India’s journey to independence from British colonial rule was made up of many forms of struggle. From the rebellion of 1857 to peaceful Satyagraha, from the sacrifices of the brave soldiers of the Indian National Army to the exploits of many unsung heroines and heroes, every route taken made a significant contribution to the freedom movement. Amongst these, two ideas that fired the imagination of the people and made the quest for freedom into a mass movement were Swarajya and Swadeshi. These two pillars of the Gandhian philosophy gave India a new source of securing freedom, through economic independence.
Pre-independence, the biggest source of livelihood for Indians, after agriculture, was the indigenous Indian textile Industry. But in the early 19th Century, the East India Company started promoting imported and mill-made yarns for sale in India whilst imposing taxes on Indian weavers. This destroyed the handloom businesses, relegating our indigenous textiles to oblivion with machine-made garments.
It was then, that Mahatma Gandhi started hand spinning his, and his countrymen and women’s, dreams of freedom on a charkha (or the spinning wheel) which went on to become the national symbol of self-reliance, and perseverance, defiance and determination. He famously said, “Khadi is the sun of the village solar system. The planets are the various industries which can support khadi in return for the heat and the sustenance they derive from it. Without it, other industries cannot grow.”
From the humble Charkha was born Khadi – a textile that weaved legacy and started a revolution! Once a symbol of the freedom movement, today it is also a key pillar of the sustainable fashion movement.
Khadi, Sustainability And The 21st Century
Khadi, derived from the word khaddar, is a hand-spun and woven cloth made in natural fibres like cotton, silk, jute or wool. It is a democratic and decentralised textile production system that demands minimum capital and power and leaves behind a zero or low chemical and carbon footprint. Khadi is more than a symbol of a mass movement or a precious craft rooted in our heritage. It is the most sustainable fabric there is. A metre of Khadi consumes only about three litres of water, as against one metre of mill-produced fabric that requires 55 litres of the precious resource. To add to all the benefits is the fact that about 70% of the weavers and allied workers involved in weaving this fabric are women, which means the fabric contributes to women’s empowerment.
As the sheen of synthetic, fast-fashion clothes wears off and the possibilities of khadi become known, modern, conscious consumers have started embracing the magic of the heritage fabric.
From basic neutral colours to a brighter colour palette in newer blends, weaves, prints, silhouettes and various surface ornamentation techniques, Khadi’s sartorial periphery has expanded to include new techniques. With innovations like handcrafted 100% Cotton denim fabric by Khadi India and a twist to the traditional weave by Malkha (a portmanteau of Mulmul and Khadi), Khadi is back in the modern fashionista’s wardrobes. No longer considered a poor man’s or a politician’s clothing, it is now becoming a part of our everyday wardrobes with local sustainable brands and indie clothing labels embracing it wholeheartedly.
Here are some handpicked homegrown labels that are reviving the traditional handloom with their modern takes.
Akaaro: If you think handloom can’t be edgy, check out Akaaro by designer Gaurav Jai Gupta. His relentless love for handloom brought to life craft couture in the form of urban separates that are comfortable and chic. What also makes the label unique is the fact that he is fashioning a uniquely sustainable future by developing his fabric in-house at his studio.
DesiTude: Started by Gandhian Siddharth Mohan Nair, DesiTude boasts of Khadi denim hand-spun on a charkha and woven using a handloom. There is much we are loving about Nair’s venture – the real people featured on their shopping site and that for every sale they make, they plant a tree with 10% of each sale proceeds going to social causes and groups.
Khadiwala Designer: An amalgamation of art, culture and community, the Jharkhand-based label, Khadiwala Designer, by NIFT Gandhinagar graduate, Ashish Satyavrat Sahu, is dedicated to the revival of authentic Khadi and Jharkhandi textiles. Employing and empowering women from the local tribal communities, he blends Khadi with local art to create made-to-order vibrant and inclusive designs for real people.
Source: Khadiwala Designer
11.11/ eleven eleven: Translating to a ‘never-ending quest for mastery’, this luxury garment label loves handwoven fabrics and is committed to making them a wardrobe staple for the modern fashionista. 11.11’s use of Khadi hopes to bridge the gap between farmers and weavers, as well as promote organic vegetable dyeing and block printing traditions.
