The rise and fall of Baly Keds

Bangladesh’s most sought-after shoe brand in the 1990s, Baly Keds had its ups and downs before fading from our collective consciousness.

April 03, 2022, 10:55 a.m.

Last modification: April 03, 2022, 11:33 a.m.

Abdus Sattar, one of the two founders of the Baly Keds company, sitting at his desk at the Baly complex in Uttara. Photo: Noor-a-Alam

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Abdus Sattar, one of the two founders of the Baly Keds company, sitting at his desk at the Baly complex in Uttara. Photo: Noor-a-Alam

Between 1991 and 1995, Baly Keds was at the height of his popularity.

A pair of Baly Keds was the most sought after shoe by children and young people. It has become difficult for parents to comfort their crying children when they failed to get the right size keds on their runs. Demand for Baly Keds has almost always exceeded supply.

“Parents asked to stop TV commercials, saying they couldn’t stop their children from crying,” said Abdus Sattar, one of the two founders of the Baly Keds company, sitting in his office at the complex. Baly in Uttara.

To meet demand, the Baly Keds company brought in more machines and increased the supply. “I managed to meet the market demand to some extent thereafter,” he added.

In the 1990s, Baly Keds became the country’s most popular sports shoe, with a 70% market share. However, by the 2000s, it had all but disappeared.

Abdus Sattar (left) founded Step after splitting from Baly. Today, the father-son duo (Shamim Kabir, Managing Director) strives to take Step to new heights. Photo: Noor-a-Alam

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Abdus Sattar (left) founded Step after splitting from Baly.  Today, the father-son duo (Shamim Kabir, Managing Director) strives to take Step to new heights.  Photo: Noor-a-Alam

Abdus Sattar (left) founded Step after splitting from Baly. Today, the father-son duo (Shamim Kabir, Managing Director) strives to take Step to new heights. Photo: Noor-a-Alam

How it all began

Abdus Sattar, now 70, handled research and development, while his older brother handled marketing and other sections. Along with Baly Keds, the company also sold sandals for men, women and children.

Behind the rise and fall of Baly Keds lie the stories of two brothers: Abul Kashem and Abdus Sattar. But the origin of the story goes even further back in time to another man, whose prediction worked like magic. And he is the father of the Keramat Ali Miah brothers.

Keramat Ali Miah went to Rangoon when he was young and worked in a shoe store. Later, he set up a small factory there with one of his friends. He returned to Bangladesh and then to East Pakistan soon after the 1947 partition and eventually bought a store in the new Dhaka market for 300 Tk.

The father started with a luggage business that imported travel bags, suitcases and sold them in his shop, called Bengal Leathers. There were a few shoe shops in the same market and most of the owners were from former West Pakistan – non-Bengali and Punjabi. They brought good shoes from Pakistan and sold them in Dhaka with a good profit margin.

However, the cost-effective luggage bags were not of good quality.

“Seeing them making good profits, one day my father asked us if we could start a shoe business and told us that we would do better in this industry,” recalls Abdus Sattar. Born and raised in Lalbagh in the city, Sattar graduated in 1968. In the same year, he became involved in his father’s luggage business.

Sattar and his older brother started the shoe business in 1984.

First, they started importing raw materials for shoes and sandals from Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Then they started importing varieties of shoes, sandals and keds for women, men and children. During this time, their father passed away.

The brothers bought a showroom on the New Elephant Road. They named it “Baly” – the name comes from the Swiss luxury fashion brand Bally.

“But, we removed a letter ‘L’ from the word and the name keds has been used for sports shoes in western countries for many years. So we added the word keds to the name,” said Abdus Sattar.

Within months, their new showroom gave them a glimpse of success and potential in the athletic shoe business that they could not have imagined earlier. Imported shoes were selling like hotcakes. And it inspired them to take the business to a new height.

There were already a few shoe companies in old Dhaka that made sports shoes, but the quality was not so good because the shoes were made by hand sewing. Also, local shoes were heavy with high heels and lacked that elegant look, while imported shoes were light and fashionable.

Once Sattar went to Singapore wearing a pair of locally made leather shoes. Later, in Singapore, he wore a pair of sports shoes. He felt a huge difference.

“I thought we weren’t making good shoes,” Sattar said.

When the brothers realized that their imported sports shoes were selling like hot cakes, they decided to manufacture these keds themselves, bringing in machinery and raw materials from overseas.

“Right from the showroom, we realized there was a huge demand for keds in the country,” Abdus Sattar said.

