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 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 as one that broke stereotypes, thereby elevating 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. 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. Their goal of setting up brands was with a purpose to see the fabric get its much deserved respect.
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.
Designer label Red Sister Blue’s connection with khadi is more emotional. 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 one 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.
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. 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.
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. Red Sister Blue directly deals with the weavers, thus eliminating the need for middlemen and ensuring 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, Malkha has 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 co-operative, 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.
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.
Words: MIA GANDHI