Khadi in India is not just perceived as a fabric but is a way of remembering Gandhiji’s ideals of nationalism and principles of swadeshi, for the majority of Indians. Many here cherish our hard-won Independence by wearing khadi. But today, the importance of khadi goes beyond the swaraj symbol. Guardian 20’s interactions with upcoming designers suggest so.
Many designers today have embraced khadi not because it is comfortable to wear but it’s a way of paying homage to their country’s indigenous culture. “Hand woven fabrics have always been eternal aspect of traditional crafted clothing in Indian subcontinent. It takes the idea of luxe couture to a different level. I decided to go for khadi only when I felt the flat stiffness of the machine made fabrics. The uneven khadi textures, woven in looms make it look more appealing. The fall in the khadi garments are much better than the mechanically produced fabrics and the purity is eternal. Since, it is hand-woven; the uneven movement of warp and weft makes the couture stunning and speaks for class,” says designer Karan Arora.
“I think it will take time for most people to develop a mindset and the aesthetic sense for khadi. One needs to fall in love with khadi’s beautiful imperfections and minimalism in design to fully appreciate clothes made out of khadi. It is more about the thought process than about the money, I feel.”
Designer Jayati Goenka believes that khadi fabric has undergone many changes but what has not lost what it always stood for even in present times. She says, “Khadi was a statement of being a self reliant Indian during the Independence movement and wearing and making khadi is still a statement of being a proud Indian.”
Khadi fabric has evolved since independence. Designers has been experimenting a lot of colours, texture and prints in their designs. It can be elegantly paired with modern day silhouettes. But for many designers, khadi fabric has been ignored for many years. “When it comes to the production of khadi, the laborious work and low wages entailed in making it have seen the number of entrepreneurs coming into the khadi production business shrink,” says designer Sailesh Singhania.
He adds, “Another reason for the declining number of khadi workers is the laborious nature of the job. The cloth is completely hand woven and handspun and does not involve any machine. Weavers are moving away from handspun yarns as it is a lot of labour.”
Even for Arora, it had been ignored and down-traded for prolonged years. He says, “The world is moving at a rampant pace now, the saddening fact is Indian people realized the importance of wearing Khadi lately, the west on the other hand, appreciated and accepted the exuberance of the product much before.”
But what is interesting is that khadi is one such fabric which is known for paying homage to the traditional craftspersons. Weavers, mostly from rural backgrounds, are the ones who weave an ensemble with a delicate weaving artwork. “It certainly and invariably helps them to not only become independent financially but brings a drastic change in their mentality when they see the fabric being in demand and chosen over its competitors. The practise of weaving khadi would be able to generate employment, income and hence, self-reliance,” says Singhania.
“When a customer is promoting khadi, it is helping designers like us to keep working with our Indian craftsmen who are our backbone. It is not only paying homage but all helping craftsmen survive and make a decent living,” says Goenka.
Khadi made clothes are usually expensive in the market. Making a khadi outfit is time consuming and a long process indeed. Also, khadi is handpicked and known for its exclusivity. The price is not reasonable for many customers, thus khadi market loses its customers. Designer Meenu Tiwari says, “I think it will take time for most people to develop a mindset and the aesthetic sense for khadi. One needs to fall in love with Khadi’s beautiful imperfections and minimalism in design to fully appreciate clothes made out of Khadi. It is more about the thought process than about money I feel.”
According to designer Lalit Dalmia, new techniques have now crept into the market to make khadi stand out in the league of expensive attire. Different silhouettes can help khadi to join the international market.
Modern designs in apparels and other accessories can help in grabbing the attention of the buyers. Internationally, khadi is already in markets especially in high end international boutiques. Khadi has become refined and luxurious, suiting the demands and aesthetics of the global market.
And for all designers, marketing is one of the crucial elements when it comes to products like khadi. There should be more emphasis given on its strength as a cloth, wearing comforts, suitability to climate and most importantly, the social benefits to khadi weavers. Most of the weavers have opined that given some operational freedom may give better results. Experts say, adoption of innovative techniques like blending silk with cotton khadi can help this garment sector from dying.