Why Fabindia Should Not Have Taken Down ‘Jashn-e-Riwaaz’

Why Fabindia Should Not Have Taken Down ‘Jashn-e-Riwaaz’

It is time for scientifically drawn, professionally conducted studies to understand what customers actually feel about a brand that buckles under social media pressure 

“Unnecessarily uplifting secularism” and “deliberately hurting Hindu sentiment” is reportedly among the recent criticisms against Fabindia, one of India’s oldest lifestyle and clothing brands. It was trolled on social media—the terrain of cultural revolts we must now take ideology lessons from, never mind deeper reflections on democracy in the 75th year of Indian Independence. For “defacing” a Hindu festival. For “a deliberate attempt at abrahmisation” of Hindu festivals affirmed, apparently by ‘Jashn-e-Riwaaz’, a festive collection. A reaction, triggered allegedly by the use of Urdu language, has been conveniently made synonymous with a pro-Muslim and anti-Hindu sentiment. In response, sadly, Fabindia took down its promotional tweet that said: “As we welcome the festival of love and light, Jashn-e-Riwaaz by Fabindia is a collection that beautifully pays homage to Indian culture.” It went on to clarify that this was not a Diwali collection as the ‘Jhilmil Si Diwali’ campaign was still to launch.


Photo: Twitter

A screenshot of the Jashn e Riwaaz campaign from the Fabindia website, now removed.

Demerits of the outrage shown by the supposed gatekeepers of secularism and Hindu festivals, or “Deepavali” in this case, would be an easy caricature to write. Especially as one of them expresses ire over models whose “bindis have been taken off” and yet it (the campaign) expects people to buy “mass produced, over-priced clothes to pay homage to Indian culture”. Bindis with Indian clothes. Or not. One issue. Mass-produced clothes. Second issue. Overpriced. Third issue. Homage to Indian culture. Let’s stop counting, shall we, how varied concerns are mashed up to grenade a serious accusation at the retailer.

But instead of lamenting our now fragile rights for democratic expression in India, I want to urge fashion and lifestyle brands or any kind of brand in fact—butter, bread or life insurance—to find out what consumers actually think about these decisions. How a brand that is willing to so quickly dismantle its ideas given social media trolling conflicts with what it has stood for? Does it confuse or disappoint a large section of consumers?

Knowing what customers want cannot be ascertained by social media opinions alone. It requires specific conversations invited from friends of the brand, old and new customers. For better efficacy, a statistical survey formally conducted by accounting firms and trained teams would help. It would make it clear what a brand stands or lose or gain, when it bends backwards and deletes what must have been a well-thought out promotional strategy.


A still from the ‘Jashn-e-Riwaaz’ campaign.

‘Jashn-e-Riwaaz’ is actually thoughtful line, as many Fabindia customers may agree. It is inclusive. The concept is bandied about so much in fashion and branding, but is not as easy to consistently attain and project. Urdu, like Hindi, is not a discriminating language and it is dumb to even reiterate that point. Saris and salwar kameez need not be worn with bindis to become “Hindu”. The sari has long been respected and loved as India’s secular garment. An Urdu speaking person has equal rights to its drape and beauty as has someone speaking Bhojpuri or Assamese.

However, when a brand changes its stand, like Tata-owned jewellery brand Tanishq did in the recent past when trolled for a campaign that showed an inter-faith marriage, customers who believe in democratic, inclusive and secular storytelling feel let down. Fabindia especially, is a brand built on an edifice of ideas that defined post-Independence India. That had a Left and a Right. And respected the rites of both sides. The Fabindia “kurta” or the zigzag, indigo dyed block print on the doorway of the brand’s flagship store in N Block, Greater Kailash, Delhi stood for a certain resonance. They were symbols. Fabindia founder John Bissell didn’t just run around with a business dream. Like his son William Bissell, current MD of the brand, he brought enterprise, persistence and potential to India’s craftspeople and their practices. These were mirrored in the brand’s products and communication.

Customers bought jholawala kurtas from Fabindia because they respected what Fabindia’s public-private entrepreneurship model stood for. The brand’s riwaaz (tradition) earned many a jashn (celebration) points. So when that very name takes down a perfectly fine tweet because a section of people in politics and public life have a problem with it, it can confuse—even disappoint—a large cohort of its customers. Those who may not have a voice, who may not be confident of battling back on social media or who can get anxious with troll trauma.


A still from Tanishq’s ‘Ekatvam’ campaign in 2020 that was removed after protests.

Is this a presumption? Do more people really believe that Fabindia got it wrong by putting models without bindis and captioning its festive campaign with a beautiful, resonating Urdu term? Perhaps. But what about the differing voice of the customer who is not a social media politician? Where is that opinion?

Fabindia declined to comment when a TVOF correspondent reached out for a statement.

My argument here is about consumer studies that go beyond fit, finish, pricing, availability, online versus offline shopping comfort of the customer to include socio-political understanding. Should Tanishq and Fabindia have taken down their campaigns and messages? The idea is to get numbers and reasons behind opinions that float around, instead of two-day outrage fests on social media. The customer has a voice. It’s time to find it, amplify it and #BoycottTrolls.


Banner: A still from Fabindia’s ‘Jash-e-Riwaaz’ campaign.