Footwear by fabric

Having learnt the ropes at a very young age, M Fayaz Taher has been involved in his family business since he was 13.

Fayaz, who had just stepped into his teens, helped his brothers in setting up a garment store -- Ferrland -- in Uttara and Fortuna Fried Chicken (FFC), which now has 10 outlets in the capital.
While studying at American International School in Dhaka, he used to work at his family-run garment factory during his vacations.
Now 30, Fayaz is the chief executive officer of Fortuna Bangladesh, a fast growing footwear and leather products manufacturing company.

He is a serial entrepreneur, investor, mentor and a start-up and community advocate.

"I used to sell our fast-food items at my school and take orders, much to the chagrin of the people who ran the cafeteria," Fayaz told The Daily Star in an interview recently.

To hone his entrepreneurial skills further, Fayaz went to the US in 2003 to pursue an undergraduate degree in entrepreneurship at Babson College.

During the course of his stay in the US, he and 60 of his classmates were split into two groups at freshman year, where they had to run a business. By dint of his leadership qualities, he was elected the chief executive of his group.

Fayaz at the same time worked with a number of start-ups, one of which helped international students coming to the university with information about both academic activities and life in general at the new place.

The start-up failed, said Fayaz, but it laid the foundation for success in the next venture.

With the help of his computer programmer brother Fazle Taher and some friends, he developed an online game on T20 cricket in 2008 under the banner of their company -- Infrablue Technology Ltd. It won a competition administered by Facebook and got a grant from the social networking site to develop more games.

Meanwhile, after completing masters in International Development and Social Change at Clark University in Massachusetts, Fayaz returned to Bangladesh in 2009.  And it was at that time when Fortuna sold off its garment division, set up in 1984, as it experienced a downtrend in business, and invested in the shoe and bag making venture.

Fortuna opened its first outlet in Gulshan in 2010. And in just around five years, it now has 16 stores across the country and has plans to take the number to 100 in future.

"In the first three years, the response we received was good but inconsistent. However, we are doing well now."

Fayaz is well aware of the opportunities that e-commerce is offering nowadays. "Most sales will take place online as people are increasingly becoming busier and want convenience in shopping," he said, adding that Fortuna is already faring quite well in online business.

Currently, Fortuna makes more than 10,000 pairs of shoes a day, with a vision to take the production to 40,000 pairs in a year or two. The compliant factory has about 1,200 employees.

The company exports 2 lakh to 2.5 lakh pairs of fabric footwear every month to various countries.

On his family's decision to move to the leather industry, he said the footwear business has to come to Bangladesh and will become a key export item in the coming days.

He believes this will quickly become a $20 billion industry, from a little over a $1 billion now, once all the tanneries shift to Savar.

 Fortuna was the first Bangladeshi company to supply footwear to Swedish retail-clothing giant     H&M.

Another unique thing about Fortuna is that it did not hire workers from other factories making leather products; rather it recruited garment workers and trained them. More than 85 percent of its workers came from the garment sector.

Despite having already achieved eye-popping success, Fayaz is hardly satiated. The young entrepreneur now aspires to move up the value chain and make his brand a global one.

"And it is possible. Time has come to take Bangladeshi products outside the country. We have the capacity to exceed our expectations," he said, urging the government to provide policy support.

His company has investments in IT, insurance, financial leasing, digital marketing, market research and start-ups. He is the co-founder of Startup Dhaka, which creates contents for start-ups, entrepreneurs and businesses in Bangladesh and connects them with their audience at home and abroad.

Fayaz says he learnt leadership from his father, M Abu Taher, a leading entrepreneur in the garment and leather industry and chairman of Bangladesh Finished Leather, Leather Goods Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

The father of two said he is now trying to set up an investment fund to help budding entrepreneurs, so that their ideas are not nipped in the bud by a lack of funds.

Fayaz has founded several communities including BDtech Social, a community for start-up enthusiasts. He has co-founded digital marketing media Magnito Digital Ltd, and invested in market research firm Lightcastle Partners Ltd. He is also an advisor at, an entertainment site.

To support entrepreneurs, Fayaz has helped establish The Wave on Kemal Ataturk Avenue in Dhaka. It's a space where entrepreneurs can flexibly work on their start-ups.

He believes technology is the key to moving the nation forward and empowering the youth by using the power of the internet.

"Given the population demographic of Bangladesh, I believe the youth are the future of this country as they are innovative and hard working. The best way to power their imagination is to help them become successful through networking, mentorship, access to educational tools and connecting them to the local investor community.

"The growth of this country depends on how well the community integrates the youth demographic into the economic system,” he observed.

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