By Bahman Ahmadi Amouee
Tuesday, 25 December 2007
27 years after the imposition of the hijab and the declaration of the chador as the superior form of hijab, Iranian women and girls are waiting anxiously for Korean and Japanese ships to berth at Iranian ports, with cargoes of the black fabric that is needed to cover them.
Last September it was announced that a Japanese company, which had previously expressed interest in setting up a factory in Iran to produce black fabric, had given up the idea in spite of there being an available market and the feasibility of setting up the factory, preferring instead to keep the Iranians waiting for the imports from the Pacific Ocean and the Land of the Rising Sun.
News reports of this development said nothing about the reasons for the reversal of the Japanese investor’s decision. Apparently, the investor had been meant to provide about $30m for setting up the factory. However, it seems the very cheap imports of this fabric made the investor change his mind. It has been said that the establishment of a factory to produce fabric for the chador requires very high technology, which was, of course, available to the Japanese company.
Every year, Iran imports, mainly from Korea and Japan, 30 million square meters of black fabric for the chador. However, an important question has not been answered: given this big consumer market and the importance attached by the state to the hijab: why has no effort been made to produce the fabric in this country? This at a time when words such as ‘self-sufficiency’ are being used in other fields.
A belated, unsuccessful decision
Before the 1979 Revolution, a few factories in Iran used to produce a small amount of chador fabric. However, their limited output and its very low quality did not give them any chance of survival, and almost all the local demand for chador fabric was met by imports from the USA and Japan. The Revolution and the events that followed it, together with the onset of the eight year war [with Iraq] , left no room for the authorities to think of the production of this fabric, even though it was considered a strategic commodity, given the importance the Islamic Republic attached to the use of the black chador by Iranian women.
In 1988, the Ministry of Industry decided to do something about this. The Ministry drew up plans for setting up five factories to produce black chador fabric and set the exchange rate at 70 rials to the dollar [compared to the free market exchange rate for the dollar at 960 rials].
Bonyad-e Mostazafan [the Foundation for the Deprived] undertook to set up two of the factories, one in Yazd and the other in Shahr-e Kord. It is not clear why the Bonyad decided not to go ahead with its plan to set up the two factories. It sold one factory to the private sector before it was completed. The second factory faced so many problems that it could not produce the goods for which it had been given foreign currency.
Apparently, different parts of the factory’s machinery had been imported from different countries and were not compatible and the end product was not good quality fabric. The output of the factory was never worn by Iranian women.
Eventually, in 1999, one of the five factories, in the city of Kermanshah, reached the production stage. But the output of this factory too was of such low quality that the managers preferred to market it without any brand name. The fabric is now being used mostly for headscarves than for chador.
One factory in Broujerd does produce a cotton chador fabric which is sold for 61,000 rials [around $6] a piece. This fabric has not met the approval of Iranian women and girls either. They continue to look to the east, for the Koreans and the Japanese to produce the fabric they need for their chadors.
Not a long time ago, young Iranian men would do whatever it took, legal or illegal, to reach Japan and Korea for work. It is possible that some of those young men are now working in the factories that produce the chador fabric. Maybe these young men’s mothers and sisters are reminded of them when they touch the imported fabric.
6000% profit margin
Each kilogram of fine nylon yarn produces about 9 meters of high quality chador fabric, enough for two chadors. This amount of yarn is reported to cost at most $1.60 on the world market. In Tehran, the same chador fabric is sold for 40,000 to 60,000 tomans [$40-60].
At present, the Iranian market uses more than 30 million square meters of black chador fabric, almost entirely produced in Japan, Korea, Thailand and Indonesia. The material for each chador sells for 8,000 to 60,000 tomans [$8-60]. In the producing countries, the same amount of fabric costs $3 at the most.
Consumption instead of production
In the past ten years, more than $300m has been spent on black chador fabric to maintain the Iranian women’s hijab. With this amount, 10 factories could have been built in Iran to produce high quality fabric. This would have created, directly and indirectly, several thousand jobs.
Many believe that the profits of importing black chador fabric are so high, the importers can easily suppress any tendency to challenges the import market. In the past, many have been attracted by the high profits in the import of this commodity. Tyre making factories, investment companies, security and military institutions, individuals and legal entities have all entered into this profitable business.
Every year, 200 cases of the imports of this fabric have been recorded at Iranian customs offices. Imports of black chador fabric cost more than $54m in 1996; about $15m in 1998; and more than $40m in 2004.
Most of the imports enter the country via Dubai and the other Persian Gulf sheikhdoms. Only last year, the United Arab Emirates exported some $8bn worth of goods to Iran, without having had any role in their production. They prefer to serve countries such as Iran as storage space for goods, including the black fabric of the chador. Someone should do something for the women’s hijab in this country. Who better than the merchants who also have a hand in the government?
Translated by Hossein Shahidi