The washing sub-sector as backward linkage to the garment industry, especially the woven one, has grown fast and helped the country's main export sector make more value-added fashion wear, insiders said.
Garment washing is a technology which is used to modify the outlook, appearance and fashion of garments, especially denim items, and make them comfortable.
Over the last one decade, more than 300 new washing units have been set up, raising the total number of plants to some 450 across the country. The washing hubs are mainly located in Dhaka and Narsingdi, they said.
Before 1995, there were only a few washing plants in the country and the washing segment used to be done outside the country, especially in Hong Kong and China.
Bangladesh Export Oriented Garment Washing Industries Owners Association (BEOGWIOA) started its journey in December 2005 with only 25 members. Now the association boasts some 250 registered with it, its officials said.
The washing industrial units have been playing a supplementing role in earning huge amounts of foreign exchange by the readymade garment sector, they added.
"Customers being much fashionable ask the garment manufacturers to apply new technology and processes to make the garments more stylish," BEOGWIOA president Helal Uddin Ahmed told the FE about the evolution taking place in the clothing industry.
Such demands also helped in flourishing the washing industry in the country, he said, adding that washing techniques create new fashions such as tagging, grinding, destroy, permanent wrinkle, deep dye, tie dye, pp spray, hand-crapping and so on.
Through these techniques, faded or old-look, colour or tinted effects are created on the garments, he noted.
"For denim, wash is a must as it gives style," said Abdus Salam Murshedy, managing director of Envoy Group.
The group's washing plant is set up with state-of-the art machinery not only to cater internal requirements but also to cater the needs of outside customers, he said, adding it has the capacity of washing 80,000 pieces of garments and 40,000 pieces of denim a day.
"Now Bangladesh is rising as a textile powerhouse for denim and few other woven categories, and every year more and more mills are coming up, giving us extra edge and preference in terms of cost and lead time," said Mostafiz Uddin, managing director of Denim Expert Ltd.
Besides, the MD added, "our capacity in washing, among others, also has improved much to satisfy various customers and their requirements".
Md Shafiullah, managing director of Jeans Care, a washing unit at Tejgaon, said his unit is small in size and has the washing capacity of 5,000 pieces of denim while 10,000 to 15,000 pieces of garments can be washed per day if enzyme-washed.
Enzyme washing is a laundering process that uses enzymes to clean clothing or to finish fabrics, especially in the case of jeans and other garments with a worn-in look.
In washing segment, a huge quantity of water is being used, he said, adding that some 20,000 litres of water is used in washing 5,000 pieces of denim items in his unit.
Almost all woven items are washed while normal wash is done for sweater. In knit sector, some value-added products now use the washing process.
As different types of chemicals are used in the process, they also pollute the environment, industry people said.
Responding on this problem, the BEOGWIOA president claimed that almost all the member-washing plants of the association have effluent-treatment plant (ETP).
Regarding the operation of ETP in all washing plants, Mr Murshedy said there is "blame game" in absence of strong monitoring.
Sometimes the industry people are harassed by environment department, industry-insiders alleged.
Mr Helal, however, said the washing sector contributes about 10 per cent of the total RMG-export earnings.
"The sector has the potential to grow further and attract more investment if gas is available," he said, adding that land scarcity is another main obstacle as expansion is not possible and viable in rented buildings following the compliance requirements from the buyers.
Industry people said they need government supports in setting up central ETP in different industrial zones and bank loan with single-digit interest rate.
According to the industry-insiders, the sub-sector has created employment for some 120,000 workers and more than Tk 25.0 billion has been invested in this business.