Interviewed & written by Isao Tokuhashi
Mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Atif Dewan Rashid (Bangladesh)
Matrighor Limited director *At that time
Do you remember a Japanese woman, Eriko Yamaguchi who is making bags from jute in Bangladesh? Today we introduce you to a Bangladeshi gentleman, Atif Dewan Rashid, who is one of her most trusted partners. He is a director of the local corporation of Motherhouse, Yamaguchi’s bag company.
Yamaguchi had faced many difficulties in Bangladesh when she started her business and she decided to hire a local staff of Motherhouse. Her ideal person was someone who understood the Japanese sense of beauty and value, could have a good relationship with a local factory and knew a lot about making bags… That was him.
“I really think that Atif helped me a lot.” Yamaguchi said in an interview with us before. Actually she asked him to help her and Motherhouse. But what did he think about her ideas? What was the motivation of helping a Japanese small bag company?
*Interview at Motherhouse Iriya Shop (Taito-ku, Tokyo)
*Edited by Daniel Penso
☆He’s left Motherhouse in the fall of 2008.
We share the same dreams with people through bags.
I could come to Japan finally. Of course I always wanted to come here since I started working for Motherhouse.
How I felt when I saw the people buying our bags or our products… It’s really difficult to say. I have been involved in making these bags. To me, a bag is not only a tool to carry something. We can share the same dreams with people through bags.
So when I saw the people slinging Motherhouse’s bags over their shoulders, I felt that I could share things with people through bags. I feel flattered and honored to see our bags are owned by the right people who know how to treat them. Then I can share our passion with people through bags. I feel they got to know the things behind the products.
So to me, a bag is not only an object but also a “living thing”.
at Iriya Shop of Motherhouse
People showed me their bags after the Motherhouse Thanks Event (August 17, 2008). They were touching their bags very softly and tenderly. They know there is something behind their bags. So I’m happy, more than happy to see that. I feel we succeeded in extending what we wanted to convey to our customers. I feel they understand it by buying our bags.
A child’s imagination is unlimited and has no borders.
Eriko (Eriko Yamaguchi, the CEO of Motherhouse) came up with the concept of our new collection. I felt it was quite strong. “Draw The Future”. Finally she came up with the solution to reflect the concept in bags.
These bags have stories behind them because their materials are unique to Bangladesh. Many rural people have worked on them. The design used in the new collection was really, really good so It was fun for me to work on it even though it was difficult to make.
New Collection of Motherhouse named “Draw The Future”. Yamaguchi came up with an idea of this collection when she was involved in Motherhouse’s social activities for children in Bangladesh. Each bag is designed to put a sketchbook in. Sketchbooks symbolize Yamaguchi’s wish that people can dream big or keep dreams alive.
After these new bags were displayed in this shop yesterday (August 21, 2008), I saw the people who got interested in the collection. They didn’t know about the background of the bags but they stepped in here and asked me about it. Moreover not only the bags but also drawings painted by Bangladeshi kids are displayed here. I think… yes, it was fun for me to work for these bags.
Eriko wanted to put their dreams into these bags. I can see them and It’s easy for me to see them!
I got so impressed when I heard that she got inspired by kids in Bangladesh. Of course I also used to be a kid there so I know the ways of their thinking. It is regardless of where they are from.
Also their imagination is unlimited and beyond any boundary because they live much closer to nature than us. Street children don’t have any other options but living on the streets. But they open their borders of imagination, not like us who live in houses. So I believe they can dream bigger than us. They can dream beyond a boundary.
I can see their dreams. Also people who buy these bags would be able to see their dreams. That’s very simple for me. When people touch the bags, they do tenderly and softly. Because they are afraid of ruining their dreams.
Contribution to Bangladeshi society through business.
I used to run a design company in Bangladesh and I was involved in improving business processes or performances of small companies. I listened to their voices and provided some support for them if I could.
Eriko came to my office. My acquaintance brought her there. I think she was the first Japanese whom I talked to directly.
The thing they were inquiring about was my products. I remember she explained first why she came to my office. Then she told me about her idea. She said that she would like to contribute to the society of Bangladesh through business activities. I got interested in that because I also had a strong opinion about NGO activities. I think that NGO activities are not always positive for people.
But on the first meeting, instead, she was curious about my experience in bag making and my activities. She told me that she wanted to use jute and make bags from it. Then it would be under my brand. And she added that she would sell those bags to the high-end market.
I doubted the reality of her ideas.
To me, that was a difficult thing to understand. Jute and high-end market… how much would reasonable prices be? She gave me an idea but I doubted the reality of it a lot. Because jute is a very coarse material, not a purified or finished material. It is usually used to make fashion accessories or interior materials. Compared to other kinds of fibers, it is easier to get and cheaper so it is suitable for making bags for shopping or packaging tea, rice or coffee. That’s something I associate with jute.
Also she said that her bags would be sold under my brand. I got suspicious about her ideas. From my experience, the perspective of businessmen or private entrepreneurs doesn’t correspond to the perspective of people engaged in development activities. I’ve never thought like that. That was also the cause of my doubt about her ideas.
She wanted to talk about development issues but we have to generate profits in a business situation. But I couldn’t tell it to her because she was full of eagerness. So I told her I would work out some samples for her. That’s what I remember about our first meeting together.
I said YES finally.
I said NO to Eriko at that time because I was taking my work seriously and I was enjoying it. Also I didn’t think that she would succeed in her business. So I wonder why I should help her. I was doing what I liked so I said no to her.
