Nakshi Kantha, a centuries-old Bengali tradition, is witnessing a stellar revival as commercial demand for these colourful embroidered quilts steadily soar both in local and global markets.
Women in rural Bangla used to sew these quilts from threads and old cloth primarily as a gift for newborns, making those a very practical gift in modern times as well. Nakshi Kanthas’ aesthetically pleasing design and its roots in tradition also make them a good decoration piece.
Once a very small segment of Bangladesh’s cottage industry, the market for Nakshi Kantha now hovers around Tk 120 crore annually, says Kumudini Welfare Trust of Bengal – one of the largest NGOs in the country, adding that the market is growing around 15 per cent per year.
The organisation’s Deputy General Manager Hari Kishore Datta added that fifteen Bangladeshi companies are currently exporting Nakshi Kantha in more than 20 countries, including in India, USA, Canada, UK, Germany, Japan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Australia and Netherlands.
This sector is providing employment to more than 3 lakh people directly and indirectly, and 90 per cent of them are women. Bangladesh produces Nakshi Kantha in thousands of varieties, and prices range between Tk 1,000 to Tk 30,000 on average depending on design and material.
Where are the local hubs?
The main hubs of Bangladesh’s Nakshi Kantha production are in Jashore, Jamalpur and Chapainawabganj, made possible by many cottage industries found in these localities, says the SME Foundation.
Many such industries can also be found in Faridpur, Satkhira, Dhaka, Narayanganj, Chattogram, Cumilla, Rajshahi, Barishal, Natore, Mymensingh, Kushtia and Manikganj.
Md Golam Hafiz, the deputy general manager at Jashore office of Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC), said, “Four hundred and fifty entrepreneurs are making Nakshi Kantha in this district, and they each have around 150 workers.
“The sector is growing due to the upward trend in local and foreign markets, with the help of government initiatives such as training and low interest loans.”
Consumer interest a boon for local market
The use of Nakshi Kantha as special gift items has boosted sales across the country as consumers are offering these embroidered quilts to their loved ones on marriage and birthday occasions.
Parvin Akter, owner of Rajshahi Nakshi Ghor, said, “My sales have increased in recent years riding on consumer demand. People are buying the quilts as gifts, and also to decorate their homes.”
According to industry insiders, social media has become a boon for small entrepreneurs making Nakshi Kantha, as e-commerce platforms allow easier access to customers from across the country.
Najma Akter, an entrepreneur from Jamalpur, said, “My business was stagnating due to a lack of customers, but I was able to tackle the issue by selling nakshi Kanthas using Facebook. I now have customers across the country.
“My monthly sales are around Tk 30,000, and of it, Tk 20,000 come from online platforms.”
Echoing the same, Chairman of Chapai Nawabganj Nakshi Kantha Association Taharima Begum Lucky said nakshi kanthas are selling mostly through social media platforms, and customers prefer the online services as it is more cost effective.
“This has become a very competitive market,” she added.
Export market steadily expanding
Entrepreneurs involved in the sector said Nakshi Kantha has won the hearts of global buyers, especially those in the US, European and Middle Eastern markets. Quilt makers are also receiving a large volume of orders after displaying their products in local and international fairs.
Jashore Nakshi Kantha Association’s President Moriam Nargis said, “The quilts have garnered interest in China, Thailand, UAE, Nepal, India, America, Canada and UAE. Export market for the quilts is gradually expanding.
“I am optimistic that the sector will be able to earn a significant amount of foreign currency in the coming days.”
Contacted, officials concerned at the Export Promotion Bureau said they don’t maintain separate export figure against the export of Nakshikantha, as the item is included in the broad category of handicrafts.
Abdus Salam Sarder, deputy general manager of Training, Business Incubation Center at the SME Foundation said European and American consumers love nakshi Kanthas, which is helping the market grow further.
“Smaller entrepreneurs are also exporting embroidered quilts, which was once limited only to giant producers.”
Facilitating women empowerment
Making and selling nakshi Kanthas have made a tremendous contribution to women empowerment and employment especially in rural Bangladesh, industry insiders told The Business Post, adding that they make these beautiful quilts in their homes during spare time.
The sector has also enabled a significant number of divorced and physically challenged women to become self-reliant and contribute financially to their families.
A woman entrepreneur from Faridpur, Nasrin Akter said, “I make nakshi Kanthas at my home, and then supply those across the country. I used to remain idle at home after finishing my chores, but now I am using this time to make a hefty profit.
“I am also providing work to many women in my locality.”
Somrat Akber, assistant general manager at the BSCIC district office of Jamalpur, said, “More than 50 thousand people are involved in this sector here, and around 90 per cent of the workers are women.
“The production is going up due to rising demand, and we are providing designs to entrepreneurs in a bid to diversify the product.”
Challenges in the sector
A number of entrepreneurs said they are struggling to keep up with the local and global market demand due to a lack of knowledge about diversified designs.
SME Foundation’s Abdus Salam Sarder said this situation is gradually improving thanks to training and other programmes.
Meanwhile, Jashore Nakshi Kantha Association’s President Moriam Nargis said, “I recently sent a Nakshi Kantha worth TK 14,000 to America, but the duty was TK 7,500. We are losing our competitive edge due to the high duty, and it should be reduced.”
Mohammad Zakir Hossain, director (Industrial Promotion & Extension) at BSCIC, said the government has plans to boost this sector, and they will also consider lowering the high amount of duty.
Many customers were seen buying Nakshi Kantha from Aarong’s Bashundhara City Shopping Complex outlet.
Nasrin Islam, a sales associate at the outlet, said they were recording higher sales of the embroidered quilt during this winter. “People also buy Nakshi Kantha as a gift item,” Islam said, adding that their Nakshi Kanthas cost between TK 5,500 and Tk 30,000. “We sell around 10 to 15 Nakshi Kantha a day,” she said.
Sabina Khatun, a Nakshi Kantha maker from Chapainawabganj, said she had to toil from dawn to dusk for about 10 days to make a big-sized Nakshi Kantha.
She said she earned Tk 400 for making a Nakshi Kantha.