The Story of Prabartana


_MG_1033 -bawm06The company’s Chief Executive Officer is Shahid Hussain Shamim. He learnt the art of handloom while his father was the director of the then East Pakistan Small Industries Corporation (EPSIC). Shahid Hussain Shamim graduated with management and accounting, which enabled him to work collaboratively with producers for the promotion of handloom products and the betterment of the local weavers.  The company was set up in 1989 and employs thousands of  workers in developing all types of handicrafts. (Paul, 2009 Textile Today) Shamim was also the Past President of the National Crafts Council Bangladesh (NCCB), which is a national entity of the World Crafts Council International (WCCI).

Collaboration and Innovation

The company works with over 500 rural weavers and acts as a platform for the products developed and sold. Through their work within the community, Prabartana continually enable the upskilling and livelihoods of women. Shamim talks about women being able to sustain themselves and their families through the selling of their woven fabric. Shamim says that “responsible and sensible business practices make sense in Bangladesh and promotes self dependence through entrepreneurial activities” (Shahid, S.  personal communication, 22/09/2014)

There are also 2 full time designers, but importantly, Prabartana also collaborates with a range of freelance and commissioned designers to ensure new products and ranges are constantly being developed. The young designers that Prabartana employs are either educated in fashion design or fine arts and they provide new ideas and inspiration using traditional patterns and motifs for new designs. The Prabartana design studio is shared with the Jatra studio -a highly creative environment which promotes the sharing of new practices.

Steinhilber (2008) talks about the relationship between one or more organisations through the combination of resources as a strategic alliance, which can create significant and sustainable value for everyone involved.

Prabartana have always opened their doors to collaborate with other design practitioners. This has sparked innovative design processes as well as helping to distribute the basic ethos of the company. Shamim has worked with Ruby Ghuznavi the managing director of Aranya which was set up in 1990 to revive the natural dyeing tradition inherent to Bangladesh. Ruby’s commitment is to working with women and helping them to develop their lives through the use of their craft skills.

Similarly, Shamim encouraged Namrata Shah to open her own design studio after an internship with Prabartana. She and Shamim started to develop the Shibori technique during her time with Prabartana. She maintains that  Bangladesh was her first step in  the introduction of shibori. Namrata then went on to found Two Up Two Down;  a sustainable enterprise which offers exclusive hand-crafted fabrics outsourced to women working from home. This she says, allows them to participate in the design process while improving their livelihoods. Two Up Two Down have recently set up a weave studio for Freeset;  a fair trade organization which works against the against trafficking of women by offering employment to women trapped in the sex trade. Namrata says that she feels a great sense of achievement in knowing that the company is making other women financially secure.

From these collaborations grew the union between Bangladeshi kantha stitch, natural dyeing and Japanese Shibori. Prabartana are transferring the skill of natural indigo dyeing to many people outside the village community including product developers, artists and designers.

This has led to the creation of not only beautiful, unique products, but long-lasting relationships which are leading to among other things, friendship marketing. A new business has been set up called Ajiyer Fair Trade Tourism, which extends the craft products to craft experiences. Using eco-tourism as a way of promoting craft skills and techniques in context is a new business opportunity that is keeping alive master craftsmanship while evolving those traditional skills to create products laden with meaning and significance.

Prabartana has started to develop collaborative initiatives through its relations with designers and makers.  One such collaboration with is with Twine Studio, a Fair Trade organization in Taiwan. Prabartana works with the designers at twine to create simple garments embellished with shibori and naturally dyed with indigo.  This innovation has proved to be successful, as it has opened up new market opportunities in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Bangladesh.


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