In the midst of peak shopping hours, a man approaches Harinder Singh at his 1469 store in New Delhi’s Janpath. Tells him that he has stolen a lot of ideas from the stuff he creates, and says ‘thank you’ with a smile. They both are friends now, and whenever that,In the midst of peak shopping hours, a man approaches Harinder Singh at his 1469 store in New Delhi’s Janpath. Tells him that he has stolen a lot of ideas from the stuff he creates, and says ‘thank you’ with a smile. They both are friends now, and whenever that gentleman is in Delhi, he drops in at his place for some mutton.Film director Imtiaz Ali was the man. After that meeting, he asked 1469 to design the ‘Sada Haq’ T-shirts for his film Rockstar and later Alia Bhatt’s headgear in Highway. For Harinder Singh, 48, who shuttles between Delhi and Chandigarh, any business is all about allowing the gut feel to overtake business school ideas and bring in originality in its rawest form.Harinder Singh at his Chandigarh store Photograph by SAN. “Commercial success doesn’t really come with a surgeon’s cut, but with a hearty laugh and minute attention to social behavior around. One needs to keep his eyes open all the time and observe what catches people’s attention and decipher the ideas that have the potential to get imprinted in their minds,” says Singh, sporting a bag that shouts, Nasha Kar, Jaldi Mar. “Seems perfect for Punjab, no? I am selling this for Rs 250 though the cost is much more.” The motivation of setting up 1469 (in 2004), named after the year of birth of the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak Dev, was to show that there is much more to Punjabis than mere Bhangra and Butter Chicken.”I realised that Punjabis were losing pride in their mother tongue, so we decided to make the language fashionable by manufacturing good-quality T-shirts with catchy Punjabi slogans. They were lapped up not just by people from the state but also savvy customers, residing in India as also tourists, looking for alternative clothing. The fact that a state like Punjab, which has such multiple dimensions has never been represented well has always made me sad. There are different facets of Punjabis that need to be explored and shown to the world. We have layers where strength, sensitivity, pride andsewaco-exist. Is it not interesting that a mere experiment with fun took the shape of a conceptual brand. This is something that makes me a very proud man today,” says Singh.advertisementToday, the brand, which has five stores between Chandigarh and Delhi, showcases Punjab in its traditional and cultural finery with handcrafted phulkari, quirky T-shirts, Gurumukhi calligraphy, handmade chai cups, phulkari based accessories and souvenirs. “We never do images of the Golden Temple,” he adds. Talk to him about how business houses can do their bit when it comes to empowering women who make Phulkari in Punjab, and he is quick to assert, “We never shy away from our social responsibility. In fact, we engage women of farmer suicide stricken Sangrur district of Punjab in making the famed Sangrur bell. Besides, we purchase handicrafts from rural women at fair prices.” 1469 has always been aware of the brilliant craftsmanship of traditional embroidery experts, weavers and handicraft makers who live in core Punjab. “Our effort will always be to bring forth their talent and give them a fair price for the pain sticking work they do.”Singh, a 1998-batch commerce graduate from Delhi University, who completed a course in Quality Management from National Institute of Fashion Technology, New Delhi in 1991, stresses that he is not a “chair boss”. “I am completely involved in the whole process-the fabric, design and copy. Of course, there is a creative team, but I make it a point to throw new challenges at them every day and present myself to receive tougher ones. That is how we break clichs-in business and in our products.”And this is precisely why I never feel that I am working. The sheer pleasure of exercising your mind non-stop and interacting with brilliant minds in the team ensures that work is always fun.”Insisting that word-of-mouth publicity is what the company believes in, Singh thinks that adopting the usual marketing techniques will not really benefit the company. “We associate ourselves with street theatre groups and hugely depend on what our existing customers have to say about our products. When you sell unusual stuff, you never go the usual way.” However, if there is something that Singh is really obsessed about, it is quality control. “I brought in six experts from Marks and Spencer’s to train my workers in the Delhi factory. They ensured that the latter forgot the phrase chalta hai. If there is something that I do not tolerate, it is inferior quality. A good business sense is about acknowledging the fact that the customer is intelligent and knows more than you do. It is also about ensuring that he comes back to the store. The contemporary buyer is obsessed with the fit, cloth quality and design precision. They continuously push us harder to deliver our best. By the way, I love challenges,” says Singh.advertisementQuite particular about which film production house he associates with, this motorcycling freak who loves to canvass Delhi roads on his Royal Enfield, insists that 1469 is more than just a commercial venture. “The bandwidth has to match. How can an association be just about money? There are many producers who have approached me and offered me deals where the actors in the films will wear my brand, and I am expected to pay for the same. Frankly, that does not work for me.”Not planning to open any more stores but invest more on the online platform, Singh adds, “While many people may still think that going online is gimmick, imagine the reach that the virtual world gives you. So, I am looking forward to seeing a youngster living in Pondicherry wearing a 1469 T-shirt that shows a Sikh farmer on a tractor in Punjab,” he concludes.