Khadi, termed as ‘fabric of nation’, is a symbol of India’s economic self-sufficiency and a medium for communicating to the British, the dignity of poverty and equality of Indian civilisation. The ‘Khadi’ spirit signifies fraternity and brotherhood with every Human Being.
Khadi is not just a fabric, it was a movement through which Mahatma Gandhi demonstrated the ability to be self-reliant, to believe in oneself and to recognise one’s inner potential. Once a symbol of India’s freedom struggle, khadi has now morphed into a fabric of choice, where high street designers are giving it an avant-garde makeover.
The evolution of Khadi was based on the fact that a country rich in unmatchable skills and crafts, has the capability to create high quality products and build her economic independence. Khadi refers to handspun and handwoven cloth usually made of cotton, spun using a ‘charkha’ or spinning wheel. The khadi movement started in 1918, and was a call to boycott foreign made goods and promote the rich culture and livelihood of Indian craftsmen.
It was in the 1980s when Khadi found its way into Indian fashion, as Designer Devika Bhojwani introduced Khadi with ‘Swadeshi’ brand. In partnership with Khadi Village Industries Commission (KVIC), the label was showcased at a fashion show where Bhojwani displayed around 85 garments, that were later available at the many KVIC stores across India. This brought the humble khadi well within reach of millions, promoting it as not just a mundane fabric to beat the heat, but one that broke stereotypes, elevated it to a whole new level.
Designer Ritu Kumar took the khadi movement even further with her collection ‘Tree Of Life’. This was khadi’s first commercial entry into the fashion orbit. Khadi came as a surprise when western culture and industrially producedgoods had a great influence in the market. Both flexible and versatile, khadi is best suited for Indian climate.
After this, there was no looking back. Designers started a movement to remind India of its lost heritage. They utilised this fabric in the most creative manner that benefitted artisans and weavers economically, and at a larger scale. Independent designers came up with their labels and brands that started producing outfits fashioned only with khadi. Their goal of setting up these brands was with a purpose to see the fabric get its much deserved respect and to encourage the decreasing number of weavers to retain their livelihood and promote this craft in the country and abroad.
Renowned designer Rajesh Pratap Singh, in collaboration with Jack & Jones, came up with stylish and eco-friendly Khadi Denims. He merged India’s cultural past with the trendy present to create denims that were indigenous and handcrafted. These khadi denims became quite a success, pushingother designers to experiment with this fantastic fabric.
Designer label Red Sister Blue’s connection with khadi is more emotional. Though the label entered the industry only a few years ago, they brought significant changes in the lives of the weavers. Nanda Yadav, co- founder of Red Sister Blue, says enthusiastically, “We have a number of women artisans, who are always enthusiastic about making something new with khadi. Whenever we visit them, they are always ready with their own designs. You can feel their energy and positivity when it comes to working with this fabric.”
As the industry around khadi evolved into quite traditional in approach and perception, it became difficult to readily attract the attention of the next-gen. Red Sister Blue is on a mission to make khadi an intrinsic part of urban culture, although, some may yet be apprehensive towards khadi due to limited variety. Nanda adds, “People are open to khadi if they get the desired design.” It got Nanda thinking about khadi being used to fashion trousers, skirts, dresses and tops, bridging the gap and changing perceptions.
Symbol of Empowerment
Khadi has become a fabric of choice for designers today, but the journey from India’s tool of independence to an accepted fabric in the country required a lot of thought and hard work. Due to lack of employment and financial hardships, the weavers were forced to pursue different professions to make ends meet. Metaphor Racha, a Bengaluru-based brand by designer duo Ravikiran and Chandrashekar, has been working with khadi institutes in Karnataka. The brand attempts to understand khadi not just as a mere fabric, but as a thought; a thought that kindles the spirit, to facilitate its use and services of the immediate surroundings. It is this thought that embodies so many dimensions and finally culminates it all into a unified organic spirit.
They add, “Khadi is still relevant today for it speaks of people involved, minimal use of technology and the decentralisation of power. It empowers the rural economy which is the backbone of our country.” For the designers, working with khadi is a humbling experience, where the soul is woven with the yarn and coarse nature of the fabric echoes the imperfections of life.
Metaphor Racha has been working with many khadi institutes in Karnataka producing khadi-based towels, napkins, sarees, etc. One such institute employs around 31 women spinners and eight women weavers. Red Sister Blue directly deals with the weavers, thus eliminating the need for middlemen and the weavers get their due share directly.
New Routes Ahead
Malkha or malmal khadi, is a new variety of fabric that aims to promote ecological textile production and establish a ‘green industry’ in which India can lead the world. Be it dupattas or sarees, bedsheets or table runners, Malkhahas found much acceptance in the market today. Pegged as a looming revolution, Malkha is managed, run and owned by the primary producers itself, and its structure is akin to a cooperative, linking spinners, weavers and even farmers. The mixed fabric that combines heritage with modern technology, is more lustrous, soft and pliable, giving designers more freedom to create new designs.
Providing much fillip to this indigenous textile, the Indian tourism department has decided to introduce the national fabric in the uniform of the airlines’ cabin crew. Word is out that ITDC (India Tourism Development Corporation) hotels may incorporate khadi bedsheets and towels in their properties. Both the Indian government and the private industries are joining hands to make khadi popular once more, and to provide a much-needed impetus to the fabric of India, within the country and globally too.
The initiative taken by the government and independent designers has helped restore weavers’ faith in this profession and continue their work with renewed zeal and passion, passing it on to newer generations, celebrating the spirit of khadi.
written by Anwesha Paul