No other brand of fabric has managed to make men, women and children, blurring the difference of gender and age, return to traditional handlooms than Fabindia. The name that made handloom cool for urban India turned 50 last year, calling for a befitting celebration. Radhika Singh's Fabric of our lives: The story of Fabindia celebrates the growth of the company.
Radhika's family had known Bimla Nanda much before she became Bimla Bissell. “My parents knew their family when they were in Lahore as college students. Bimla was my first teacher in nursery,” recalls Radhika, the photo curator turned author.
She looks at the growth of one of the country's biggest social entrepreneurship success stories partly as a biographer, drawing from founder John Bissell's letters, partly as a business historian and partly as a writer discovering the rich textile tradition of India.
In Hyderabad to launch the book in the presence of Bima Bissell and craft historian Suraiya Hassan Bose, Radhika shares with Metro Plus , “William Bissell (son of John Bissell) asked me to do something to celebrate Fabindia's 50th year. We considered many possibilities, including a photo book. While interviewing people, I found there was so much more to be told.”
It took her more than two years to research the growth of the company, not only delving into the lives of the founders but also talking to weavers and suppliers. In the process, Radhika discovered more about India's history of textiles and techniques. “I knew Andhra Pradesh was famous for its ikat and had a basic knowledge of warp and weft. I had no idea how much trouble it is to bring out an ikat sari. I've learnt to appreciate my saris better,” she smiles.
She calls her book “a business story with a heart.” Radhika heads Fotomedia, an organisation that specialises in archiving photographs. “I am a sociologist who works with pictures, not an economist. The book involved a fair amount of travelling and a lot of interviewing. Other than annual reports that were placed chronologically, I had to pull out other ledgers,” says the author, emphasising on the need for better archiving whole in the country. “People and companies should realise the need for preserving personal, historical and visual archives. After all the history of a country is the history of its countless people.”
Economist and Radhika's husband Omkar Goswami helped her decipher the business aspects. “I asked him to help out by putting the main figures of the annual reports in an accessible format. He also gave me a synopsis of the socio political and economic background of the company. Around the same time, Ramachandra Guha's book also released which gave us more insights. John refers a lot to the political climate in his letters.”
A buyer of Fabindia garments and products since 1976, Radhika is now working on bringing out an updated version of the book with more inputs. A photo book on Fabindia is also on the cards.
“In Hyderabad, when I interviewed Suraiya amma, I was amazed to learn about her work with ikat, kalamkari and other techniques. Her designs are not available to public. I would love to document her work,” she adds.