Khadi: The Fabric Of Freedom, Style And Income [and why we must wear it]

Posted on January 27, 2011 in Business and Economy

By Shruti Bhardwaj:

Khadi and non-violence were two powerful weapons with which Mahatma Gandhi equipped Indians to throw out British colonial rulers. In 1920, Indian National Congress had at its Nagpur session first declared its aim to promote khadi as the nationalist fabric which Gandhi ji referred to as “livery of freedom”. Soon khadi became the symbol of defiance as massive bonfires were lighted across the country and Indian struggled against colonialism by burning their Manchester textiles. Khadi continued to grow into prominence and a place of pride for Indians.

Fashion designers have found khadi their canvas as imaginative creations. It is a ripe for re-incarnation as a livery of young surging India. A rising number of young fashion designers are seeking out local fabrics, craft and technique to give expression to this trend. Khadi as defined by Gandhi ji as a cloth hand woven in India from yarn hand-spun in India has been taken as legal definition of khadi. It is unique for its property of staying cool in summer and warm in winter which makes it exclusive among the fabric. The products are unique in the sense that they are one of a kind besides being truly “cottage” or “hand-spun” and “hand woven”. They are “flawed” and are not mindless creation of machines.

That’s why each piece of khadi is different and as such many won’t mind paying for its exclusivity. It gets softer with each wash which makes it ideal tropical fabric. India’s thriving confident middle class has today started looking inward for the style cue and design mantra. The existing brands of khadi are: khadi India or Khadi Bharat, Sarvodhya, Desi Ahar, Kutir and others.

It provides employment to the poor, gives earning to small cotton farmers, is eco-friendly, porous/airy, has simplicity which gives it elegance and connects it to the freedom movement and Gandhian values. Some of the khadi producing states of our country are Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Assam. In terms of value, the annual production is in the range of Rs 700-1000 crore. Khadi is a potent tool for real, inclusive growth. Being a traditional labour intensive industry, one-square metre of khadi cloth requires about 281.05 gram of hand spun yarn which a spinner could earlier produce in about 3 days, but can now produce in just half-day, thanks to the new model charkhas introduced by Khadi and Village Commission. About 9 lakh spinners and weavers work in this sector. An artisan on the average gets work for 200 days in a year.

However, khadi has had its challenges in its spectacular growth mostly on account of conservative market thinking which resisted reform to the changing, competitive market and participate in the growth bandwagon. Progressive khadi activists and Khadi-lovers have realized its true value and are most vocal today for reforms and are voluntarily taking up the “reform package”. The basic approach being adopted is making khadi activities artisan-centric without compromising the growth and sustainability of the sector.

From customer’s point of view, khadi should be more accessible, well-priced, stylish enough to cater to the taste of urban India and to catch the imagination of the younger generation with a cultural resonance in the form of a pride just as the world has now recognized our economic resilience due mainly to a strong domestic market and in the past had found their way in the Gandhian values. To fit perfectly, khadi has already become a style statement for many along with proving employment to the large population. Thus, Khadi is now not just only a device used by Gandhi ji for freedom but it is life of many Indians.

Image from jHat