INSPIRING #SMALLBIZ STORIES // NURJAHAN BEGUM OF PROGOTI
HOW DID YOU START PROGOTI?
I came to Canada from Bangladesh in 2003 to expand my experience in the garment industry. Over the last thirteen years, I have worked in all stages of the industry’s supply chain including manufacturing, wholesale and retail with leading Canadian retailers. As an insider in the industry, I am aware of Bangladesh’s garment industry drawbacks affecting millions of workers, 80% of whom are women.
I founded Progoti in January 2017 so customers can directly support the people making up the backbone of Bangladesh’s garment industry global reach. Garment workers lack insurance and retirement benefits for their labour, which puts them at disadvantage for long-term financial wellbeing. With comparably low wages, garment workers often lack the means to save for the future and to have a financial safeguard in case of accident or tragedy. We strive to raise awareness of this issue and shift the industry towards a fair recognition of workers’ value.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS.
Progoti means progress in Bengali. In that spirit, we operate under a progressive business model offering quality apparel at cost and providing significant savings to customers. In return, we believe socially conscious customers will support garment workers with a portion of the savings we provide, so we offer them the opportunity to do so. Our nimble business model covers expenses only, thus enabling anyone to support change for good by purchasing quality garments for prices as good as “discount” and “fast-fashion” retailers. This is just the beginning, we hope our business model raises awareness through its transparency, and inspires others to help us bridge the information and compassion gap between the workers making these goods and their end-users.
WHAT ARE YOUR BIGGEST HOPES + DREAMS FOR PROGOTI?
We hope to grow a flourishing Progoti brand, expanding to cover as many workers as possible. We know that even at our most successful, Progoti won’t be able to cover any large portion of Bangladesh garment workers – there are simply too many. Our model is driven by the underlying question: do Western customers actually care about the welfare of workers they can’t see, don’t know and rarely hear about (except when something very bad happens)? On a human level many do, but are they willing to demonstrate that with their money when given an opportunity?
We hope bringing more consistent awareness about garment workers (i.e. not just when disaster strikes), will help consumers see them less like exotic people “out of sight, out of mind” on the other side of the world, and more like any other worker, entitled to the same protections and benefits.
If the model is successful financially, it is evidence that consumers do care about these issues and are willing to pay for them – encouraging wider adoption of the model. That might include big retailers creating similar brands or programs working with their suppliers, including a voluntary or set contribution option for consumers. We think this model could work in any industry where there is a large imbalance between consumers and producers if consumers can be brought on board.
Our Biggest Hope? That Progoti raises enough awareness that it becomes obsolete. Pressure from consumers on the industry cause governments in garment making countries to ensure workers have their basic financial and security needs covered either through employer programs, government programs or employees being able to afford to look after what they need and have a good life too. If one day Progoti became a “legacy” brand, we would be very happy.