In 1976, when Radhika Singh joined the throng of Delhi college students buying khadi kurtas from the country’s first Fabindia retail store, she did not imagine that her first book, 34 years later, would tell the story of that company.
Singh, an independent photography curator, released her book, The Fabric of Our Lives: The Story of Fabindia, at the brand’s Kala Ghoda store on Wednesday, to commemorate Fabindia’s golden jubilee in 2010.
The book is an account of the growth of Fabindia from a firm exporting Indian handlooms to one of the largest retail brands of hand-crafted garments, furnishings and fabrics in India. Singh tells the story through the life of the company’s American founder John Bissell.
“Bissell came to in 1958, fell in love with Indian fabrics, launched his own company and never left,” said Singh, who based her research on more than 800 letters Bissell wrote to his parents, besides interviews with Fabindia workers, suppliers and artisans. “He always cared for the artisans and through loans, he personally helped them make the products he was to buy from them.”
Since Bissell’s death in 1998, the company has been headed by his son William Bissell, who has created 16 ‘community-owned companies’ that supply products to Fabindia. Indigenous artisans are themselves shareholders in these companies.
“This is a unique move that provides artisans the means to stand up on their own feet,” said Singh, who spent more than two years writing the book and presented its first copy at the feet of Bim Bissell, Bissell’s wife and the author’s first teacher.
“My husband spent his life building a relationship with India and its people, and Fabindia was a part of this process,” said Bim, 78, who was present along with architect Charles Correa, who launched the book.