A clothing brand that sells Indian handlooms and home furnishing, Fabindia was established as an export house in 1960 by American businessman John Bissell. The brand is known for its handwoven sarees, apparel and home decor items, as well as organic food and skincare products.
Bissell established Fabindia with the dual purpose of showcasing Indian handlooms and providing employment opportunities for artisans and weavers. The brand was originally involved only in export and not manufacturing, working directly with artisans to source material for export. In 1964, Bissell partnered with Madhukar Khera, who ran a carpet manufacturing business, as well as British businessmen Terrence Conran to source Indian textiles for interior design.
The company forayed into the retail market in 1976, with the first store opening in the N Block Market in Greater Kailash, New Delhi, which sold leftover items from export orders. In 1999, John Bissell’s son, William Bissell, took over the business and prompted a shift from handloom and handwoven products to power loom products to attract a wider market across price. Fabindia expanded further into retail throughout the early 2000s, establishing outlets across major cities in India. Bissell also developed community operating companies (COCs) through supplier regional communities (SRCs), which were self-managed by artisans, weavers and craftspeople. The model offered artisans joint ownership of resources with the company and provided facilities and training. The model has since been diluted.
In 2007, Bissell set up the Artisans Micro Finance Private Limited (AMFPL), a microfund which brought local artisans together with regional supply companies and allowed them to borrow money against orders from Fabindia, thus developing a supply system that was not dependent on single loom weaver units, while establishing a standard system for production and delivery. Rural artisans were trained and, along with designers, developed products in designs that followed current trends. In 2006–07, Fabindia launched Rangasutra with Sumita Ghose and Vineet Rai as its first community-owned company, with shares divided between the company, the artisans, Rai, Ghose and the employees at Rangasutra. Fabindia launched sixteen other subsidiary supply companies similar to Rangasutra, incorporating over twenty-two thousand artisans as shareholders through these schemes. This system has been diluted in recent years, with focus shifting to the development of regional clusters to speed up production.
Fabindia works directly with artisans, craft and rural clusters and organisations to aid and develop supply. It has established eleven production hubs across the country to manage orders and bring vendors in contact with artisans. The brand sources its materials from textile and artisan clusters across the country, including ikat from Odisha, ajrakh from Gujarat, bagru block prints from Rajasthan, chanderi, Maheshwari cloth and Banarasi weaves, cashmere products, hand block printed textiles in indigo and red dye, among others. It has also expanded to include accessories such as jewellery, bags, home decor items and food products by acquiring a forty per cent stake in Organic India. In 2020, Fabindia launched The Revival, an initiative that sold handcrafted designs and products to directly benefit and provide sustainable livelihood to the rural sector.
Over the years, Fabindia has been criticised for some of the strategies it has adopted to expand the brand, such as setting up stores in shopping malls and centres as opposed to standalone heritage properties, as well as the use of power loom fabrics and the use of synthetic and polyester as opposed to handloom cotton. In 2018, Fabindia became involved in a copyright issue with the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) over their use of the term khadi and the symbol of the charkha to market their products. This is considered illegal under the Khadi Mark Regulations Act (2003) and the Khadi and Village Industries Commission Act (1953), which states that products cannot be marketed as khadi products unless they carry the khadi tag issued by KVIC. Consequently, the brand declared that it would cease from using the khadi tag on their products.
Today, the brand is considered one of the most profitable retailers in the country. As of writing, Fabindia is headquartered in New Delhi.
Forbes. “Fabindia’s Tightrope Walk,” November 8, 2011. https://www.forbes.com/2011/11/08/forbes-india-william-bissell-growth-plan-fabindia.html?sh=7a86c6b242eb.
Khatib, Hasina. “How Fabindia is Honouring its 60th Anniversary by Supporting Crafts that Laid the Foundation of the Legacy Brand.” Vogue India, December 25, 2020. https://www.vogue.in/fashion/content/how-fabindia-is-paving-the-new-way-forward-with-its-white-glove-service.
Lakhani, Somya. “West Turn.” Indian Express, April 25, 2014. https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/west-turn/.
Sethi, Sunil. “The Fabindia Story.” SPAN, July/August, 2010. https://web.archive.org/web/20180212110004/https://span.state.gov/business/fabindia-story/20100701.
Singh, Radhika. The Fabric of Our Lives: The Story of Our Lives. New Delhi: Penguin Random House, 2010.
Tandon, Suneera. “Half a Century and 55,000 Artists Later: Fabindia’s Journey from Rural Crafts to High-end Stores.” Quartz, September 12, 2016. https://qz.com/india/775968/fabindias-found-success-by-rewarding-local-artisans/.
Vyas, Maulik. “Fabindia Agrees not to Use ‘Khadi’ for their Products.” LiveMint, August 28, 2018. https://www.livemint.com/Companies/Y4oMjGLHIR6SPfm4dqw4HO/Fabindia-gives-an-undertaking-not-to-use-the-word-Khadi.html.