Safia Shama got married while she was still in university. When she completed her studies in 1997, she plunged into family life. She had a daughter and then a son. Life was busy. But in 2003 she started thinking about doing something more, for the sake of both identity and income. Rather impulsively she bought a sewing machine and began making women's clothes.
She started with a mere Tk 4,000 as capital. She hired a worker and worked from home. But her endeavour began to expand and eventually she opened a factory on Green Road in the capital city.
By 2011 she had 100 workers in her factory and in 2012 sales crossed Tk 10 million (Tk 1 crore). At the time Safia Shama was a design consultant and clothing supplier for Banglar Mela and Price Textiles. Her clothes were supplied all around the country. Business was running well. But she was determined to enter the international market and so something independently. She wouldn't be able to do that with her clothing enterprise.
She decided it was time to do something new and in in 2012 she began working with jute. She left her clothing business and began looking into avenues of versatile jute products to catch the international market.
In 2013 she was invited by CARE Bangladesh to join a jute project. CARE provided practical training to 20 entrepreneurs from all over the country, who were working with jute. They also linked them up with foreign buyers and arranged for their products to be sold in the international market. This project lasted up till 2017.
"That was the turning point for me," said Safia Shama. "If I didn't get this opportunity, I wouldn't have got so involved in jute. And I wouldn't have been able to become an entrepreneur. It is because of jute that I have so many global contacts."
Safia Shama's factory is in Hazaribagh of the city. She had around 20 workers there and gets work done in other factories too. But coronavirus has disrupted everything. She struggled to continue with her factory but ultimately had to shut it down. With no new work orders, the other factories have also closed down.
Now things are looking up again. Safia has received orders for jute goods from the Border Guard Bangladesh, BRAC and a few other organisations. From the outset she had been supplying jute products to BRAC, BRAC Bank, BRAC University, Robi and icddr,b. Her products included training bags made from jute, curtains, cushion covers and such.
She had been exporting her jute products too. She would export jute bags to hold wine bottles to the Netherlands and a few other countries. Before the coronavirus outbreak, she would export jute products worth around Tk 50 million to Tk 60 million (Tk 5 crore to Tk 6 crore) annually.
Safia Shama said that coronavirus ruined everything and she is having to start from scratch. Many of her factory workers have gone back to their villages. She is giving them work to do from their homes. She plans to reopen her factory as soon as possible.
Jute-made products include saris, blazers, tops, footwear, curtains, bed covers, cushion covers, sofa covers, blankets, table runners, table mats, carpets, doormats, rugs, other household goods, file covers, bags and an array of handicrafts.
The brand name for Safia Shama's products is Uran. She sells these online too. She procures the raw material from local suppliers.
"Business is not easy," said Safia, "There are hassles all along the way. Raw material is costly and interest on loans is high too. The government needs to look into all of this."
At the start of her business, Safia Shama would get loans from BRAC Bank and later from Eastern Bank. New she uses the services of Southeast Bank. She said, "The stimulus is being given through banks but only the big businesses which have good relations with the bank are getting loans. No one bothers with the small entrepreneurs."
This report appeared in the online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir