Australia Awards Women Trading Globally participant continues commitment to sustainability and fair trade principles

In 2016, Taslima Miji of Bangladesh founded Leatherina, a company that adheres to principles of social inclusion, fair trade, ethical business and reducing environmental harm in its production of leather bags and other small leather goods, combining jute and fabric to make the products environmentally friendly.

Participating in the 2019 Australia Awards Women Trading Globally program delivered in Melbourne and Sydney motivated Taslima to implement fair trade principles in her business and to stay resilient in a time of crisis. As a result of COVID-19, Taslima is focusing on how to efficiently manufacture more standardised face masks for the local and global market. Taslima shares her inspiring story in the Q&A below:

Q&A with Taslima Miji, Managing Director, Leatherina Pvt Ltd

What led to you establishing your company, and what drove you to commence international expansion?

I started my business Leatherina after a huge loss in my previous business where I was selling IT hardware. In a business, all I wanted was making a significant contribution to my country’s economy besides making my own living. The journey aimed at finding a better living soon became my centre of all passion and dream. One of my major focuses is uplifting the manufacturing standard of leather bags in Bangladesh for the global market in a sustainable manner. My business model also includes social inclusion, fair trade, ethical business and reducing environmental harm in fashion goods manufacturing which is my socio-political commitment and I found my business a great field to work on these.

I chose to work in leather bags industry as I wanted to work with natural materials and thus I came into leather goods business. Typically leather industry in Bangladesh is a heavily male-dominated business. Naming my venture Leatherina was a candid reaction to doing the business from a woman’s perspective.

I named my leather bag brand “Gootipa” when I was looking for a name which is genuinely me and reflects what’s going in my own world. During my early days when my journey began, I thought Gootipa, which means baby steps in my language, is the name which talks about starting of my rocky journey in which I was none but a baby who wants to learn walking soon.

I was already into the export market with my leather bags before I participated the WTG program. I have been exporting to Netherlands since 2017 and at this moment I am working on expanding to the Australian and American market. After WTG, I am designing my business plan to expand in global market in a more constructive way.

What did you learn from participating in the Women Trading Globally program?

Among them: I learnt that export plan prior to approaching a new market is very important. I also learnt this is important to do enough research about the country’s trade policy, rules and regulation, preferential agreements, standard and persona of buyer and brand etc. The most important takeaway was the experiences to visit some Australian companies.

The program gave me the opportunity to meet a handful of successful South Asian women entrepreneurs who are showing the way to many in their respective societies. Sharing and learning with them had a powerful role in my understanding of global business. The course was designed well to fulfil our knowledge gap in understanding of global business. I believe knowledge is power and the training gave us an appropriate environment to enhance our business knowledge and thus empowered us. I believe I am more confident now than before dealing with my day to day business challenges.

The training gave me huge confidence besides learning technical issues. The sessions on digital media and branding classes have had an immense impact on my own brand building. I have used them in my building of brand identity and creating digital marketing policy. My local business has made a significant success in growth thanks to application in branding.

How have you been impacted by COVID-19 and how have you responded?

Like the rest of the world, my business has also been hit hard by the sudden pandemic. For a moment we felt we were suddenly nowhere and no hope in front of me when the home lockdown started without indication when it will stop. This situation left me hopeless with no work and no income with my team of 50 people. I started to look for a solution to it and I noticed the huge demand for cloth facemask as WHO was emphasizing on using a facemask in public settings to reduce pressure on medical masks supply chain. As a bag manufacturing company, I found my technical skill workable enough for making cloth masks to engage in crisis mitigation and at the same time to create a new business opportunity for me.

As the crisis is huge and there is a massive gap in the supply chain of facemasks in compared to the soaring demand I also intended sharing my knowledge of making masks with many other fellow entrepreneurs who became jobless due to COVID-19 pandemic. At this moment I am focusing on how to make more efficient facemasks, how to standardize them by testing to make them more effective and acceptable to users in the local and global market. I have already received many RFQs for facemask supply from overseas market. My latest development is deaf-care transparent facemasks, a special mask for people to communicate with hearing-impaired people.

Read more about Taslima’s response to COVID-19 here.

What inspires you?

I always get inspired by people around me in my society living in the ocean of crises, both man-made and natural, the courage and ability to thrive and smile amidst the challenges. Their struggle and staying resilient to troubles make me think, life is an endless struggle and I must do my part. A human’s opportunity lies within them and no one creates it unless we take an initiative. I have always found my spark in obstacles and I have discovered my sparks as early as my girlhood when I encountered gender discrimination and stereotype myself in my family and society. I thought I must do my part which would contribute to changing the system.