As far as the Eye Can See

Eyewear has been an à la mode staple since the 1990s. Bangladesh is no different and with raging globalization, people are becoming more fashion-forward. Fashion Group is one of the torch-bearing companies that have pioneered the eyewear and eye care industry in the country. Nusrat Noshin interviews its Director, Fahimul Islam, and brings you tidbits about his family enterprise.

Md. Fahimul Islam

“I was born in Chamilibagh and I grew up in Maghbazar with two sisters and a loving parent.” Mr. Islam begins with a short narration of his roots. “I think it’s important to remember where we come from; you should look back at your roots. I attended the Willes Little Flower School and Dhaka Commerce College. At the age of 20, just eight days after my father’s passing, my mother sent me away for my higher studies. Everyone has a riveting anecdote in their life, perhaps this is mine.”

In 2014, he recalled, he graduated with a degree in Marketing and Management from the City University of New York. “I aspired to pursue my post-graduation in the UK, but due to pressing circumstances, it seemed like I have to pin it down for now,” Mr. Fahimul Islam says,, adding, “I was introduced to the family business officially at 24 years of age. I am a deft listener and that is my ultimate channel of growth. I am a deft listener and breed a habitude of making mistakes. That is when I learn the most.”

Dwelling on Fashion Group, he states, “We are the only group of private companies in the world that has as many as nine eye care wings under the same umbrella. There are companies that own 300+ optical retails or 100+ eye hospitals or that employ large frame production plants, but none has a company topography like ours.” He elaborates: “Every wing directly works with eye care. We host a contact lens division (Ego Vision), a retail vertical (Fashion Optics Ltd.) and eye hospitals (Fashion Eye Hospital). We also run a medical equipment wing and frame and lens processing labs… We strive to better our business every day.”

Asked about their proprietary CR-39 laboratories, he says, “In layman’s terms, the CR-39 lab is a lens processing lab that produces tailor-made lenses for each customer. We pioneered the use of laboratories for personalized services, dating from the 1980s. Today, we use state of the art ‘free-form’ technologies to produce the lenses. We take the customers’ precise 6-point measurement with pupil distance meter and produce the lens digitally.”

On the eye hospitals, he mentioned that Fashion Eye Hospital was established back in 1997, solely to serve freedom fighters of the country. “But today, it stands as a commercial institution that provides quality services at reasonable prices. Truth be told, we still have a long way to go with our hospital ventures. Hopefully, by 2020, we will hold a large share in the ophthalmology sector. We are still growing and all of our attempts are focused on bringing top quality eye care.”

Besides for-profit verticals, Fashion Group entails a not-for-profit foundation. “One of the nine subsidiaries is our Hira Panna Hospital located at my village Bikrompur… Hira was my father’s nickname, while Panna was that of my grandfather’s. This institution pays homage to my father and forefather every day.” 

He points out that while eight of their wings are commercial, this social business is meant for the people. “It’s where underprivileged and often destitute people receive subsidized eye care at little to no cost. Everyone has eye problems, and I believe it is time for private companies to do their part and address the situation… Today this hospital treats over 2,500 patients and performs around 150 eye surgeries a month. We have many plans, and projects underway.”

Their latest venture – Shades – has quickly become the talk of the town, thanks to aggressive advertising and pop endorsements that are booming on the social media. Shades is the next generation of eyewear, and it is all accredited to Fahimul Islam and his team. “This is the fun part of my work! It’s the only bona fide branded sunglass store in Bangladesh. Optical shops, in general, have poorly curated collections. We want to bring fashionable, luxury designs that the youths will certainly gravitate towards.” It started operations in 2018 and is receiving an explosive response. “We still have to overcome the stigma of splurging on designer items, especially sunglasses that are not much of a necessity in Bangladesh. Ushering cultural change related to change in spending patterns is a daunting task for any company. Despite all odds, we still continue with our motto ‘There is a sunglass for every face and we’re here to prove it’,” he saus “Bangladesh is nurturing a host of budding industries, eyewear being one of them. Fashion Group is here to pacify all the ocular needs one can have. Eyewear is being redefined right in front of our eyes.”

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