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We Need Policy-Level Interventions for Venturing into the Exports of Home Decor: Shaon Tanvir

Bangladesh has a history of using home decor in its culture. Be it ethnic communities using decorative pillow coverings or the historic “Nokshi Katha,". We talked about it today with the pioneer in luxury home decor in Bangladesh, Shaon Tanvir, CEO of Satori Limited and Business Development Director, Persona Beauty Care Ltd. who uncovers a fascinating narrative of tradition, innovation, and economic prospects in Bangladesh Home Decor Industry

Bangladesh is currently going through a recession. However, there’s a clear rise in the consumer class of Bangladesh, set to be the 9th largest global consumer by 2030, which has led to the domestic expansion of many markets. One of these is the home decor market, which is currently standing at 20,000 crore BDT and is projected to double in the next five years.

Shaon Tanvir

Today, we talked to Shaon Tanvir, CEO of Satori Limited and Business Development Director of Persona Beauty Care Limited. Satori is a pioneering company working in the premium segment of home decor that has been in business since 2012. Ms Shaon has attributed this to the rise in the overall living standards of the people in our country. “People are now exposed to so much more since they travel a lot more than they did 12 years ago. Social media has played an enormous role in getting people acquainted with luxury home décor too. Nowadays, what we see is that people demand the lifestyle items that they see online and expect to get them easily right at home too,” she added, which compounded this.
Of course, this does beg the question about what constitutes home decor. Overall, at least in Satori’s business, it ranges from lighting fixtures, candle stands, pillow covers, vases, and so much more. In a broader context, it does often include luxury furniture as well, even though the commonalities in terms of materials remain. They’re made of high-quality materials (marble, wood, glass, and metals).
It is relatively clear from the materials alone that this is largely an import-reliant field. “Our domestic cottage industry and microenterprises that fed into this sector domestically have stagnated over the last decades. We have seen our neighboring India make huge strides in developing the home décor sector, capitalizing on their cultural heritage, and becoming a market leader in home décor exports.” stressing that there’s been little policy-level initiative to promote décor items development, which in turn is causing the heavy reliance on imports.
Of course, there’s room for optimism in terms of probable future exports; she added in the context of hypothetical policy support that “it would attract private investments leading towards manufacturing on a large scale.” In terms of Satori’s role in this, she stated that “we are teaming up with a couple of local companies to produce products that fit our design senses as well as highlight our cultural heritage.”
With every import comes the issue of the post-COVID recession. The price of the dollar shot up to 120 taka from 85 taka at the worst time, leaving Bangladesh’s ability to import any goods low. Satori has adapted by lowering the amount of inventory they store, reducing the volume of their shipments, and bringing down their supply chain. “We’ve drastically reduced our imports since opening letters of credit at banks is tough now. Second, we are also working with local partners to procure local products.” To cope with rising prices, they had to reduce their profit margins. “It’s a lot harder to sell luxury items during tough times,” she said.
When did the problem primarily start? According to Ms. Shaon, it started after the Russia-Ukraine war. “The initial response to lockdown was fantastic for the home décor market. Fortunately, Bangladesh wasn’t that affected by the pandemic initially, and people were very interested in home improvement since they were stuck at home.
All that gloom aside, the market is still doing relatively well for the economic situation. Bangladesh is a rapidly urbanizing country, with about 40% of the country’s population living in urban centers, as opposed to 25% back when Satori started. It’s a definite statement that Bangladesh really isn’t a rural country anymore. There isn’t anything scenic about our urban spots. So, home decor has to fill in the gap in this case. Ms. Shaon also had a few things to add about the role of urbanization here: “It’s so interesting how urbanization and having smaller living quarters have forced us to be smarter! We have to fit in 100s of items that are considered necessities now and that were considered luxury just a few years ago. But at the same time, our living space has shrunk! This problem led to the creation of rooms and spaces that multitask and can be used for multiple uses.”
She added that smart home solutions that can be app-controlled in your cell phone are very fascinating and that Satori has plans on expanding into smart home lighting solutions.
In terms of women in the workforce, Bangladesh is still a relatively egalitarian country, at the very least in the context of our neighbors, even though we are relatively conservative, with a female workforce participation rate of 42.68% in comparison to that of 37% in India and 64% globally. But unfortunately, when it comes to entrepreneurship, we are very behind at 7.2%, lagging behind the 20% in India and 43% globally.
Ms. Shaon is one of the few rare success stories in Bangladesh in this regard. “But as a Bengali woman, I am very proud to see how far we’ve come. Our women participate in the workforce in far greater numbers when compared to our neighbors, who are better educated and have greater opportunities.” Further stating that Bangladesh is still a relatively new nation in this regard, but literacy levels are still low.
Of course, while rags-to-riches stories are great, entrepreneurship does have a strong correlation with levels of education, with many of the top entrepreneurs in the world coming from elite institutions. In Shark Tank India, many of the investors have BTechs in engineering, with Ashneer being an IIT alumni and Aman being a chartered accountant. In areas such as technology, 97% of entrepreneurs have formal tertiary education.
Bangladesh is unfortunately still lagging behind in the aspect of literacy levels, with the female literacy rate still at 72%. A good stride, but still not good enough. “I think a lack of quality education holds women back. In terms of fear of being seen as uneducated and quite literally not being able to do a job that a man can do, access to good education would help tremendously”, she added.
But she added an optimistic note that in the coming years, the situation will improve as women get more ambitious for upward social mobility and that social media has been great as an uplifting tool to generate new ideas and businesses.
She also referred to the support that EO (the Entrepreneurs Organization, an organization with a network boasting over 18,000 entrepreneurs) has extended towards female entrepreneurship. “There are women enclaves and women-only groups that support women entrepreneurs through learning and experience sharing. EO also opens doors to various networks and finds business opportunities on a global level.” She also added that it’s a matter of great pride, that Bangladesh has the highest percentage of female entrepreneurs and EO Presidents in the South Asian region.

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