A Cut Above by Meena Bindra

Indian ethnic apparels maker Meena Bindra was born in Delhi with a family of six siblings. Despite being a late bloomer and with several factors working against her, Bindra took the plunge and kept up a steady pace, giving wings to her business stitch by stitch, client by client, and brick by brick. Meena’s father was a business man and passed away when she was only nine years old However, he left behind a lot of property which provided her mother a lot of aid to give them a normal childhood. She was married at the age of nineteen years old when she completed her BA. As she was married to naval officer she moved all over the country with her husband and was busy looking after her home and family for the first twenty years. She didn’t quite know how to sew a button on fabric until she was 38. Yet, what she lacked in training and experience she made up through her self-learned couture sensibilities, all of which prompted her to start a business from home in 1985. 

Bindra started out without any grand plan or support except the ambition to remain independent in life, although things kept falling in place for her and she gladly accepted what came her way. She borrowed a loan of eight thousand rupees and started her business and through trial and error, Meena put together 40 salwar suits and the first sale resulted in a small profit of 3000.  At the Bindra residence, she managed all the affairs of the house, both before and after her foray into the business arena. By the end of the year Meena had three tailors doing jobwork and started getting enquiries from retailers like Benzer and Sheetal . Since the supplies became more she decided on a name for the bill book called “BIBA”. After three years into business Meena moved into a 1000sq. ft office at Kemp’s corner. Around this time Meena’s elder son, Sanjay, completed his BCom and joined the business. He took over the boring side of the business handling the labour, taking orders, keeping accounts. For the next few years BIBA grew into a steady pace and gave rise to more outlets al over India. By 1993, BIBA had become one of India’s largest ethnic-wear wholesalers, selling 1000-2000 pieces every month. The annual turn at that time over was around two crores.

Meanwhile by mid 90’s the advent of India’s first multi-city department store shoppers stop approached BIBA for the ladies ethnic wear and so in the process Meena was forced to become more professional to stand by the commitments and deliver on time. Advance planning, control systems and quality checks helped tailors become more efficient and there was a measure of accountability.  According to Meena working with limitations and yet going beyond limits is the true test of any entrepreneur and so by the year 2000 production of BIBA had scaled up to 5000 pieces per month and was able to manage cash flows without ban limits or overdrafts.    

The turning point for BIBA came when her younger son Sanjay joined the company. BIBA opened its first company owned in 2004 at In Orbit and CR2 malls in Mumbai that resulted in the annual income of 12-15 lakh per month, the whole company was restructured and in 2006 Kishore Biyani bought a 10% stake in BIBA for 110 crores. In March 2012, BIBA’S annual revenues stood at 300 crores with 90 company-owned outlets contributing 50% of sales.  The company continued to outsource manufacturing, but employs around 1000 people in supervisory roles and or retail sales. With her sons Meena had a clear demarcation of boundaries. Yet there was argument and friction. There were differences on how to take the business forward and so they decided to work separately. In 2010 Sanjay sold his stake and started a new ethnic-wear label called ‘Seven East’. Meena believes that energy is the force which moves mountains and working mothers and woman can be a wife, a mother and an entrepreneur and so she advises to live a dream and have it all. Today, at 71 years of age, Bindra is more satisfied with life than she has ever been. Yet, she is brimming with the same level of enthusiasm as when she started out 30 years ago. She has worn many hats in her life so far. In a span of three decades, she went from being a housewife and mother to selling Indian salwar-suits from home, from becoming a supplier to retailers to setting up her own ethnic apparel retail chain brand BIBA, which is now a household name. 

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