#MakeInIndia: In Ludhiana, a historic family business preserves its legacy via e-commerce

To say that Abhishek Gaba’s journey with his Make in India business was beset by challenges is an understatement. Would he pursue his passion and leave his hometown for greener pastures? Would he relocate to Canada like his father wished? Or would he stay back and fight to save his legacy via e-commerce? Read his story to find out.

Make in India

Abhishek Gaba’s Make in India story dates back to 1947 – amid the partition, the Gaba family, spread across Punjab, needed a place to call home. Abhishek’s grandfather eventually relocated from Nankana Sahib to Ludhiana in India.

Nestled on the old banks of the Sutlej river, Ludhiana has, over the decades, become home to thousands of enterprising entrepreneurs with burgeoning textile and manufacturing sectors. With more and more yarn factories and textile units dotting this commercial hub, Ludhiana soon earned the epithet of the ‘Manchester of India’.

“It was an emerging hub at that time, and dada saw potential in textiles. He first started to sell hosiery and handkerchiefs by the side of the road, and then opened a retail store,” says Abhishek, having heard the story from his father, Jaipal Gaba.

Fast-forward 15 years, and Abhishek’s father and his two brothers joined the family business. The second generation expanded their footprint with manufacturing units across Ludhiana and began to sell hosiery under a variety of brands. Between 1980 and 1990, the business flourished, and their undergarments were in demand far and wide, across North India and beyond.

But time rarely stands still, and tides turn. Family squabbles led to division, and on a fateful day in 1990, the entire business – machinery, manufacturing units and brands — was divided between the three brothers.

Going solo – the start of a Make in India dream

This was when the Vimal Jonny brand was handed over to Abhishek’s father. Passionate about growing his legacy, he set up a large manufacturing unit in Ludhiana – one of the grandest in the city. To ramp up profitability, he imported expensive German machinery to manufacture a new type of fabric – the first of their kind in Ludhiana. “My father was one of the first people in Punjab to import this kind of machinery. I remember people coming to see them and marveling about how someone from Ludhiana could actually import such expensive machinery,” recalls Abhishek.

But it was a spark that didn’t quite catch. Along with the machinery, came heavy debt. When Abhishek was about to start college in 2000, the family’s debt had reached crores.

A hard choice for a young man with a promising future

Abhishek had always been a bright student, and with 95% in his 12th boards, he dreamed of premier institutions – either an IIM or the Shri Ram College of Commerce in Delhi. But he didn’t want to abandon his father in dire times.

“Initially, I was disappointed, but I wanted to be a good son. I wanted to join the business right away, but my father told me to take three years and enjoy college,” says Abhishek.

It was in college that Abhishek started to understand that his family’s finances were not what they had been a decade earlier. His friends in Ludhiana had a car, while he didn’t. The family lived in a rented home, and no longer had the staff they once had. Noticing this decline in family fortunes, Abhishek was filled with zeal to grow his father’s and grandfather’s Make in India business.

Though the situation was worse than his father let on, Abhishek learned the ropes for one year. But the business remained stagnant. In 2014, Abhishek’s father lost hope and gave him a new choice – relocate to Canada.

“I firstly love India and I had never dreamt of going overseas. I knew this wasn’t right,” he recalls, adding that, in a dramatic last-minute decision, he refused to get into that car that was to drive him to the airport for a flight to Canada.

In India, and his family business, Abhishek saw a potential ripe for the taking – introducing his Make In India brand online.

Make In India with e-commerce

“This was the perfect time to start e-retail as the space was not cluttered. Since digital commerce was direct-to-consumer, I convinced my father that our profits could be high, which was the need of the hour for us,” says Abhishek.

This Make in India story’s brand-new chapter began with Flipkart. “The online business was an amazing experience for us. Flipkart made it easy for us to manufacture and simply pack our products. We didn’t have to worry about anything else as they had their own logistics partner coming to pick up orders. It was effortless selling,” he says.

In the first year, 30% of his hosiery sales were online. But they soon reach an impasse. “We came to a point where we got 50 to 100 online orders per day, but this was the maximum we were doing. We couldn’t seem to go beyond this number.” That’s when Abhishek decided to diversify into track pants and t-shirts.

Unstoppable growth and debt-free at last

Ludhiana’s thriving textile industry gave Abhishek easy access to all the raw materials he needed. With the same machinery and staff, he expanded his product line. What started off with track pants soon grew to an exclusive range of t-shirts.

“Soon, we were adding more and more products. And as soon as we gained confidence, we started growing our categories and verticals. By 2018, we were growing phenomenally and could sustain our growth. By 2019, we could actually pay off all our loans,” says Abhishek.

Make in India

The turning point in his life was yet to come. “My family had lived on rent all this time, and the first thing we did when we got rid of our debt was to make a home of our own,” he says.

Today, online sales comprise 80% of his business. Abhishek’s sister Nitti too joined the family business, which now employs more than 300 people, over 60% of whom are women. Abhishek is now married and has just bought a luxury car. But does he have any intentions of slowing down? Absolutely not.

As he continues to put in the long hours that his business demands, he has no regrets about the roads not taken. “I believe in Make In India, and this online business has given a lot to us. It has helped us clear old debts, given us a home, given us a good lifestyle. I couldn’t be more proud of strengthening my inheritance as a third-generation businessman based in Ludhiana – my one and only home.”

For more inspiring seller stories, click here.

Enjoy shopping on Flipkart