By Shea Parton
Photos by Atish Saha
While sitting in the airport today waiting for a flight from Dhaka to Saidpur, I found myself getting irritated by the sounds of nearby construction. But upon reflection, I realized that those very sounds signify the huge transition that Bangladesh is currently experiencing on a national level. PricewaterhouseCoopers expects Bangladesh to be one of the fastest-growing countries in the world, and it's incredible to realize that Apolis gets to be a part of the socioeconomic transformation of one of the most densely populated places on Earth.
I encountered Bangladesh's density firsthand today, as my traveling companions and I hustled through heavy traffic to catch our afternoon flight. We'd just concluded our 26-hour whirlwind through the beach town of Cox's Bazar and were running late to catch a shuttle to the airport—which, I hate to say, was actually my fault. I'd insisted on squeezing in a surf session that morning and, as my wife can attest, when a surfer says that he or she is "catching one more wave," it usually takes longer than expected. Especially when that surfer breaks a fin on their foot and gets the muddy waters of the Bengal Sea in the open wound, which is what happened to me today.
In any case, we managed to make it to the airport in time—after making our way through a flash of heavy rainfall (it's monsoon season in Bangladesh), hailing a couple of rickshaws, maxing out their capacity with our bags, and then rushing through city traffic to the airport. Whew!
After two flights, we finally made it to the Bangladeshi city of Saidpur, and by that afternoon, I was standing on the roof of the factory which makes Apolis' market bags, my eyes welling up with tears. At six floors and 4,000 square feet, the market bag factory is the largest building in the entire city, and the largest garment and textile business in this community of 204,000 people. Rising high above the tin-roofed single-story homes of the surrounding area, the factory was built here in 2015. It currently employs 106 mothers who would otherwise be unemployed, and there's a long waiting list of women who want to work here when positions open up. The quality of the facility is really incredible, going way above and beyond Fair Trade standards, and people throughout the community and country continue to be amazed by the way this factory has benefited the lives of people working here.
In the coming days, I'll share specific stories from the women who work here, but for now I will say that I've never met anyone in the garment trade with more integrity than Ghayasuddin, the factory's manager. He's open and transparent, and genuinely believes that business can radically improve the lives of these women, giving a low-income community a sense of ownership and opportunity. And I feel so blown away that our market bags make up over half of the factory's work, a number which continues to grow. This means that everyone who purchases a market bag is contributing directly to the success of the factory, which in turn benefits the community of Saidpur. It is humbling and exciting to see the tangible results of such an endeavor.
I'm really looking forward to sharing the stories of the women who make this bag, so stay tuned as I continue these Bangladesh updates over the next week. You can catch live broadcasts on the Apolis Instagram, as well as daily updates with photos right here on the Apolis Journal. Below are some images from Day Four, along with some links to a few of my favorite travel items that I put to good use today. Thanks for reading!