In 1958, well before American companies were sourcing from India, John Bissell left his position as a buyer for Macy’s New York to work as a consultant for the Ford Foundation in order to develop India’s export potential in its emerging textile industry. What Bissell discovered was a village-based industry with a profusion of skills hidden from the world.
Determined to showcase Indian handloom textiles while providing equitable employment to traditional artisans, Bissell established Fabindia in 1960 in order to fuse the best aspects of East/West collaboration.
Fifteen years later the first Fabindia retail store was opened in Greater Kailash, New Delhi with a range of upholstery fabrics, durries and home linens. By the early eighties, they started producing garments made from hand woven and hand block printed fabrics.
Over the years the focus of Fabindia’s marketing shifted from exports to the local Indian retail market. What started as an export house has today become a successful retail business presenting Indian textiles in a variety of natural fibers, and home products including furniture, lights and lamps, stationery, home accessories, pottery and cutlery. Extending this partnership to the farmers in rural areas, Fabindia launched its organic food products range in 2004. Fabindia Sana, the company’s authentic bodycare products range is also being launched at all Fabindia outlets.
Fabindia sources its products from over 15000 craft persons and artisans across India. They support the craft traditions of India by providing a market and thereby encourage and sustain rural employment. Today they have retail outlets in all major cities of India – 85 at last count – in addition to international stores in Rome, Italy; Dubai, UAE and Guangzhou, China.
Fabindia was founded with the strong belief that there was a need for a vehicle for marketing the vast and diverse craft traditions of India and thereby help fulfill the need to provide and sustain rural employment. They blended indigenous craft techniques with contemporary designs to bring aesthetic and affordable products to today’s consumers.
Their endeavor is to provide customers with hand crafted products which help support and encourage good craftsmanship.
Their products are sourced from villages all over India. Fabindia works closely with artisans by providing various inputs including design, quality control, access to raw materials and production coordination. The vision continues to be to maximize the hand made element in their products, whether it is handwoven textiles, hand block printing, hand embroidery or handcrafting home products.
Ethnic weaves: In the tiny village of Chanderi in the Ashoknagar district of Madhya Pradesh, there is little respite from the scorching summer heat as the mercury touches 42 and 43 degrees celcius. There is a preponderance of dry dust on the barren land, which has not seen rain in months.
There is shortage of water, with daily tankers meeting the local people’s meagre needs. The local population, which includes 1,000-odd weavers, could still have coped, but the mortal blow is looming in the form of disappearing demand for their cherished fabric, chanderi.
Yet, in the face of impending doom, there is an air of hope, anticipation and excitement in this sleepy little village, as 455 weaver families are poised to become owners of shares in a community-owned company, a concept totally alien to all except the few educated youths here.
Mohammed Zuber Ansari, 28, has a master’s degree. After failing to find a job, he found himself in front of a loom and is still trying to come to terms with the developments. “We bought shares for Rs 1,000 and all I know is that this could change our lives in some way.”
That way has been paved by Fabindia, a retail outfit that has grown from one store in the mid 1990s to 85. Dabbling in fabric, apparel, handicraft and other products, it began an experiment with community-owned companies nine years ago in an attempt to include artisans in the wealth creation process.
The Fabindia Head Office is located in New Delhi at :
Fabindia Overseas Pvt. Ltd.
Head Office: B-26, Okhla Industrial Area, Phase -1, New Delhi -110020, India
Tel: +91-11-26811047 / 8 / 9 / 50 / 51, Fax: +91-11-26811053,
Registered Address: N-14 Greater Kailash – I, New Delhi – 110048, India
Tel: +91-11-29232183 / 84 / 85
The major portion of Fabindia’s product range is textile based. Non- textile introductions to this range are Home Products (introduced in October 2000), Organic Food Products (introduced in July 2004) & Fabindia Sana – Fabindia’s range of authentic bodycare products (introduced in March 2006).
The textile-based product range includes ready-to-wear garments and accessories for men, women, teenagers and children; bed, bath, table and kitchen linen; floor coverings, upholstery fabric and curtains. Cotton, silk, wool, grass, linen and jute are the basic fibres used.
The Home Products range carries furniture, lighting, stationery, tableware, cane baskets and a selection of handcrafted utility items.
Fabindia Organics carries several types of cereals, grains, pulses, spices, sugar, tea, coffee, honey, fruit preserves and herbs.
Fabindia Sana, Fabindia’s range of authentic bodycare products includes soaps, shampoos, hair oils, pure oils, moisturisers, body scrubs, face packs, hair conditioners & special skin care products.
Holding these major product lines together is the company’s commitment to the rural and crafts sectors of India.
Fabindia is a brand that does not advertise. It, in fact, celebrates the success of its copycats. And now Fabindia, the craft-conscious enterprise, is a Harvard Business School (HBS) case study.
“It is like playing a tennis match at centre court, Wimbledon in front of a packed stadium. It’s a great honour,” says Mr. Sunil Chainani, Director, who has shared the Fabindia story at IIM-A, and has presented it at HBS.
According to Dr. Mukti Khaire, Assistant Professor, HBS, who has put together the case, students of the Ivy League school are being trained to perform in a globally competitive world, and thus the increasing focus on unique success stories from outside the US. Founded in 1960, Fabindia makes the cut for being an example of a corporation that does not just aim to do well, but does good too. “A strong mission can be both an opportunity and a constraint on the growth of a firm,” points out Dr Khaire. However, the private retailer’s unique value proposition has not come in the way of it being recognised as big brand today. And this in spite of the fact that Fabindia has never advertised, points out Dr Khaire.
“Our constant endeavour is to resist the temptation of going `mainstream’ which is more of a commodities game, and develop and widen the niche markets in which we are the dominant player,” says Mr William Bissell, Managing Director, Fabindia.
With 85 stores in the country currently, and one each in Rome, Dubai and Guangzhou, the company is to add close to 200 stores in the next four-five years. And it is also believed to be on a look out for private equity investment.
And, true to its founding mission of creating sustainable employment, it is taking its craftsmen along. From providing jobs for close to 15,000 artisans today, it is hopeful of supporting another 1,00,000 in the next few years.