The Founder’s Story
Mr. Nihal Chand Kharabanda (NCK), born 15th October 1908, was the second in line of seven sons of a small grocery store owner, Hari Chand Kharbanda and Veerawali, living in 28 Chak Village near Layalpur, now Faislabad. He achieved the distinction of studying up to the 10th standard in the British Indian school system and set out to explore his world.
Fortunate and proud to get a job as an assistant storekeeper in Uberoi and Company started by Mr. Ganda Singh Uberoi, the founder of the sports industry of India and Pakistan, NCK started his career with a salary of mere Rs. 30 per month. That job took him to various branches of Uberoi and Company in Sialkot, Pune and Rangoon, enabling him to gain work
experience and learn the sports trade. With a strong belief in his abilities and a burning passion for succeeding, in 1934, at the age of 26, he took a leap of faith to start his own small business to trade raw materials in the now flourishing sports manufacturing trade in Sialkot.
Determined to start his own small business, he had revealed his plans to his immediate boss at Uberoi and Company and his friend Mr. Kartar Singh Bhaizada. On asking Mr. Bhaizada for advice on what to name his new company, Mr. Bhaizada quipped," as if you would agree to anyone's suggestion, you are a man of your own Free will, do what you like".
"Freewill…. sounds interesting. That would be the name of my company," NCK replied. That is how Freewill & Co started in 1934 as a trading firm.
In 1947, India got independence from Britain and was divided into two separate countries: India and Pakistan. Leaving Sialkot, which was now in Pakistan, he, his wife Lajwanti and a seven-year-old son Vijay arrived in Mumbai seeking shelter at his younger brother Sant Ram Kharabanda, an officer in the revenue department of the Government of British India.
Penniless, but with his spirits and passion still intact, he started a new and began trading in sports strings, bladders and other sports articles needed by sports shops. Khandesh and Company in Jalgaon became Freewill's first dealer in Independent India.
Meerut in Uttar Pradesh and Jalandhar in Punjab soon became the hub of skilled entrepreneurs and craftsmen who had been displaced from the Sialkot sports industry and had come to India as refugees. Following the same footsteps, NCK, with his wife and son, initially shifted to Meerut and then to Jalandhar in 1950, when the Government of Punjab allocated the industrial plots to refugees from Pakistan to start the industry in India.
The plot S-32 Industrial Area, Sports Town, Jalandhar, still serves as the registered office of Freewill. This plot of land is intrinsically and deeply tied with the Freewill and NIVIA stories. It was the first home of Mr. Nihal Chand Kharabanda's family (until 1986) and also served as the birthplace of the present Chairman and Managing Director, Mr. Rajesh Kharabanda.
His journies across the sub-continent had imbibed NCK with a sense of free spirit and the need to expand his personal and professional boundaries. After settling in Jalandhar, he started manufacturing leather balls in small numbers and supplying sports shops across India alongside the existing trading business.
The Nivia Story
NCK's son Vijay, twenty years old in 1960, had been actively supporting his father in business for many years while completing his graduate studies and then masters in Political Science. Sports equipment manufacturing in India, by 1960, was established, and "refugees" now flourished as the entrepreneurs of New India. Buyers from Europe, Australia and UK were frequent visitors to Jalandhar and the sports industry of Jalandhar was exporting all over the world.
NCK, by now, had made his name in the art of making footballs and volleyballs. Freewill had established itself as a burgeoning sports manufacturer in a resurgent India. However, what was missing was the existence of a stand-alone brand (sports goods were sold under individual shop names) to finally mark India's arrival in the sporting world. Recognising the opportunity and the potential, NCK set about to establish an Indian sports brand. The name had to be as ingenious and clever as Freewill.
He wrote down the initial two letters of his name, "NI" (Nihal) and then the initial letter of his son's name ", VI" (Vijay). By adding the fourth common letter "A", he gave birth to the brand NIVIA.
The brand was registered for the first time in 1962.
In the meantime, Vijay got married to Sushil who was also from a refugee family of Sialkot, now settled in Meerut. She was the daughter of Mr. Jagdish Chand Verma, of Haveli Ram Verma and sons, raw material traders for the sports industry and later the distributors in India for Gosen strings from Japan.
The Brand Story
The story of NIVIA starts with the visionary son of Nihal Chand Kharabanda, Vijay Kharabanda. At the time when Freewill was a sports equipment manufacturing company, he saw the future in creating innovative products aimed at performing sportsmen. His ambition and passion led him to establish one of the most successful Indian sports brands in the history of Indian sports.
In the 1960s, when Kolkata, not Jalandhar, was the capital of football and football manufacturers, Vijay Kharabanda established NIVIA and with it the reputation of Jalandhar as a manufacturing hub of quality football, volleyball and basketball.
Capitalising on the success of hand-stitched balls, NIVIA was the first to launch a plastic sole shoe in the country called NIVIA Low Cut. It revolutionized the Indian Football shoe market and soon Jalandhar became the centre for shoe manufacturing. With less than 1% share in the Indian football shoe market in 1980. Today, Punjab is estimated to produce 90% of all football shoes Made in India.
Under his leadership, NIVIA was the first Indian company to get FIFA approval for its footballs. When the entire industry had surrendered to imported material for making footballs, he took up the challenge to upgrade the local rubber material to global standards. At present, NIVIA is probably the only company in the world that has successfully got FIFA PRO marking on a football made of rubber. Innovation was beginning to peep through.
Today, NIVIA is headed by Rajesh Kharabanda, the second of Vijay & Sushil's four children. Under him, product innovation has been the prime focus. His mission is to create products and opportunities for an average Indian to participate in serious sports. Creating a sports culture and sports environment that help move up aspiring sports people.NIVIA remains the hope for a large group of determined sports people who otherwise could be marginalized.
THE NIVIA PHILOSOPHY & PURPOSE
The brand has lived on a sports premise: Step Out and Play. It has inculcated the belief and continuously pushes the boundaries at every level to create innovations and opportunities for the community. Step Out and Play is the guiding principle for growth and employee engagement.The overall purpose has been to #moveup every aspiring sports person to the next level. The purpose of uplifting sports persons is the key reason why the brand exists, even if it means impact on financial sheets. When Time of India declared NIVIA as the 'Iconic Sports Brand of India', it was not about mere financial success. It was about the brand's commitment to sports and the commitment to innovate to achieve its purpose.