Footwear industry is making tracks

Blue Ocean Footwear’s four-story factory, designed by noted Bangladeshi architect Bashirul Haq, an expert on building safety standards, is located close to Apex’s factory site in Gazipur. It has 4,000 people producing close to 2 million pairs of women’s shoes annually for customers like Esprit and Germany’s Tamaris. The workers are supervised by a team of 65 Chinese technicians who stay on the factory campus but don’t speak either English or Bengali.

shoeInstead, Bangladeshi workers are being taught basic Chinese, says Sam Yu, Blue Ocean’s managing director. Yu, who has been assigned to the joint venture by Green Land, says the company looked at Indonesia, Cambodia and Laos before settling on Bangladesh as an outsourcing base. While labor is cheap, other costs, notably that of land, are higher than elsewhere. Manufacturing shoes in Bangladesh is not about lowest costs.

Still, the success of the partnership has spurred Green Land to close a factory in Vietnam and scale up here instead. A long with Apex, it plans to build a bigger factory that will have 5,000 workers producing 3.5 million pairs of shoes annually.

Other foreign companies have come, notably to the south e astern port city of Chittagong that is emerging as a shoemaking hub. Taiwan’s Zhon g shan Glory has a factory producing Timberland shoes. Two other factories produce footwear for Armani and Hugo Boss .

South Korea’s Youngone, a maker of outdoor shoes and sportswear, owns the Korean Export Processing Zone that sits on a 2,500 – a cre site. While the project is still awaiting key clearances from the government, the zone’s president, Jahangir Saadat, says that the first investment is for a shoe factory that aims to be the largest in the region, producing 32 million pairs annually.