William Bissell, Managing Director, Fabindia, talks about plans for Fabindia in its 50th year

Later this year Fabindia will turn fifty. For a company that has given Indian textiles, arts and crafts a contemporary look, Fabindia is credited with highlighting the beauty and eminence of our very own rural arts and crafts. Started by an American, John Bissell, it is his son and the present Managing Director of the company, William Bissell, who is carrying forward and expanding the business which began as a small export unit in Delhi. Today this lifestyle retail brand has 111 stores in the country mapping 40 cities. In the Kochi with his extended family for a private function, William recalls his several visits to Kerala as a child. Learning the ropes of the business from his father, “not so much in retail,” he states that his father's contribution was in the idea of inclusive growth, something which has now taken shape as an artisans' cooperative, the Community Owned Company model (COC), which today forms the backbone of Fabindia's supply chain.

One of his main contributions has been diversification of the company into many other products.

“We work as a group. I am just the face of it. We have strengthened our garment line and successively introduced furniture, organic foods, personal care and jewellery as our products.”

On going into organic products William believes that the market for organic products is tiny, which is a disappointment but on the other hand he says he gets text messages from his regular clients that a certain product is over! – implying that there are customers who have converted to using organic products in their lifestyle – that is encouraging!

He has observed that mainly it is the nuclear family that buys organic products and people who have a certain sensitization towards the issue.

On competition

To stay ahead in the race amidst rising competition is what William is for and looks at it as a challenge. “Competition is really healthy. In every field I respect one or two competitors. I admire them. They improve the quality of the game. I welcome that.” Veering away from the business aspects to the book, ‘Making India Work', that he has written recently he says that the book started out of a feeling of how to do business in a straight forward way here, a question that led to more questions and finally to the book.

And what is the solution that he offers? A self regulatory system he writes and says, “I personally have no complains. The system works for me but it does not work for very many Indians.”

Recalling what his father once said that he had come to a country not to run a ‘corrupt business' but because he loved the place and the textiles, William too wishes to create solutions for chaos-free cities, an enterprise-friendly atmosphere where rules of the game are the same, “where there is a level playing field for all.”

His book has been a bestseller for 16 weeks and is to be soon published in Hindi, Telugu and Malayalam versions too.

With an unassuming charm William who has taken retail to an altogether different height discloses his mantra, “Retail is an act of communication and if you get that wrong, you get the entire thing wrong.”

PRIYADERSHINI S

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