friends amounted to Tk 65 lakh.
With the initial capital, they rented a 16,000 square foot apartment in Chattogram and purchased machinery. Financial distress marked the start of the journey in 2009.
Initially, Sonnet accepted two-month subcontracts. Then there was no work in the third month, but that did not mean a break in payments to 65-70 workers.
“We were in serious trouble,” recalls Gazi Shahidullah.
“We started the factory in the middle of the global recession. We had planned to borrow from a bank, but they refused to lend us. Then came the lean season,” he told The Business Standard.
He said they survived through outsourcing throughout 2009. In April 2010, the factory received an order for US$76,000 for the first time.
“The order was to make baby rompers,” Shahidullah said. But he said their annual audit revealed a loss of Tk 1.10 crore in the first two years.
In 2010, a group of Russian buyers visited Sonnet. In June of that year, they ordered t-shirts for 2.45 lakh. The company then focused on marketing. In 2011, Sonnet received an order from a US buyer that helped stabilize the balance sheet.
With the American order, Sonnet recouped its losses, stabilized its prices and began to grow. He hasn’t had to look back since then.
The company achieved $15.1 million in exports in 2021 and has set a target of $16 million in export revenue in 2022.
Sonnet Textile in 2013 got a license for another factory named Sonnet Fashion Limited. In addition, it created a printing house in 2017 to meet internal demand.
Today, approximately 1,800 people work at Sonnet’s three factories.
Sonnet’s t-shirts, jackets, sportswear and sportswear go to Russia. It exports sleepwear and underwear to the United States. Children’s items, rompers and T-shirts leave for Italy. In addition, Japan sources various men’s, women’s and children’s garments from the company with an annual capacity of 1.20 crore garments.
Gazi Shahidullah, the company’s director, said Russian retail chain Sportmaster is Sonnet’s biggest customer because it buys 65% of the company’s products.
“Sportmaster obtained the Fifa license during the 2018 World Cup in Russia. In addition, our products are now sold in chain stores in different countries. The Russian-Ukrainian war has slightly slowed down the export,” he said. -he adds.
After Humayun Kabir’s death from Covid in November 2020, his son Imrul Kabir Chowdhury joined the company as a director.