This story originally appeared in our January 14, 2011 e-magazine. Click here to subscribe.

A new book examines the 50-year history of Fabindia.

2010 marked the 50th anniversary of Fabindia, one of the most successful companies in India. The Fabric of Our Lives by Radhika Singh follows the story of the company and its founder, John Bissell. Fabindia has been featured as a case study at Harvard Business School, and the company’s story serves as a great model for those hoping to generate both profits and social good.

Fabindia’s success and influence are indisputable—while one share sold for INR 5,000 (US$110) in 1977, today, one share is worth INR 16 million (US$350,000). Rising from one small retail outlet in New Delhi to more than 120 stores worldwide, Fabindia helped to organize the handloom sector and provide steady jobs to thousands of weavers.

If you can make it through the dull opening chapter and the mundane narrative, the book offers an insight into the early days of Fabindia and how the company grew. The research that Singh conducted was mostly from letters written by Bissell and his wife, Bim. What results is an intimate look into the lives of the founder and his staff.

Singh also weaves in anecdotes of post-Independence India such as Bissell driving his journalist friend to the airport after being ordered to leave the country during the Emergency. This allows the Fabindia story to exist within the story of India.

Singh might have let her early introduction to the world of Fabindia get the better of her—she attended the preschool operated by John Bissell’s wife. Unable to separate her bias, Singh occasionally lapses into glorifying small details about the company—the way an adoring mother might about her child.

Because of the lengthy descriptions of types of fabrics, business practices and incorporation practices, the book seems a better option for a detailed study of the life cycle of a company rather than a light read for the casual observer.

Photo credit: Fabindia

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