Source: 11.11 / eleven eleven
Love The World Today: If you thought Khadi and handmade clothing were only for adults, think again. Because Love The World Today was born to make quality clothing for children using herbal dyes, organic cotton and sustainable fibres. Khadi features prominently in the label’s collections. They also contribute to the circular economy by accepting the clothes once a child outgrows them.
Source: Love The World Today
Metaphor Racha: A charkha welcomes you as soon as you land on this label’s website. It’s because it was started by Ambara Charaka handspun and handwoven cotton fabric enthusiasts. With the mindful and modern designs exuding timeless elegance and richness of handmade luxury, the label represents the true meeting of tradition with modernity.
Source: Metaphor Racha
Artisau: The languid, flowing lines of this New Delhi-based ethical and sustainable label’s collection evoke calm, comfort and easy familiarity. Designed on the principles of conscious dressing and mindfulness, Artisau is handcrafted with natural fabrics like Khadi, with breathability and functionality at its very core.
Runaway Bicycle: An ode to an unhurried life, Runaway Bicycle was born with a passion to make art for everyday life. The Mumbai-based label works closely with weavers to handcraft their fabric. Their organic cotton fabric is certified by the Better Cotton Initiative and using natural dyes, their handcrafted pieces stand for beauty, dignity and a love for the environment.
Source: Runaway Bicycle
Charkha Tales: A brand that’s named Charkha Tales wears its love for Khadi on its sleeves! This sustainable, indie label, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s vision, has a range of clothing featuring traditional crafts like hand block, Chikankari, Tie and Dye and Gota.
Source: Charkha Tales
Many other local sustainable marketplaces and brands like Kamakhya, Jaypore, One Green and Shuffling Suitcases are also striving to make Khadi, often called the freedom fabric, an integral part of the modern fashionista’s wardrobe. With a passion for heritage Indian crafts and weaves, these brands are retelling stories of our past in contemporary styles by adapting Khadi’s functionality and beauty to the sensibilities and aspirations of modern consumers.
The Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) formed in1957 by the then Government of India, under Prime Minister Nehru’s Second Five Year Plan, has played a pivotal role in popularising Khadi. India observes August 7 as National Handloom Day and September 24, as the Charkha Diwas. It is a testimony to the enduring appeal of the fabric that in the last financial year, Khadi sales soared by 43% and hit a record high of Rs 5,000 crore, making it bigger than several textile companies in the country.
Big fashion brands like Peter England and Raymond, and textile manufacturers like Arvind Ltd also started investing in entire collections made in Khadi. The fashion designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee, who interpreted Khadi as bridalwear, has long been a proponent of Khadi. Tarun Tahiliani, another well-known designer, has given this heritage textile a contemporary touch with his premium men’s label, Tasva.
This year, the superstar-politician Kamal Haasan took Khadi to the global stage by launching a new label, KH House of Khaddar, that debuted at the Paris Fashion Week. But Khadi’s international love affair isn’t new. Back in 2018, this humble fabric was also the subject of an exhibit by the renowned late designer Issey Miyake at the 21_21 Design Sight in Tokyo.
Khadi, The Fabric Of The Past, Present and Future
Once a symbol of the struggle for independence and called, ‘the livery of India’s freedom’ by India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, today Khadi offers a solution to some of the environmental challenges of our times. Not only is it low impact and carbon footprint, but it also offers a unique play of texture so that no two fabrics look identical, the hallmark of bespoke luxury. With indie brands, as well as big designers interpreting its different weaves and innovations in unique, contemporary styles, this handmade fabric has the potential to be a gamechanger as sustainable fashion becomes mainstream.
Once a symbol of the struggle for independence and called, ‘the livery of India’s freedom’ by India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, today Khadi offers a solution to some of the environmental challenges of our times.
Born as a fabric of rebellion in the last century, it endures as a fabric of the future. Embrace this fabric that is our proud heritage and be kind to the planet. Wear Khadi!