Fabric Plus has one of the most fascinating stories behind its birth, none more fascinating and endearing than the man who started the company, Dilip Barooah. Hailing from Margherita, he possibly never thought about textiles when he was young. Instead, his primary goal was to become self dependent because he grew up with 5 siblings and he saw how it took a toll on his father to provide for the family. After one failed attempt to run away to Chandigarh to pick up skills at a Swiss Watch Repairing Training Centre, three failed attempts to join the NDA, he finally made his way to Guwahati to complete his pre-degree at Arya Vidyapeeth. Even that took a turn when he had to skip a year because there were strikes by the lecturers. Around that time, when he had no place to stay in Guwahati, he chanced upon the Assam Textile Institute in Ambari. The lure of hostel facilities and scholarships was enough to get him interested, but what helped him get really hooked were, in fact, the textiles. ‘The dots connected,’ he said reminiscing about the past.
He passed with flying colours and moved to Mumbai. ‘My first interview was with a big company, this gentleman named Kapoor asked only one question. After I answered, he told me that they will let me know. I was happy, I came back to the bachelors pad and told my friends. They said that “we’ll call you later” is Bombay language for when they are not giving you the job. I was furious. I went back and charged him. I asked him, “What was the question you asked me?” He repeated the question. I asked, “Did I answer correctly?” He said yes and then I told him about what my friends had said. He laughed and asked when I could start working. That is how my career started.’ After that, he worked in many different companies in Mumbai, Germany, South Africa, and even came to Assam to complete a project during the early days of his career but he didn’t stay back then because he felt that Assam wasn’t ready for a workaholic like him.
After many years working outside the region, he heard a call to come back and start something of his own. ‘I frequently used to come to Assam to ask for loans, nobody would give me any. Finally, the former CMD of NEDFI Mr Hazarika and the then DONER minister saw the fire in my belly. They discussed and gave me a chance.’ Fabric Plus started from Mumbai. The first factory was a small one but they worked their way to the Soigaon factory which expanded from 20 thousand sq feet to about 50 thousand sq ft. Presently, Fabric Plus has 500 employees and about 46,000 people indirectly associated with the company.
Their flagship product is Eri. ‘Traditionally, eri was confided to hand spinning and eri shawls. My exposure and experience made me unhappy about that. I knew it had a lot of potential and we wanted to add much more value to the fabric.’ Before they introduced technology to the cycle, weavers were not getting value for the eri and the output was less. ‘1 kg of raw material would turn into .8 kilogram silk which would then be turned into 2 metres of fabric. The impact would be, at most, one weaver and one spinner, many times it was same person who would do both. After Fabric Plus, the equation changed, ‘1 kg gives us the same .8 kg of silk but we could use that to make 40 metres of fabric. We use more raw material and we affect more lives. The weavers are getting better value, they are more motivated, and production is going up which means that the whole value chain is becoming richer.’ Their factories employ 100% local weavers and machine workers. Out of which, 85% are women.
Fabric Plus doesn’t only sell silk simply in terms of a mekhela chador or a saree, they make buttons, scarves, stoles, shawls, curtain, drapes, and much more. ‘We work with companies like Hermes. In fact, we received a big order from them recently. We are doing business with a big company in Geneva. We are also doing a lot of R&D with our business partners in Europe, we are also creating a new product which was never been attempted before. There is a long way to go, but we are expanding.’
They ensure product satisfaction by interacting with the customers. ‘We have a close monitoring system. The design team consisting of trained designers brainstorm about designs based on fashion forecasting. We make samplings and send them to our buyers, they do market testing and give us feedback.’
When we asked him why there are no other companies trying to do what he has been doing for the past couple of years, he said that it is challenging to say the very least. ‘It is very tough to set up and manage a company like this which is labour intensive. You would need to be a workoholic, but luckily for me, I thrive on challenges.’ If you think he over exaggerates the challenges bit, you are wrong. He works 365 days a year, almost 24 hours, with no holidays. You may stop to wonder if he does anything apart for work but then again maybe that is the need of the hour.