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A Fairytale and A Business Empire

Laila Tyabji

By Radhika Singh
Penguin/Viking, New Delhi,, 2010, pp. 389, Rs. 499.00

VOLUME XXXIV NUMBER 12 December 2010

Fabindia is our favourite fairytalea dashing young foreigner in India with a dream, marrying a beautiful Indian girl, and creating a kingdom based on high principles and beautiful craft skills. Armed with a belief that success and prosperity, used wisely, can also bring prosperity to the poor. Now someone has written the story. While reading Radhika Singhs The Fabric of Our Lives: The Story of Fabindia, I received the Annual Report of SADHNA, a group of quilting women in Rajasthan. It had a small diagram: Fabindia orders11 lakhs 5 years ago, now touch a crore and a halfover 51% of SADHNAs turnover. A paradigm of Fabindias phenomenal growth and its impact on the Indian craft sector. All over India craftspeople and weavers await Fabindia ordersas vital as the monsoon rain. A wait of hope, expectation, fear, dependence. . Radhika Singhs Fabindia chronicle, written with warmth, objectivity, and insight, is the riveting story of a tiny textile export business which turned into an iconic store and then a megamoth chain (123 shops and still growing!). It is the story too of the two men who shaped it over the last 50 years, giving it an individual stamp generating intense loyalties and equally strong viewpoints. Every Fabindia customer, staff member and producer partner feels they have a stake in Fabindia and an opinion on how it should be. I first met John Bissell in 1972. I was back from Japan and struggling to be an artist, earning my bread and butter by an assortment of parttime design jobs. I worked with Shona Rayone of the few professional interior designers around. Shona was a committed handloom and handcraft type and part of my job was sourcing fabric for the houses and hotels she designed. In those days there were just three places to buy handloom furnishingsCottage Industries Emporium, Kapur Fabrics and Fabindia. Fabindia was in a first floor Mathura Road flat at the time. Their stripy, psychedelic Panipat durries, Riten Mazumdar calligraphic block prints and textured, handwoven net curtains in earthy colours were excitingly different. At Fabindia, putting together a new kind of retailing, with a new type of product, a new type of staff, and totally new modern production and merchandising systems, J.B. was both loved and respected. Everyoneweavers, sales staff, buyerswas drawn to his warmth and professionalism. To them he was, as for me, a pillar and touchstone of sorts. A reference point of whether one ...

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