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Fabindia: Under pressure from trendier and cheaper rivals, Fabindia seems to be in need of refresh


For 18-year-old Mumbai college-goer Tanisha Saraff, Fabindia has been a preferred destination for outfits for many traditional occasions, including funerals. But she has limited allegiance to the brand. She patronises nearly a dozen brands from global marquees such as Zara and H&M to homegrown ones like Cotton World and Global Desi.

“Fabindia’s quality is good, and they have a sustainable angle, which is in vogue now. But I don’t think they are cool and follow fashion trends as their designs have stayed the same for years now,” said Saraff.

Its inability to win the hearts of Gen Z and millennial cohorts is posing a challenge for the six-decade-old retailer, a pioneer of sustainable sourcing and supporting artisans, amid an onslaught of competition from trendier and cheaper rivals. If socially conscious young people once swore by the brand, their children don’t seem to be showing it as much love.

FabIndia was the first apparel brand in the country to cross the Rs 1,000 crore sales mark in 2016, when it had over 200 stores. Today, with about 360 stores, sales are nearly half of Zara or H&M, although they don’t compete in the same segment. With sales of Rs 1,635 crore during FY23, it is just 8% more than what it was pre-pandemic.

A compelling sustainability story
The ethnic wear brand has been in the red for the last three years. The company blamed higher interest to service debt and asset impairment for its losses.

“For our young cohorts, we have newer product ranges coming in interesting form factors with a Fabindia DNA,” said Rajeshwari Srinivasan, chief executive officer of Fabindia.”We strongly believe that there are customers seeking a sustainable, value-driven product and experience. Our products and the attributes of pure, sustainable, strong design-centric, natural Indian craft sourced from artisans and clusters and the impact we make on their livelihoods, makes for a compelling story and is our USP.”


Purpose over profits?
Will the company benefit from the government’s vocal-for-local initiative and a resurgence in preference for India-made products? After all, it is still one of the few brands known for garments made with hand woven and hand printed fabrics, linking over 55,000 craft-based rural producers to modern urban markets compared to rival labels that are mass-produced in factories.

Experts feel their products, brand aesthetic, as well as communication, need an overhaul.

“They expanded very quickly without being quite ready and also the product started becoming a little debased and the purity of what they stood for started getting diluted,” said Santosh Desai, a social commentator and chief executive officer of Future Brands, adding that the idea of having a brand that is socially conscious with progressive sourcing practices is not an irrelevant idea for the young, but they are stuck in the old narrative.

“They need to update themselves even as a socially conscious brand and right now, it is a brand for progressive parents and not their progressive children. Rediscovering connection with consumers should be its first priority rather than obsessing over growth.”

The company said it is attempting some of these – from launching Fabindia experience centres two years ago to opening 20 new stores every quarter of their new concept store FabOne, which offers bespoke tailoring. It is also pivoting to focus solely on apparel and home furnishings, and looking to rely on partners to run the cafe business Fabcafe and fast-moving consumer brand Organic India.

Fabindia was founded in 1960 by John Bissell to market the craft traditions of India. It started out as an exporter of home furnishings and the first retail store came up in the Greater Kailash area of Delhi 15 years later. In the mid-1990s, Bissell’s son, William, took over the company. In 2000, the company added the non-textile range, while organic foods and personal-care products were launched a decade ago.


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