When Mahatma Gandhi brought khadi into the lives of Indians, little did he realize that this humble handspun yarn and fabric would turn into a fashion statement in the 21st century and move away from being just the staple dress material for netas and freedom fighters. To highlight the spirit of non-violence Gandhiji chose the charkha (spinning wheel) and the fabric woven from khadi yarn as the symbol of patriotism and freedom. During the freedom movement, khadi had a rural and political image with freedom fighters and farmers opting for the fabric to prove their love for the country.
The Khadi and Village Industries Board set up in 1953 helped to promote khadi, but this was normally during Gandhiji’s birth celebrations and restricted to the many khadi outlets, which sold kurtas, pyjamas, shawls and assorted khadi items. As the decades passed, khadi remained ingrained as a poor man’s option, till designers turned their creative gaze on the fabric in the eighties.
One of the earliest thrusts given to khadi was by film star Jaya Bachchan and Devika Bhojwani, who came together in 1987, totally changing the image of khadi when they created fashionable collections under the label ‘Swadesi’ and exhibited them in various stores. The first push towards high fashion for khadi came in 1990 from doyenne of Indian fashion Padma Shri Ritu Kumar, when she presented her ‘Tree of Life’ Show featuring collections with bandhej, chikankari, devi mandala, hand block prints, paisley, chintz and zardosi, and brought khadi out in a special segment onto the ramp, turning it into luxurious ethnic wear. Rohit Bal’s khadi collections have created a lot of excitement whenever they have been displayed as the designer added his distinct creative touches.
Designers Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla too gave khadi pride of place in their ready-to-wear collections, turning it into ornate formal wear by adding mukaish and badla work. Pallavi Jaikishan, known for her exotic bridal wear, is another ardent promoter of khadi, adding heavy resham and zari embroidery to give it an evening-wear flavour. With designers adding their creativity to khadi, the demand for the fabric grew in the Rs 80s and Rs 90s, and now in the 21st century it is one of the most wanted fabrics on the fashion charts, and the price tags too match the designers’ haute couture collections. From the very coarse, thick fabric available at throwaway prices, the material has turned into a sophisticated offering in various blends of silk, jute and linen to match the changing trends on the fashion charts. As the demand grew, the supply at times dwindled and getting the right khadi fabric, at the right time, proved difficult for designers who had many buyers that were interested in this rustic material.
Designer Krishna Mehta has worked with khadi consistently for her collections. Her latest collection, made with fabrics from Manipur, was hand spun and hand woven but Krishna admits, “Most of the time the production was limited so one had to work around it. Also the fabric could be inconsistent at times, so we added block prints, tie-dye and Shibori, which gave it a stylish look. But it’s the feel of khadi that makes it wonderful. Its supple softness, which is very popular, has encouraged me to always have khadi in my collections.” Wendell Rodricks has an Eco Goa Room in his store in Panjim where khadi is given pride of place and is used in its natural ecru form. Priced between Rs 2,000-4,000 the garments made from cotton khadi have a high fashion appeal. “Every year we make a collection of 60-180 garments free of cost for the Goa Kasturba Gandhi Trust, which are sold by them with the profits going to the Trust. I am just preparing another collection, which will sell for the Trust for between Rs 1,000-2,000 and will appeal to the trendy buyers.”
Khadi was the centre of attraction during the Indian Textile Days at Lakmé Fashion Weeks, which were held for the Summer/Resort and Winter Festive seasons. Shruti Sancheti’s experiments with khadi, woven into 100-count fine cotton, has won her accolades from Gujarat CM, Narendra Modi for her resort and fusion lines. Her collection ‘Swadeshi’ displayed the beauty of khadi in beautiful western silhouettes. Soumitra Mondal of Kolkata has only showcased khadi at fashion weeks and his experiments in weaving very high counts to give it a sheer look have resulted in beautiful saris and ethnic wear. White saris had tonal or pink butties, flared pants were topped with kurtas, and long Anarkalis and tiered maxis with embroidered bodices made fashion statements. At one of the fashion weeks, Soumitra even presented a line for trendy teenagers, with capri pants, halter tops, Bermudas, blouses and jackets, all created from colourful khadi.
Sabyasachi Mukherjee had a full khadi collection in 2011 and in 2009 created a 90-piece bridal lehenga line from khadi priced between Rs 65,000 and Rs 3 lakh, which apparently was a sell-out. Delhi designers Neeru Kumar, Pranavi Kapur, Madhu Jain, Sunaina Suneja, Anju Modi, Nida Mehmood and Deepika Govind in Bangalore have all been regular lovers of khadi for many decades because the fabric dyes well, is eco-friendly and its matte texture is very appealing. Purvi Doshi is another designer who has given khadi pride of place for her collections. “For me, khadi is a ‘must have’ in all my collections and I promote it with fusion silhouettes for resort, casual and formal wear to give the fabric an international appeal.”
Gaurang Shah, who has promoted textiles from all over India, is an ardent admirer of khadi and has backed more than 500 weavers all over the country for fabrics for his many collections. From staid dull kurtas, pyjamas, dhotis and bundies, khadi has moved up the style ladder not only for garments but also accessories like handbags, scarves, stoles and even footwear. Shravan Kumar had very striking high-heel laced-up boots, which were in self-designed khadi with silver zari and printed fabrics that added a retro look to his garments along with interestingly crafted bags from bamboo and recycled leather that completed the look during the recently concluded Lakmé Fashion Week Winter/Festive 2013 season. Used for ready-to-wear, resort, formal and even bridal wear by nearly every designer in India at some time or the other, khadi is no longer a coarse, rough fabric that fashionistas shied away from. Today it has made inroads into the fashion scene and trend-setters just can’t seem to be getting enough of it.