She went back to Japan. She wanted to prove to me that she would be able to make it. She made bags and sold them in Japan. Then she showed me magazines and papers which wrote about her activities. Finally I said YES to her.
Not only in Bangladesh but also wherever, unless you go to another country, you can’t imagine how much it is difficult to do something by yourself outside your country. Moreover, she was a young girl at that time. But she did it.
After I said no to her, I think she didn’t know what to do. I can imagine that she didn’t have a pleasant time at all. She had to fight against headwind and faced a lot of difficulties. But I think it was good for her to face those things.
At last, she sold almost 600 bags in Japan. It meant that Japanese market accepted her jute bags so she needed to make more.
I wanted to show her the light side of the “moon”.
I felt bad. This is my country. Looking at her, I felt ashamed. Whatever something bad is regarding my country, it is difficult to let it go on. So I thought she should know about another side of the “moon”. It doesn’t have only a dark side, it should have a light side. So I thought that I would show her the light side of the moon.
When we met in Bangladesh for the second time, I heard her experience after I said no to her. And I asked more about her philosophy. She explained to me that. Actually I was also involved in the development issues through business so I was amazed that her philosophy was pretty similar to what I was doing.
Motherhouse Thanks Event
August 17, 2008
Donation won’t help people.
I never think that giving something to people for free as a donation helps them. Because the moment you do that and people take it, they will lose their dignity and self-respect. Because they take it for nothing. It means they are begging. I really hate that. Eriko proposed a different method but I agreed with her. I thought that our philosophy would be consolidated much more if we unite.
Until then, I couldn’t share my philosophy with others. But my way should also be one of the approaches of the development issue, not only giving something to people for free.
NGO/NPO people and us are different in their basic philosophy. They keep on doing the same thing. They give people economic aid or various kinds of support for free.
If people receive things from donors, their willingness to solve problems might be deprived. There would be a decrease in the number of productive laborers because they would become dependents. Motherhouse also think that we would like to help people. But we do in a sustainable way.
To improve the self-esteem of Bangladeshi people.
We’ve been trying to create a new brand in developing countries and export our products to developed countries. I think that is a motivation which Bangladeshi people lack. We Bangladeshis often hear the words of cyclone, flood, corruption, political violences and protests. These words are the images of Bangladesh which people in other countries have.
But we will be able to achieve sustainable development of Bangladesh if we make products there and sell them in Japan. We proudly say those are made in Bangladesh. We try to meet the Japanese standard for quality as much as possible. It might be possible for us to make products which are better than Japanese ones. You think that it’s nice and you like it when you buy a bag. You open it and find a tag which says that it’s made in Bangladesh. At that moment, we can overturn the fixed image of Bangladesh. That does good not only for Motherhouse but also good for other Bangladeshi laborers. If people love Motherhouse’s products and people notice that they are made in Bangladesh, it will do good for a better image of Bangladesh. That’s the difference between NGO/NPO people and us.
I would say that it is possible for us to cultivate the Japanese market. Our activities will become good examples. Our activities will improve self-esteem of Bangladeshi people. I want them to think, “If they can do it, we also can do it”.
Real pictures of another side of the world.
What I’m going to do for Japanese people is to bring them the real pictures of another side of the world where I live. Because they bother themselves about how my country will be able to survive. I can bring them the real pictures of Bangladesh. I would like to do it because they are also eager to know it and share it with us.
When I talked to Japanese people this time, I learned that they were eager to know about the problems in Bangladesh.
The solution for them won’t be only money. How do we appreciate each other? How do we resolve them in a respectable way without hurting people? I want to find the solutions for these things.
I’ll see where Bangladesh would go to.
I want to do everything that I can do for my country because I’m a part of Bangladeshi society. So I will have a closer look at changes which happen to Bangladesh. Nothing lets me move out of there. I will be there and see what’s happening. Even if Bangladesh would go into the wrong direction, I would be there and see where it’d go to. I believe that it is also the way to resolve the problems.
I’ve received a lot of things from my country. It’s like mother to me. I had been educated in public schools from elementary school to university but my family paid almost nothing for schools. Who paid for them? Tax payers in Bangladesh did. So I’ve got my obligation to them.
We work to realize of a peaceful world.
Bangladeshi society is still quite conservative because we’re afraid of accepting Western ways of thinking or Western culture. We are trying to prevent the inflow of them in religion or everything else in our lives. We know it’s impossible for us to prevent them from coming in completely. But we still have much affection for our country.
Developed countries have polluted a lot of things such as air and water in the course of development. I’m not against what they’ve done because it’s a normal process of development.
But as for bangladesh, I don’t think we need to follow the same course of development. What we are working to do is “peace”, which means that we work to realize of a peaceful world. As long as people are not suffering, they can fulfill their needs and live in peace.
I think that’s enough for us. I don’t want to say that Bangladesh have to be developed in the same course of developed countries. Whether air that we are breathing is clean or contaminated should be more important than driving a car fast.
The definition of “richness” is, to me, “keeping the doors open”. For example, I like Europe because they organized European Union and opened their borders among themselves. They have a common currency. That is civilization. If people or communities are separated, I don’t think they are civilized. If this world has no boundaries, It will be civilized.
We have to be united. Richness means uniting. Richness means freeness and openness.
Photos by Ryuta Hayashi
What is Bangladesh to you?
A place where I want to sleep everyday.
What is Japan to you?
A place which I want to work with.
What is Motherhouse to you?
A place which I want to work for.
*Provided by Motherhouse Co, Ltd.