They brought a machine with a capacity of making 20 pairs per hour. It cost around Tk3 lakh. The machine was installed in a small tinplate factory in Gazipur.

“We initially thought 20 pairs per hour was a huge amount. We were wrong. We ran out of stock because our keds sold out before we made any more,” Sattar said.

Within a year, demand for the shoe became so high that the brothers traveled to Taiwan to bring another machine with five times the production capacity – 110 pairs per hour for small shoes and 75 pairs for men’s shoes. adults.

Photo: Noor-a-Alam

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Photo: Noor-a-Alam

Photo: Noor-a-Alam

The demand kept increasing. Then they bought a land of 5 katha in the Shialbari region of Mirpur to set up a factory there.

“The money flowed in. The profit margin was 30-40%. For that reason, we brought in new machines,” Sattar said.

At the height of its popularity, the Mirpur factory had 300 workers. The four-story factory could manufacture 1,500 pairs of shoes a day and supply them to market. Capacity increased to 2,500 pairs per day for some time.

The company had four agents who wholesaled in different districts.

The marketing mantra

When the demand for Baly Keds increased, the company decided to do television commercials to reach more customers.

“My friend Anwar Hossain was at the FDC. He said we should do a commercial. We sat down with them several times to choose the jingle, beat, script and model,” Sattar said.

At the time, Basundhara had just started airing advertisements on the only television channel BTV, about their plots. There was competition between Basundhara, Unilever and Baly Keds to get airtime for advertisements during Eid.

When they started running ads and sponsoring sporting events, sales increased dramatically. At this time, competitors like Jump Keds, Rider Keds, Action Keds entered the market.

“But they couldn’t compete with us because our machine was fast. Our market was strong,” Sattar said, “And one thing that always helped me was that I could rise to the challenge.”

He thinks he succeeded in setting the trend in the shoe industry.

“Although there was Bata, it was not so modern. Once, the Canadian general manager of Bata visited my factory. He came to the airport and then came directly to the factory in Mirpur” , recalls Sattar.

“I am happy to have introduced customers to modern shoes. My only goal was to create fashionable, durable and comfortable shoes,” said Abdus Sattar. “We were well ahead of Bata. [in terms of sales]. At the time, I thought of Bata as an elephant and us as mosquitoes.”

Whenever Sattar went abroad, he looked at people’s shoes before looking at their faces. “When I went to Hong Kong or Taiwan, I followed young men and women to see what shoes they wore and how they kept their balance. I’m infatuated with shoes,” Sattar said.

He took his young son to many different countries to show him different types of shoes. And he never failed to visit shoe factories, as well as luggage factories.

“My goal was not just to take a pleasure trip,” Sattar said. He also said that the word keds was not so familiar in the country before them. People only knew her as a sports shoe.

Split and disappearance

The split in the family business led to the eventual demise of Baly Keds.

Photo: Noor-a-Alam

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Photo: Noor-a-Alam

Photo: Noor-a-Alam

Abdus Sattar said Baly Keds slowly disappeared after the family business split from two brothers in 1996.

They split the family business because their children were of age, had returned home after completing their higher education abroad, and the brothers wanted their children to take care of the business in order to continue the legacy.

Abdus Sattar told his older brother which business he would like to keep. In the end, the older brother took on Baly Keds “because my nephews showed more interest in it,” Abdus Sattar said, as he took other businesses and assets under his wing.

“If you want to develop a shoe [business], you have to deal with it mentally; otherwise it’s difficult,” said Abdus Sattar, “I’m sad that Baly Keds isn’t here anymore. I feel like I could have gone far. Now every time I see Baly’s name I feel sad.”

There was an agreement that Abdus Sattar would never make shoes under the Baly brand, and he honored it. Abul Kashem has since passed away, and although Baly Keds is gone, Baly Group of Industries continues to thrive with interests in plastics, shrimps and textiles, under the leadership of Abuk Kashem’s three sons.

Md Masud Zaman, son of Abul Kashem and Chairman of Baly Group of Industries, said: “There was no particular reason to close Baly Keds. However, we hope to restart [Baly Keds operations].”

Now Abdus Sattar has established another footwear company named Step under Step Group of Industries. They also make travel bags. His son Shamim Kabir runs the footwear section and Sattar runs the travel bag section under the Ornate brand.

They export the travel bags to the United States.

Abdus Sattar buys travel bags at the market, then they cut the bag to see what materials the bags are made of.

“It’s called R&D, ie research and development. That’s exactly what I do,” said Abdus Sattar, stressing that they want to take these companies very far. , like Baly Keds.

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