EAST & Fabindia
FABINDIA – THE COMPANY WITH A DIFFERENCE
The Fabindia Ethos
The Fabindia Ethos
“In addition to making profits, our aims are constant development of new hand-woven products, a fair, equitable and helpful relationship with our producers, and the maintenance of quality on which our reputation rests.” John Bissell, Founder, Fabindia
Fabindia was established in 1960 by John Bissell, who came to India in 1958 on a Ford Foundation grant to advise All India Handicrafts Board and Cottage Industries on creating a market for handloom fabrics. After the completion of the contract, John Bissell, who had developed a deep appreciation and respect for the genius of the Indian crafts and weaving, decided to stay on in India and help create a market for this product: he started Fabindia as an export house for Indian hand woven textiles.
John Bissell had a vision for the company that placed equitable relationships at the centre of the business model he chose for Fabindia. While ‘sustainable relationships’ is quite the modern mantra today, at the time the company came into being, this approach was viewed as ‘radical’ and perhaps too idealistic for the business of business.
Initially, Fabindia supplied hand woven textiles and dhurries to a number of stores abroad, including Habitat. Fabindia’s first retail store opened in 1976 in Greater Kailash in Delhi – this remains one of the flagship stores. The handloom and hand printed garments range which is now synonymous with Fabindia, was introduced there in the early 1980’s, as a small section of men’s shirts, kurtas and pyjamas. Subsequently, on popular demand, a range for women’s clothing was introduced and rest is history.
In 1998, William Bissell, the managing director, took over at the helm of company, and shifted the focus to the domestic market and the extension of the product line. Today, Fabindia is a well-established retail brand with a product range that extends from garments to jewellery and accessories; from home furnishings, furniture, giftware and lighting to organic foods and personal care products: an alternative to the mass produced, these products appeal to consumers across all age and income groups.
Over the last fifty years, this India inspired Indian brand has become iconic in its own right. Despite the fact that the company does not advertise, except to inform of new stores and special promotions, the Fabindia brand has established a clear identity in the minds of its customers. Its products are instantly recognize-able as natural, stylish, contemporary, life-style oriented products that have intrinsic value and an international resonance, while being rooted in traditional knowledge, techniques and skills – and this is what gives Fabindia its distinctive signature.
Fabindia’s success as a retailer, its business model, distinctive identity as a brand and the company’s journey as a committed social entrepreneur have turned it into a case-study at business schools like Harvard Business School and Indian Institute of Management (Bangalore): the case is taught and discussed regularly across the globe. What makes this an exciting case is the distance it spans – the seemingly insurmountable chasm between Bharat and India, with the company acting as a bridge that links the urban consumer and the rural producer, translating urban demand for rural producers, and giving a traditional product a contemporary context.
Presently the company has 176 stores in 73 cities across the country, with six stores abroad, and an online presence. In 2012, Fabindia increased its stake in EAST, the UK based mainstream women’s wear retailer, to become the majority stake holder. In 2013, Fabindia entered into a strategic partnership with Organic India, a global manufacturer of organic, herbal and ayurvedic health products and acquired a stake in Bandhej.
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