In a constellation of fibers and fabrics today, Khadi outshines superlatively. With its history that spans an exact century this year, this humble fiber has made noteworthy strides. Over time, India’s fabric of freedom, Khadi, has evolved from its incipient definition and since its simple, unadorned, beige debut it’s gone through countless meliorations and time and time again been reincarnated in many forms and colors. Its significance in today’s world of synthetic fabrics and fibers is not less than prodigious. To speak of Indian textiles without the mention of this handwoven and handspun wonder is simply unheard of.
A CULTURAL ADHESIVE
Since its inception, Khadi aka Khaddar has been an intrinsic part of the Indian heritage and holds a different yet binding significance for all those who produce it and wear it. First introduced in India in the 1920s as a political magnum and as an emblem of the Swadeshi movement, led by Mahatma Gandhi, with a clear aim to boycott foreign goods, Khadi has journeyed skillfully through time and cultures. A homegrown alternative to British textiles Khadi did more than just clothe people, it soon became a way of life, a spirit of independence, bettering the quotidian lives and livelihood of Indians. Khadi is a technique of spinning yarn by hand, traditionally on a charkha (a hand-operated spinning wheel). The charkha is quite easy to operate and, basically, anyone with good ambidexterity can spin khadi. Gandhi strongly encouraged the people to weave their own yarn on the charkha and don their creations with pride and emboldened the motto of self-sufficiency, shunning dependency on the exploitative policies of the British Raj. This naturally helped maintain the Indian heritage and with every weave, Khadi helped bind the people of India culturally and infuse a spirit of patriotism. Khadi was the kingpin of the #VocalForLocal maxim back then and holds the same reverence even today. A plethora of handwoven, handspun, and handmade fabrics like Chanderi or Jamdani have developed over the years, but in all honesty, there’s been none other like Khadi – in every right, a highly versatile and an unparalleled protagonist of the Indian fabric story. One can weave khadi in cotton, in silk, in wool, and in many other fabrics, and with dynamic advancements, it’s now available in multitudinous variations, you name it! Even with its coarse texture, it’s perfect for any season of the year. Through the length and breadth of its laudable odyssey, Khadi has risen above its patriotic connotation and has embodied many changing narratives, from a trendy traditional fabric to a major catalyst in generating employment for the rural population, India’s signature fabric still continues to empower India and help build a strong cultural narrative.
THE INSIGNIA OF SUSTAINABILITY
Many custodians of age-old traditions might argue that khadi is losing its true mettle and attribute technological advancement to the loss of its real cultural purpose. To a layperson, it’s nothing but an aesthetically sophisticated luxe fabric but in reality, there’s more to Khadi than meets the eye. It’s imperative for consumers, and manufacturers alike, to dig deeper into its real significance, even more so in a time when our wardrobes are dominated by synthetically produced polyester and nylons. To begin with making the fabric the khadi way has zero carbon footprint, if entirely handmade. Modern machinery is taking over the traditional methods of handmaking the fabric but still uses considerably less amount of energy.
Moreover, much after India got independence, KVIC (Khadi, Village and Industries Commission) was formed and it continues the Gandhian legacy. Ever since the Commission has strived to develop and promote the khadi industry with the dream to empower rural India by offering employment to Indian artisans. Most of khadi in India has been spun in the villages but with the advanced weaving techniques of today, most of it’s not entirely handspun or handwoven (the warp is, the weft machined). The warp, if not the weft, leverages the power of sustaining indigenous cultures and their artisanal skills, to keep the khadi spirit alive. ‘For those who know anything about the production of khadi know how patiently the spinners and the weavers have to toil at their trade, and even so, must we have patience while we are spinning the thread of Swaraj.’, said Gandhi, and the ones in the business of fashion will echo this unquestionably. It’s more than just a fabric of freedom and a fashion statement, to say the least. Khadi is on many levels synonymous with inclusivity, self-empowerment, self-reliance, patriotism (of course), and most importantly, it bears the badge of sustainability of every kind.
THE NEW WAY OF KHADI
Along with other handmade fabrics, the real appraisers on the Indian fashion scene celebrate khadi on the runway each season, every year. Its interpretations aren’t limited to a mere 6-yard sari anymore! Especially the flag bearers of slow and sustainable fashion dote on the soul of khadi and apply constant effort to reimagine and repurpose it to fit the modern context. From khadi denim to recycled variants, it’s reconstructed, deconstructed, refined, redefined, and molded to make it more relevant for modern consumption. That’s the most viable way to sustain the spirit of the khadi, by making it in congruence of contemporary preferences. Moreover, the young consumers today are quite impressionable and conscious about what and how they consume their fashion. They’re considerably aware of the negative environmental impact of fashion. Using more khadi and creating awareness about the unique nature of sustainability of khadi needs to be on top of fashion’s agenda whilst attempting to cater to the ever-changing fashion needs of the present and future generations. Consumers of fashion will eventually adapt and will be more than happy to wear clothing made of fabric with a greater purpose, and at the same time, clothing that’s fashion-forward. Only purposeful and innovative design collaborations can carry forward the legacy of khadi and sustainability.
The fashion scene in India (at least) is incomplete without khadi. A future without it? Totally unimaginable! It’s survived this long and we don’t see it going anywhere!
Photography by: Mohamad Rafi
Styling and direction: Devesh Pant
Model: Anjana Bharadwaj
Hair and make-up by: Tereza Sofie Sherpa