Cover Story

Fabricating the Future

In our apparel landscape with the world’s 11 top certifications, over 4500 strong workforce and end-to-end apparel solution provider, Giant Group is a shining star. The managing director of Giant Group Faruque Hassan and his aesthete wife makeup artist and fashion designer Sharmeen Hassan speak to Lamyaa Yushra about their journey, their passion, and their giant dreams.

Faruque Hassan and Sharmeen Hassan on the cover of COLORS April 2021 issue. Photographer: Kazi Mukul.

Weaving a Dream

In Bangladesh’s RMG sector landscape with top 11 global certifications, over 4500 strong workforce and end-to-end apparel solutions offers, Giant Group is a shining star. The managing director of Giant Group Faruque Hassan, who is behind the inspirational journey of the group, shares with Lamyaa Yushra of Colors the story of this riveting journey, his giant dreams and his passion for the tag line ‘Made in Bangladesh.

Faruque Hassan and Sharmeen Hassan sharing common dreams but achieving individually

Bangladesh has played a pivotal role when textile industries from developed nations were looking for low-cost production methods, thus offering them the services of a large pool of labour force. Eventually, the country has been at the forefront of the global RMG supply chain and successfully competing for more than four decades. The RMG sector has been almost single-handedly driving the industrial sector, contributing immensely to the national economy, especially employment and export earnings.

Faruque Hassan, Managing Director of Giant Group, has been one of the key contributors to the RMG sector, in the efforts to make sure Bangladesh creates a niche in the global market with readymade garments. “I was interested in doing business from an early age because I always wanted to be a part of a change that will make an impact for the better, Even as I started, I always thought of creating job opportunities in innovative areas through business,” he says of his business vision.

Hailing from the northern district of Dinajpur, Faruque was in Residential Model boarding school and later he completed his post-graduation in Management from Dhaka University. His late father Shafi Uddin Ahmed, who was an established businessman himself during the post-independence period, might have inspired his son which eventually led him to become an eminent businessman in today’s Bangladesh. Back then his father was a contractor for road and building construction; later he set up a brick factory and finally he shifted his focus to a steel mill.

However, as fate had it, Faruque had to step into business when his father fell ill and it was the starting point of a journey with a rising hill in his career. 

“The economy was in a very bad shape and I wanted to contribute to the development of my country and I don’t think a job would have allowed me to work toward that dream. I felt if I choose to go in the direction of the business industry then I will be able to create employment.”

Faruque Hassan faces all challenges with his disarming smile

Hassan got involved in his father’s steel mill as a student but gradually he learnt that establishing a steel mill required huge investment which created employment for a few hundred people compared to the cost. So, he shifted to the labour-intensive apparel industry which offered him the opportunity to create employment in the labour market for people who have never worked before.

“We see banks and multinational companies which have experienced workers. Whereas in the garments we see that we have people who were unable to contribute much in white-collar jobs; for them, a new workforce was created here. Women empowerment is being created here because more than 50 percent of the population is women in our country and if we go by the statistics there was a huge gap in the job market. Back in those days, women were reluctant to work due to the social stigma. But we came up with an idea – to provide them with job training.”

The career of Hassan moulded in the year 1984as he then built Giant Group that overtime has become an exemplary RMG conglomerate in the country. It was due to the man who has been working relentlessly in shaping the country’s apparel and textile industry. He served BGMEA as elected Director for two consecutive terms – 2001-2002 and 2003-2004 – and as Vice President for two consecutive terms from 2009-2010 to 2011-2012 and as Senior Vice-President from 22nd September 2015 till 2019.

Faruque Hassan is the presidential candidate from Sammilita Parishad, or the joint council, for the BGMEA elections to be held on April 4, 2021. Faruque Hassan, as panel leader, announced on March 16 that the Sammilita Parishad would prioritize product and market diversification and innovation by adopting the latest technology. “If the BGMEA members vote for us to lead the sector, we will focus on product and market diversification to help the sector recover from the Covid-19 pandemic as export earnings have fallen sharply due to demand shocks,” he said adding that they would also try to secure better and smooth global market access and better Branding of our country, the one truly deserves for the apparel sector.

