“Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.” The above holds apt for the story of BIBA. From being a wholesaler for salwar suits to today being one of the most well accepted brand in the category of women’s chic ethnic wear, BIBA has an interesting history to share.
In the late 1980’s when Meena Bindra got her first ‘Punjabi Suit’ (as it was commonly referred to then) ready for selling it to her customer from the confines of her house, little did she know that a few years down the line, her creation would meet a day when it would be present in the wardrobe of lakhs of women in India. Elaborates Meena who is also the chairperson of the brand, “I was always interested in designing in any form but lacked the technical or financial skills to set up a business and I did not have much funds either. Therefore I started with a bank loan of Rs 8000 from the house. It seemed the easier business as fabric was the only investment required, started almost 26 years back and the readymade garment industry was in its infancy thus the time was right to start this business.” Adding further, she says, “Luckily, soon after the launch, the brand gained popularity due it to its beautiful hand block prints and styles, and became the first choice for stylish cotton Salwar Kameez sets. Shortly thereafter, Benzer Mumbai became the first exclusive store to stock my designs and I started supplying to various stores.” The association with Benzer happened on reference of a customer who was obviously very much impressed with Meena’s designs. Post then, the journey has been only that marked with ‘growth’.
For a couple of years, post that Meena went ahead wholesaling her brand to the traditional retailers and it was only post in the early 1990s that an individual identity and exclusivity to her creation was given under the name ‘BIBA’. But why the name ‘BIBA’? Explains Meena, “BIBA, in Punjabi means a young, pretty girl or an endearment, normally used for young girls hence I decided to name my brand ‘BIBA’.” This was also the time when Shoppers Stop came into being and Meena retailed successfully through them. Shares Siddharth Bindra, managing director, BIBA, “We take pride in being one of the first few brands to successfully expand using the shop-in-shop model. With Shoppers Stop we retailed using the shop-in-shop model and it worked extremely well for both of us.” But all this didn’t happen as easily as it sounds right now. The challenge before the Bindra’s to set up a brand was mammoth. Back then, women relied most on the local tailors and for a lucky few there were the designers. The concept of ready-to-wear salwar suits was not that prevalent. Also, majority of the traditional shops had their own labels to retail.
Citing the challenges encountered, Meena says, “I have no formal training in design and I faced some teething issues with garment production. I learnt along the way and devised my own methods to overcome those issues. But the biggest challenge for me was funds for expansion. I was naïve and had no knowledge of running a business or handling a brand. There were no competitors in my category – no benchmarks, no brands, no malls. That was a time when the fashion industry was not so evolved and customers used to rely on local garment shops for apparel shopping.
Moreover, my husband was in a transferable job and once, for eight years, we had to stay apart as I had to stay in Mumbai to be able to run my business when he was in Delhi.” A very confident Meena says, “Now, I have 23 years of industry experience. There is a separate category called ethnic wear. Biba is a well known and widely accepted brand and is big both in terms of scale and size. The company is profitable and we are fully equipped to handle any business challenges. We are opening almost 4-5 exclusive stores each month. Industry standards in general have gone up and so has the knowledge of fashion. People are well travelled and their tastes and design sensibilities have evolved. The only thing that remains constant is my interest in creating new designs. I am still actively involved in the creation of Biba designs and constantly interact with my design team.” Siddhart adds, “One of the challenge that we face today is that of the excise duty structure prevalent in the country. It definitely eats upon your profits to quite some bit. Also, because we are an ethnic wear brand, lot of our work is related to skilled labor. Getting trained (skilled labourers) for our business is also a big challenge that we face besides the issue of streamlining the supply chain.”
The journey of expansion continued thereon with the opening of the first BIBA store at Inorbit Mall in Mumbai. An interesting personal experience led the brand to make the move to offer kidswear (read Indian ethnic wear for young girls). Elaborates Siddharth, “I have a daughter who is 7-year-old. We have always faced a challenge finding apt Indian ethnic wear for her. That is when we decided to expand our portfolio to include kidswear as well. My wife has been a designer and this helped us quite some bit.” It has been a year since the brand expanded its portfolio and till date they have managed to have about 85 touch-points to retail the brand. Says Siddharth, “We started retailing kidswear through some of our exclusive stores and through Lifestyle and Central. We shall partner with a few of the well established traditional retail formats too for this.”
