John Bissell: Founder of FabIndia

Megha Rani Megha Rani
Dec 20, 2020 5 min read
John Bissell: Founder of FabIndia

John Bissell is an American businessman who founded FabIndia in 1960. He ran the handloomed textile export business in India for more than 30 years. He had a life span of 66 years as he died on 2 March, 1998 due to cerebral hamorrhage. He used to live in New Delhi, India where his venture FabIndia is headquartered and the company has marked glorious 60 years. He also worked for the Ford Foundation, New Delhi. As a Philanthropist, he has introduced The FabIndia School in 1992, which is dedicated to the welfare and education of children in India. As of 2008, the net revenue of FabIndia counts to $ 65 million.

John Bissell- Biography

Name John Bissell
Born 1932
Birthplace Hartford, USA
Death 2 March, 1998
Life span 66 years
Nationality American / Indian
Education Brooks School
Profession Businessman
Position Founder at FabIndia
Spouse Bimla Bissell Nanda
Son William Bissell ( Current Chairman of FabIndia )
Daughter Monsoon Bissell

John Bissell- Personal Life
John Bissell- Education
John Bissell- Professional Life
John Bissell- Founder of FabIndia
John Bissell- Background
John Bissell- Success story
John Bissell- Philanthropist
John Bissell- Honors & Awards

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John Bissell- Personal Life

John was born in Hartford, USA. His father used to tell him stories of his time in India during World War II. This engrossed a love for India within him, since his childhood.

He was married to Bimla Nanda, who worked as a social secretary for Chester A. Bowles and John Kenneth Galbraith when they were United States Ambassadors to India. The couple bear a son named William Bissell and daughter Monsoon Bissell. He lived with his family in New Delhi, India.

John Bissell- Education

John completed his formal education from the Brooks School in North Andover, Mass., and at Yale.

John Bissell- Professional Life

After completing his studies at college, John worked as a buyer at Macy's, New York and started liking the look and feel of hand-woven fabrics. Both interests collated in 1958, when he was given a two-year grant from the Ford Foundation to instruct Indian villages in making goods for export.

The grant was expired soon and he then decided to include hand woven fabrics through his own venture. He soon launched a business, FabIndia Limited that purchased locally produced items like dhurrie rugs and further exported them.

John started the textile export business in 1960 that eventually became FabIndia. His son, William Bissell took over the responsibility as the Chairman of FabIndia when his father fell ill.

John Bissell- Founder of FabIndia

FabIndia Logo

John Bissell is the Founder of FabIndia Overseas Private Limited, the Indian chain store retailing garments, furnishings, fabrics and ethnic products handmade by local people of rural India. The company was established in 1960.

FabIndia initially exported home furnishings before entering domestic retail in 1976. The current Chairman of the company is John's son, William Bissell. The company had a revenue of $ 65 million with a 30 % increase from the previous year.

FabIndia does not advertise and largely works through word-of-mouth publicity. It currently operates 327 stores across India and 14 international stores.

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John Bissell- Background

No one from his family was a businessman. It was coincidental how his initial textile business went on to become FabIndia. Moreover, his uncle Richard M. Bissell Jr., was a famous spy at the legendary Central Intelligence Agency.

The products of FabIndia are primarily sourced from villages aiding to provide and sustain rural employment in India. Currently 60,000 artisans and craftspeople across India serve for the company. Good craftsmanship is also encouraged through such hand-crafted products.

John's business flourished even though he did not had a suitable background as a businessman. After John, his son William is handling operations at FabIndia.

John Bissell- Success story

FabIndia went through several transformations with the passing time. The company went through several amount of problems that gradually grew into a bigger opportunity in the hands of the Founder, John Bissell.

During the peak of the Emergency Period enforced by the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi 1975-76, new rules were declared by the government. The guidelines included the banishment of the commercial industries that ran their business at residential properties.

Due to the reason mentioned above, FabIndia was forced to move out from their second premises of Mathura Road. But this rather turned out to be a boon for John as he decided to use this problem as an opportunity. He opened his first FabIndia retail store to sell their products in New Delhi, which also became its register office.

After this move, they started offering their services to urban India. FabIndia decided to adapt their own fabrics and designs according to the urban taste. This move made them stand against all the government owned and subsidized competitors in hand loom fabrics and apparel sector.

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John Bissell- Philanthropist

John Bissell established The FabIndia School in 1992 in Bali, Rajasthan. Today it has become a co-educational, senior secondary school with 600 students including 40 % girls. The school subsidized tuition fees of the girl students and offers scholarships and partnered with The John Bissell Scholars Fund, which was established in 2000.

John Bissell- Honors & Awards

  • FabIndia was awarded Best Retail Brand by The Economic Times in 2004
  • Featured as a part of CNBC special TV report on India
  • Became a Harvard Business School case study in 2007
  • FabIndia marked 50 years in 2010 and released the book The Fabric of Our Lives: The Story of FabIndia by Radhika Singh.
  • Bestowed with TIE Retail Innovation Award for Excellence in Supply Chain Management (2010)
  • John received Outstanding Achievement in Promotion of Cotton by a Brand by Cotton Council of India (2011)
  • Rated among India's Best Companies to Work for by Economic Times and Great Places to Work (2011)
  • Recognized as the Best Retail Brand by The Economic Times (2004)

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