Faruque Hassan, a giant dreamer and passionate promoter of brand Bangladesh

Hassan has already gathered extensive experience while serving as President of the Dutch Bangla Chamber of Commerce & Industry (DBCCI), and as Vice President of the French Chamber. He has also been involved in the German and Switzerland Chamber in Bangladesh. He has been appointed by the Greek government as the Honorary Consul General of Greece in Bangladesh, a prestigious position that is awarded to those who have global acceptance and a high level of intelligence.

“The Garment is a sector where we are related to many things; we are importers and exporters and manufacturers as well. In other businesses it’s focused on only one criterion and not both; for this reason, we have to address many issues. As we are related to exports, the international market is related to us and the international community is dependent on us. For that reason, I’m reclining towards trade body leadership so that we can do something together to bring some privileges like duty-free access with various different development partners.”

Reflecting on the need for vocational education Hassan said, “The thing here is we have more formal education and for that when we complete our studies and look for a job; we face difficulty in finding jobs if there is no influence or network. It’s a big problem for the masses. But you see countries like Japan and Germany have more technicians. They have more engineers because their vocational education is strong. Due to technical education, they have grown up. They do not rely on white-collar jobs.”

The country was able to concentrate on foreign currency through its garments sector. The women employment rate increased and that contributed to women empowerment. The challenges started soaring as the RMG sector began to face criticisms regarding some of its policies. “What happened earlier was that people criticized about the garments sector, about the economy, salary and about living wages. If we calculate the living wages there are many calculations, there are many things but nobody is working towards it to improve; instead, what we are doing is we are complaining from the gallery rather than playing on the field.” 

“Many things have changed and we have been working tirelessly to bring changes in this sector. Our social indicators went through a massive change as well, like birth rate, mortality rate, and literacy rate. The garments sector made a huge contribution here because women earlier used to fell prey to unwanted pregnancies and domestic violence which gradually declined as women started working and earned a higher income. So, this is the massive revolution that took place socially. The change happened and things started to improve and ultimately, the same people became small entrepreneurs.”

Faruque Hassan and Sharmeen Hassan draw inspiration from each other’s success

Faruque Hassan is also working towards the sustainable growth of the apparel industry and backward linkage industry of Bangladesh. He is the Co-chair of the Steering Committee of the Partnership for Cleaner Textile (PACT) project jointly implemented by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) & BGMEA. PACT is continuously working to reduce the water footprint in the textile processing industries making the textile industry environment-friendly and sustainable. He is also actively involved as a member of the steering committee of WRG 2030 (World Bank Group), working towards cleaner water and sanitization for the community.

“I have been working on sustainability for a long time. I was never serious about expanding my business and making it huge; I work for the improvement of the trade. We are focusing on energy efficiency and environment-friendly methods of production. In the textile industry, the dyeing factories are using too much water that hampers the environment; again, we are hearing the criticisms but there is no one to step forward and come up with a solution.”

Hassan has also set an example by building Giant Business Tower which can be deemed as the innovator in inspiring the growth of sustainable and environment-friendly corporate offices within the country. “The Giant Business Tower was one of the first buildings in the Uttara area with all the energy-saving components. It’s environment-friendly with a sewage treatment plant and water treatment that enables drinkable water all over. What we tried to do here was designed the building in such a way that it could have more natural light. I grew up seeing my father in construction and have a passion for it myself too”

Amidst the ongoing pandemic, the RMG sector has suffered in terms of its export orders but Hassan pledged to help the apparel sector recover from Covid-19. “I have a close relationship with foreign diplomats and government officials and ambassadors abroad, who are also close friends of mine. I will use these relations as a tool to improve business connectivity,” Hassan said. 

Regaining the market share lost due to the pandemic would be a great challenge for the sector, which needs to be addressed, Hassan explained. Bangladesh’s share in the global export market is below 7 per cent, but there are opportunities to grow further. “To this end, we have to focus on branding Bangladesh and improving the image of the sector,” added Hassan.

Father, mother and son: The winning team

A Woman of Aura

Women are the epitome of beauty and brain and if we combined both a woman is able to conquer every obstacle through her perseverance and hard work. This goes for. Sharmeen Hassan Tithi, daughter of late A F M Saiful Islam and wife of Faruque Hassan. She is a woman of aura herself who has brushed her artistic touch in work as a makeup artist and fashion designer. Sharmeen Hassan is a certified makeup artist and holds the position of Director at Giant Group.

Sharmeen Hassan does everything with an eye for details and an intricate sense of delicate

“When we were very young from the very beginning my father was very keen on us getting our education properly,” said Sharmeen Hasan. 