Apart from being a pioneer and one of the most widely available brands for salwar kameez, what makes the brands stand apart from the rest. Sharing BIBA’s USP, Meena says, “BIBA as a brand stands for variety and affordable designer wear. In simple words, BIBA clothes are simple, elegant and stylish. Each month we launch new ‘mix n match’ collections and 30 new SKD designs so that our customers enjoy a wide range of products inspired from various different sources. I feel BIBA’s style redefines the Indian woman’s style. One feedback we always get from our patrons is that BIBA clothes make them look slimmer. The brand has evolved with the customers, making it so popular amongst women.” Elaborating further, she says, “BIBA specializes in ethnic garments with a modern and contemporary look. We keep changing our designs with the trends, retaining our roots which are steeped in Indian Traditional crafts like Hand Block printing with vegetable dyes, exquisite hand embroideries and many more. BIBA use pure fabrics like silks, chiffons, georgettes etc in vibrant-to-soothing shades to create its designs. The accent here is on fashionable yet affordable designer clothing ranging from medium-to-plus sizes which has won a large and loyal client base.”
A breakthrough for the brand came in during the late 1990’s when Kishore Biyani approached the brand for a movie partnership with film – Na Tum Jano Na Hum. Post that came in a series of movies including the likes of Devdas, Bhagbhan etc. Sharing details of their marketing activities, Siddharth says, “Biba is building brand salience by strategically investing in premium media like top of line fashion magazines, national dailies, leading radio channels and out of home media. The intent is to not just advertise but engage with our consumers at all relevant touch-points. Hence digital and mobile media as well as onground activations are something we are taking very seriously. Recently we started our fanpage on Facebook and have built a loyal base of more than 1 lakh consumers in less than 1.5 months of launching! This just elucidates the popularity of the brand Biba. For the year 2011-2012, we have earmarked 4 per cent of total sales as the marketing budget. We will be launching our own online selling portal in the coming financial year.”
The brand is looking at strengthening its base in the country before embarking for an overseas journey. Says Siddharth, “Currently, we feel the Indian market is not saturated. We are already present in 40 cities but still we get a great response from our consumers each time we open a new store. Hence the focus is on home ground right now. We have already identified 100 cities in India where we would want to be present and the task at hand is to cover these cities in the next 2-3 years.
BIBA has successfully expanded its reach using the franchise route and according to Siddharth the returns have been good. To support the brand’s expansion, capital infusion happened with the selling of 28 per cent of stake to Kishore Biyani’s Future Venture Capital Ltd. Says Siddarth, “Post 2006 we went on an expansion spree and retail is a capital intensive business. We are happy to be associated with the Future Group. The majority of the stake anyways remains with us. There is absolute no interference and they are great partners (in terms of the 28 per cent stake that they have) to be associated with.”
Sharing expert view on the brand, Harish Bijoor, brand-expert and ceo, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc., “The best thing the brand has is its name. A 4 letter word with two syllables that fall easy on the tongue. its focus on ethnic wear helped the brand occupy a vacuum in the space of high end branded ethnic wear. It made for itself a space all its own. A space which later attracted clones, but the brand remains a step ahead of consumer desire and aspiration in terms of fashion and flaunt value. And that’s its true merit. The brand is alive. Alive to change and alive to the chameleon consumer at large.”
The brand did receive a set back a couple of years ago when the elder kin of the family – Sanjay Bindra decided to part ways and begin with the retailing of his own brand – 7 East but this has not deterred the mother- son duo – Meena and Siddharth to expand their wings to reach to new territories. Says Siddharth, “On an average, Biba is looking to open 4-5 stores each month to take our exclusive store number to 200 in the next 2-3 years. 80 per cent of the stores will be company owned. We are also planning to launch 4-6 flagship stores across the country in the next 12 months with an approximate investment of 1 core per store. In terms of product line we have recently launched ‘Biba Girls’ – an ethnic wear collection for 2-12 year old girls. We have got a tremendous response for this and we believe this will become a big category for us. There are also plans to launch ‘Unstitched Fabrics’ in a big way.”
– Zainab Morbiwala
As penned for STOrai Jan – Feb 2012 issue