The newly emerging India, charging into the future with its glassy and gleaming malls, still has one foot firmly in the economic past.
But one small company in Delhi is spinning historic techniques into contemporary success.
Thirty-five-year-old William Bissell has turned some of India’s antiquated manufacturing processes to his advantage.
His company, Fab India, has made a profitable business by finding remote craftsmen and designing commercially appealing products that harness their skills — methods that might otherwise fade into commercial and cultural oblivion.
“Sometimes it’s a two hour drive by Jeep, to get to this place, so we drop off four pounds of yarn, and 21 days later we come back and pick up a rug,” Bissell said. “One of Fab India’s core philosophies and beliefs is that we take products that require practically no machine input, as capital is in very short supply in India and labor is not. So one of the things we’ve been successful at doing is employing a large number of people with very little capital.”
Fab India now has 12-thousand crafts-people across the country, most in rural areas, supplying both its domestic chain of stores and its growing export business.
The pay is not great, but with most of India’s staggering poverty spread outside its cities, a steady line of
Fab India may not be a business giant, but it has been posting giant sales, with $13 million dollars in revenues this year, up from $10 million last — just another example of India’s growing small business sector.
Combing low, high tech
Normak Fashions in Hyderabad is another big success on a small scale. The company makes costume jewelry for a range of well-known designers and retailers, including Gloria Vanderbilt, Jones New York and Anne Klein.
When we started in 1987, we had 18 employees, 18 workers, 11 women, 7 men. Today we have about 750 workers and we are still growing,” said Gusti Noria, Normak’s managing director.
Normak, like Fab India, began with age-old manufacturing techniques but also added a significant measure of high technology.
Mixing recipes of the old and new is helping fuel expansion of the world’s second-fastest-growing economy. Like their larger counterparts, these small companies are taking advantage of India’s cheap labor, while adapting to its unique and sometimes daunting challenges.
“In a way, I like the fact that people come here and they confront the grime and mess on the surface and they run away, because that leaves the field wide open for those of us who get through the surface and get to work,” Bissell said.