Late Saiful Islam was highly educated and a very culturally enriched person and he wanted to instil these notions among his daughters. He was one of the first Naval Architects of Bangladesh. As well as a singer but he never forced his daughters to pursue the same career choices as he did but rather was very open-minded regarding their choices and aspirations which helped his daughters to succeed in their respective field. “My father was a singer but he never forced any of our sisters to learn singing. He said singing is something which will come from within and not pursue it for the sake of him.’’

On the other hand, her late mother Nawzia Islam Rashawas completely the opposite with a different mindset. “My mother wanted us to be focused with a set of goals to achieve. My mother never liked the idea of a girl sitting at home. That’s why from a young age we had the option to be career-driven thanks to the strenuous nature of my mother. On the other hand, my father wasn’t like that. He was like, whatever we wanted to do we should, there’s no pressure.”

So, it was the starting point in Sharmeen’s life. “I was always interested in Art and Culture. Back in the80’s the career in bridal makeup was something very new for our society. Considering that, I started my journey as a bridal makeup artist at the age of fifteen from home.”

Nawzia Islam was the driving force behind Sharmeen’s craft as she encouraged her daughter to start her own business by opening a makeup studio. At a time when it was very difficult for young girls to even go out to attain higher education, her mother backed her at every point in her life which resulted in her daughter being self-dependent and successful. As the grooming industry gained momentum so did her business and soon, she had two parlours under her belt.  Sharmeen is probably one of those rare brides who dolled herself up at her own wedding functions. Smiling she added, “I did my own makeup during my wedding. Even at my reception, I didn’t hire anyone. I was my own makeup artist.”

Sharmeen Hassan completed a one-year course in Aesthetic Makeup from Singapore from 1994 to 1995. After returning from Singapore, she joined the then Bangladesh International School (Currently Bangladesh International School & College) as a teacher where she served for ten years. Alongside her teaching job she also continued her bridal makeup from home in those ten years. She married Faruque Hassan in 1988 while she was in her second year of university. 

From the ’80s to 2008 a lot of brides were adorned by Sharmeen, especially brides from aristocratic families. In 2008Sharmeen along with her kids shifted abroad for 8 years and when she returned back to her native land in 2016, she switched to a new role and decided to get more involved in her husband, Faruque Hassan’s garments business. She joined as a Director at Giant Group. 

“It was during that gap of eight years I lost touch with my grooming business and got more involved in my husband’s business and looked after the design section and counselling departments. Designing and manufacturing clothes and being a part of the fashion industry, I think is very much related to beauty. So, I consider it as an extension of realizing my passion.”

The fashion-savvy couple

While taking up the responsibility of the counselling department of Giant Group, Sharmeen felt it was her responsibility to educate the women workers who were from small villages all around Bangladesh. “When I enter my office, I am well aware of my workers and what’s going on in their life because I don’t consider myself their boss but rather somebody who Allah has given the privilege to look after them. There are many workers who feel shy to talk about their pregnancy or menstruation to their male supervisors. So, I asked my husband to appoint someone from the management for ensuring their wellbeing and I myself took the responsibility of the counselling department with utmost dedication. I listen to their problems and counsel them about how they can resolve those issues and lead better lives,” said Sharmeen Hassan. 

She highly expressed her regards to the garments sector which according to her has helped Bangladesh grow economically as well as have an image globally. “The garments sector is keeping our country alive. I don’t think the economy would have developed in such a way without it.”Sharmeen has always given priority to her family before work and it resonated with her actions because she acted on them accordingly. “Actually, my first priority has always been my children. When my kids were young it was a little difficult to keep them home and work outside so I used to try and balance as much as possible –Motherhood doesn’t fit perfectly into professional lives. It doesn’t mean you can’t be both a great mother and have a great career. There will be days when you feel like you’re only good at one or the other, or even feel like you’re horrible at both. Perhaps if we’re a little more honest about the challenges associated with doing both at once, we can find more support, more self-love and more success. 

Her elder son Azfar Hassan, Director of Giant Group was full of admiration for his parents and added that “I am who I am because of my parents and I am truly blessed to have received the kind of education and continuous support. They have raised me to be independent, fearless and kind.”

As Sharmeen Hassan quoted, “Success for me is to be loved by people.”

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