Bangladesh is poised to become an attractive destination for leather entrepreneurs as China, the world's largest footwear manufacturer, shifts its focus away from this sector.
Many manufacturers believe Bangladesh's annual $550-million footwear industry may grow to a $15-billion sector within a few years, if the potential is realised.
Leather sector businessmen are confident that foreign entrepreneurs are interested in the country's footwear due to the availability of raw hides, processing infrastructure, low labour costs and many government incentives including duty-free machinery imports.
Leather Goods and Footwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (LGFMEA) president Syed Nasim Manjur said at least 51 foreign companies have already expressed an interest in establishing joint-venture footwear units in Bangladesh.
"China is now withdrawing from the global market and our country is ready with huge potential to attract foreign investments in the sector," he said.
According to a report on Researchandmarkets.com, China's annual leather footwear production dropped by more than 5% in 2012 and 7.5% in 2013. As a result, Bangladeshi manufacturers plan to fill the void.
Manjur, who is also the managing director of Apex Footwear, said China, Vietnam and Brazil, the three big manufacturers of leather footwear, were cutting down on this sector due to labour costs.
The LGFMEA says that 110 export-oriented factories manufacture footwear in the country. Of them, Apex, FB, Picard Bangladesh, Jenny's, Akij, RMM Bengal and Bay have their own tanneries and leather processing units.
Apex produces 20,000 pairs of footwear a day in its Gazipur factory. Apart from catering to local demand, it manufactures footwear for international brands such as Timberland, Aldo and ABC Mart.
According to the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB), Bangladesh earned $1.3 billion from exports of leather, and leather goods and footwear in fiscal year 2013-14, which accounts for just over 4% of the country's total exports.
In the first eight months of the 2014-15 fiscal year, the country posted a 7% growth in leather goods exports and 22% growth in footwear exports.