“I believe that where there is pure and active love for the poor there is God also. I see God in every thread that I draw on the spinning wheel,” these were Mahatma Gandhi’s words, while he spun the Charkha and drew the khadi thread.
The fabric that played a major role in the freedom movement and was the preferred textile of the common man remains more of a political garb now. While a small percentage of today’s younger, up-market generation is shifting focus to it, the sales are far from reassuring. In fact, with the intent of giving khadi a facelift, designers, are making tiny inroads by incorporating it in their collections. The question remains, is the effort sufficient?
“Khadi is an amazing fabric. It has its own swadeshi charm with a unique textural feel, which adds class to an outfit. It is high time for it to be incorporated in modern silhouettes for new-age design adaptations,” says designer Swapnil Shinde.
Other designers like Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Pallavi Jaikishan and Krishna Mehta swear by khadi and have made efforts to popularise it, by giving it a new lease of life through their lines more often than not.
Hyderabad-based designer Gaurang Shah is among the few to have dabbled with the hand-woven fabric. Shah adapted it in a contemporary form in a line that he showcased at the Berlin Fashion Week, earlier this year.
“I had showcased 24 outfits. With khadi I made jumpsuits, skirts, uneven cut tops and flared skirts. I wanted to show the tradition of India, its hand-woven textures and fabrics to the world,” informs Shah.
Khadi is an eco-friendly fabric and it absorbs perspiration very easily. It keeps a person warm in winter and cool in summer. At the same time it is very economical. Yet, many feel that the fabric doesn’t get the amount of attention it deserves.
The forgotten fabric
“The response for khadi around the year is average. Mostly, politicians buy the cloth because common people are not aware about the benefits of the fabric even now. It’s very economical even then we don’t see a lot of sales,” expresses Ashok D Talreja of the Maharashtra Khadi Bhandar.
Former Samta Party president Jaya Jaitly, who has worked for the handicrafts and textiles of the country for almost 40 years, feels that a lack of awareness and absence of an effective marketing strategy has led to the unpopularity of khadi. “Khadi institutions are very old and defunct in their thinking, and like every other institution, they have become a bit corrupt and apathetic. So, there isn’t any liveliness in the form of marketing. We need to believe in the fabric ourselves, first. People, who manage the production, must learn to believe in it beyond it being a symbol of Mahatma Gandhi. It can be something that is suitable for us, in these times. I doubt if any other country makes a handspun, hand woven cloth on such a large scale. So, we should popularise it,” she stresses.
Jaitly also adds that styling is necessary to make the khadi garments more appealing. “The kurtas could be cut more fashionably, shirts can have better styling. There is a lot that can be done because khadi remains one of the best cotton fabrics in the world,” she reminds us.
To aid this situation, designer Krishna Mehta, who has been predominantly using Indian textiles in her collections for years now, agrees with Jaitly and feels that designers should carry forward the mantle of making khadi stylish and chic, so it catches the fancy of the fashion-conscious younger generation.
“An increasing number of designers should use khadi in their collections by adopting interesting prints, twist in weaves and stylish cuts so that it takes a modern avatar and appeals to the youth,” avers Mehta.
“There are inherent defects with khadi like slub (a soft thick nub in yarn that is an imperfection) and weaving defects, because of which designers tend to stay away from it, but they should get over this hurdle and feel proud to wear and create outfits with this fabric that is Indian to the core. It’s important to keep it alive” she adds.
Khadi and the Sabarmati story
On his return from South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi’s first Ashram in India was established in the Kochrab area of Ahmedabad on May 25, 1915. The Ashram was then shifted on June 17, 1917 to a piece of open land on the banks of the Sabarmati River, and came to be known as the Sabarmati Ashram. It was here that among his various experiments, Mahatma Gandhi started spinning the Charkha to draw the Khadi thread. It was aimed at boycotting foreign goods and promoting Indian goods, thereby improving India’s economy. Thus, the khadi fabric started being used and dumping of foreign-made clothes became rampant.
Power to the khadi weaver
Gaurang Shah has adopted a village in Andhra Pradesh where Khadi sarees and fabric are woven. He leads us in on the details: “Before I started working with weavers, I discovered that they were weaving very simple designs and making a very coarse fabric, which nobody liked. Dull and muted colours were used and designs were mundane. My first step was to tell the weaver to weave a finer count of khadi in bright colours like Red, Pink, Violet, Yellow and other vibrant colours. Next, was the working on the design.” Shah adds that while the weavers had the knowledge of jamdani weaving there was no one to give direction to these designs. “So, I gave them floral patterns with a number of colors and textures. Different textured yarns are used in the patterns to be woven to give the designs a realistic look. For example, when a lotus flower is woven, three strands of red and pink thread each are taken and twisted and woven to give a 3D effect. From a distance, it looks like an actual flower placed on a saree,” he tells us.