FABINDIA | ESTABLISHED IN 1960
In 1958, American John Bissell travelled to India to advise the All India Handicrafts Board and Cottage Industries on creating a market for handloom fabrics. He never left. Two years later, he set up Fabindia (implying the fabric of India), an India-inspired brand that drew on the strengths of rural weavers to bring an ethical, ethnic experience to consumers looking to wear homegrown fabrics and weaves.
The company set up its first retail store in Delhi in 1976, at the time only selling textile-based apparel. Before long, the company had added a non-textile range (in 2000), organic foods in 2004, personal care products in 2006 and ethnic jewellery in 2008. Adding heft to its organic food range, Fabindia in 2013 bought a 40 per cent stake in Lucknow-based Organic India, a retailer of organic foods and supplements. Since then, Fabindia has increased its shareholding in Organic India to 53 per cent.
The company is now run by his son William Bissell, 51, who has been involved in the business since 1988. In the early days, he set up the Bhadrajun Artisans Trust (BAT), an artisans’ cooperative that worked with weavers in Rajasthan and which today supplies to the parent company. The company today works with over 55,000 artisans across the country to create world-class products and also create an artisanshareholder system that empowers craftsmen by giving them
equity through stake. Under William, Fabindia flourished into the brand it is today. He regrouped the company’s resources and changed focus, choosing to look homeward, at India, rather than the export market. In 2015-2016 alone, Fabindia had sales of over Rs 1,000 crore. Under his leadership, Fabindia grew from a company with just two retail stores in Delhi to one with 226 stores in 87 Indian cities and 10 abroad—in Rome, Dubai, Malaysia, Mauritius, Singapore, Nepal and Dallas in the US.
A THREAD TO THE FUTURE
The company’s tagline ‘Celebrate India’ is central to the core of Fabindia; over the past five-and-a-half decades, it has spearheaded craft as a contemporary sensibility, making it relevant to the way people use a very traditional idiom in their everyday lives. According to Viney Singh, director & CEO, Fabindia, “The challenge lies in remaining exciting in terms of design and products for our customers. At Fabindia, we have kept traditional skills and crafts relevant and contemporary for over 55 years.” Future plans for Fabindia include leveraging the Organic India section. Quality control of existing products is also a big challenge and one that the company hopes to focus on in order to minimise colour bleeds and shrinkage. In order to offer its customers something beyond the ordinary store experience, early this year, Fabindia launched its first concept store or experience centre in Vasant Kunj, Delhi. The 10,000 square feet unit is the first of 60 stores expected to be opened over the next few years.
THE GANG The FabIndia family on its 25th anniversary, in 1985