The Story of BIBA

In 1983 Meena Bindra chose to celebrate the spirit of ‘Biba’, the Punjabi endearment for pretty women, by designing clothes from her house in Mumbai. She tells SOMA BASU how it became her life’s journey and brand BIBA rose to be the market leader in Indian women ethnic wear

November 12, 2015 04:46 pm | Updated November 16, 2015 04:55 pm IST - MADURAI:



Fresh from receiving the APEX Lifetime Achievement Award-2015, the premier award of the Indian apparel industry given by the Clothing Manufacturers’ Association of India annually, Meena Bindra is on to conquering another big dream. “I want BIBA to be a global brand,” she says as the chairperson of her trailblazing company and would as much love to launch her stores in Dubai and London.

“When I started designing clothes as a hobby to earn some pocket money, I never dreamt of becoming a businesswoman,” she laughs. But today she feels she can grow to any height. “If you have the passion for something, just do it,” she says.

For, that is exactly what she did. As a 39-year-old housewife and mother of two, she turned her boredom into creative venture and made it to real business with an initial investment of just Rs.8,000 taken as loan from the bank 33 years ago. She pioneered the salwar-kurta revolution in the country and united the women from the North to the South changing their dressing styles. The ‘Punjabi suit’, as it used to be called, became an important part of every woman’s wardrobe.

What is perhaps little known is that Meena Bindra also gave her ever-expanding clientele the popular Patiala salwars. “Once in Delhi, I went to a Sardarji tailor in Shankar Market who stitched a gherewali (with gatherings) salwar to perfection. He said he was from Patiala and I decided upon the name and it remains,” she says.

Meena combined it with the collared Haryanvi kurta with pockets and people fell for it. Likewise she designed the Hyderabadi pyjamas, which are today’s palazzo pants; the Bhopali kurtas with pleats in the front, the Peshwa costumes with stitched yoke in the centre and cuffed sleeves; the battis kali (32 pleats) on mulmul for summers.

“I dug into designs and gave names at a time when fashion was hardly the buzzword. I was lucky that people found them comfortable to wear,” she says.

Meena believes she creates beauty with her fabric, prints and designs. “The alchemy of beauty is magical and when a woman wears it she feels connected to the dress and is transformed into a picture of confidence,” she says. If evolving with time and keeping the culture intact has been her mantra for BIBA, she says the good quality of her products delivered on time at an affordable cost have been the reasons for her soaring business.

She started at a time when readymade churidar-kurtas were unheard of and sourcing of the fabric was not easy. There were no malls, no brands, no benchmarks. Her original creations gave her the first-mover advantage. “With Rs.8,000 I first hired a cab to go to the wholesale market to source fabric, find a tailor and a block printer. I stitched 40 pieces in sizes S, M and L and sold them for Rs.170 each making a profit of nearly Rs.3,000. That was huge money then,” she recalls.

Each customer was a friend who was invited home to try the finished garments. “But there was no compulsion for them to buy,” she says, “because I never saw it as a commercial venture.” Yet when all the pieces moved and appreciation poured in Meena realised even without a qualification in fashion designing this was her forte.

Being Delhi-bred, she could make and sell an outfit she knew thoroughly. The success of the first sale led to the next and there was no looking back.

As her business grew, she had to manage marketing, finances and planning. Mumbai’s fashion store Benzer gave her the opportunity to move her product out of her home. “Benzer was stocking Indian women’s wear and gave me my first big order and also taught me the insights of business. I had to deliver on time, keep a bill book and have a brand name for identification. That is how BIBA was born in 1988.”

So, if BIBA goes for celebrity spokesmodel, who would it be? The soni kudi (beautiful girl) Deepika Padukone, replies Meena without a blink. “You can see how much she really loves fashion in the clothing choices Deepika makes,” says Meena, adding, “I too am very particular about our designs as they should be worn without feeling awkward.

At 70-plus, Meena wears her brand with pride and still finds the whole creation process extremely thrilling. Actively involved in every BIBA design that changes with the trends but retains the roots steeped in traditional crafts like hand block printing with vegetable dyes and exquisite embroideries, she says, “We are a very hands-on company. I have a team of two dozen designers now, but I still check the final product for elegance and style, glamour and grace, beauty and femininity.”

“Each garment is a work of art and I never work under pressure.”

As is commonly said every good brand has an interesting story behind it. This is one such story.

Milestones in the journey of BIBA

BIBA was launched as a brand in 1988 and from wholesaling the brand to traditional retailers, it launched its first exclusive store at Inorbit Mall in Mumbai in the early nineties. Today, BIBA has a presence across 76 Indian cities with 192 exclusive brand outlets and over 250 multi-brand outlets.

BIBA was one of the first few brands to use the shop-in-shop model with Shoppers Stop, LifeStyle and Pantaloons.

The annual turnover of Biba Apparels is estimated at Rs.600 crores today.

BIBA pioneered Bollywood merchandising in India in 2004 with Na Tum Jano Na Hum and also provided costumes for blockbusters including Devdas, Hulchul, Baghban. In 2002, it replicated designer costumes from four movies Taal, Yaadein, Pardes and Badhai Ho Badhai to tap the movie memorabilia market.

In Salman Khan’s latest movie, Bajrangi Bhaijan, Kareena Kapoor is seen wearing BIBA outfits.

BIBA won the Best Women’s Ethnic Wear Brand of the Year at the CMAI Apex Awards last month. In 2012 it also won the Images Award for Most Admired Women's Indian wear Brand of the Year.

With it’s typically North Indian design sensibility BIBA has captivated consumers pan-India. It has launched a kids line called the BIBA Girls (2 to 12 years). The company has also tied up with designers like Rohit Bal and Anju Modi and showcases their premier collection in its stores.

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