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Gandhi wrote in young India in 1920s. “ I feel that the revival of hand spinning and hand weaving will make the largest contribution to the economic and moral regeneration of India. The millions must have a simple industry to supplement agriculture “

The name Fabindia was coined for fabrics and India , not ‘fab’ India , the slang derivative of ‘fabulous’ made famous by George Harrison in his song When we was fab  around the same time .

I swore by Fab India during college days as did most Delhi University Students did ( uh well definitely those in LSR ) . The Fab India we knew was the GK store and mainly the retail outlet . This story starts with journey of Fab India in 1960 when it started as an export business by John Bissel ( fondly called as Jalebi his favorite Indian dessert and short for JBL) .

The first half of the book talks about John’s initial days of struggle when he just moved to India as a consultant for the Cottage Industries Emporium in Delhi. At cottage industries John also met Bim Nanda who would also later be his wife.

In the initial days John learnt that the new ideas needed to be financially viable and beyond the design stage and samples had to turn into consistent and firm orders to be economically viable. And hence a month later Fab India was born .

Most of the initial account  of the export business of Fabindia’s export days comes from John’s exchange of letters with his parents. How the  company was formed , the board was created comprising mainly of Bissel family and friends .

The second part of the book – Fab India’s retail story is what interested me the most. It talks about how over the years the share of exports declined in Fab India’s  overall revenue and domestic market and retail increasingly became important. Opening of the second store in Bangalore , then Chennai and so on . Its interesting to know how William John’s son felt the pulse of the market and had a strong business acumen . As William learnt from an Australian surfer “you need to learn how to surf ofcourse but more importantly you need to know where the next wave is coming from”

What I liked and learn most from the book was from John’s strong character and sense of values.

Here are some interesting points :

  • Fab India always paid double the cost of the sample to the weavers because John knew that wastage was very high when samples were made.
  • All Fab india’s dealings , purchase of properties etc were always accounted for by cheque ‘100% white’.
  • He carried no emotional baggage about the way things should be done and accepted that there were many roads leading to the same goal.
  • Once he was convinced about what his children wanted to do , he threw his weight behind it.
  • John made sure that his children never felt any sense of entitlement or ownership towards the business . They were taught never to expect differential treatment .” Everything in life is not a right but a privilege” .
  • Formation of Fab India’s community owned companies and making artisans as company’s profit partners.
  • The combination of doing something with and for people while producing something beautiful
  • John was extremey transparent in his dealings . Fabindia’s balance sheets were shared with all its partners.

Account of John’s brain stroke in May 1993 during a trip to attend his daughter Monsoon’s graduation ceremony in US left me teary eyed. It took many days in US and then in India to revive his condition. He never really got back to normal and passed away in 1998. William is son along with Meena chaudhary was now responsible for today operations of Fab India.

Over the years Fabindia became a more professionally run enterprise , 5-10 year vision plans were created, staff was more professionally trained . But The core values always remained the same “ combination of doing something with and for people to create something beautiful” . Read this book if you love Fabindia . But you must read this book if you want to know how one man made his dreams come true while uplifting the lives of millions of rural craftsmen and artisans in India.

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