When most of us think of the term khadi, we think of the Gandhi topi or pristine white clothes. It is a term that many people in our generation aren’t aware of, considering we’ve been fed on a diet of fast fashion, polyester and brands like Forever21 and Zara. Yet, khadi has an important role to play in the Indian fashion scene. Khadi was the symbol of the Swadeshi movement popularized by Mahatma Gandhi during the Independence period but soon after, lost its appeal and became the domain of the cottage industries. Cut to circa 2000’s and the revival of the khadi was born.
Khadi is a handspun or hand-woven cloth found in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Spun into thread on the charkha, it’s a mix of cotton, silk and wool. In the 40s, Mahatma Gandhi stirred the nation by imposing a ban on using British made cloth and relying on Indian spun yarn to propagate the struggle for freedom. The charkha became the symbol of this freedom movement and khadi symbolized self-reliance and self-employment. Thus, khadi was born out of a political and economical need rather than a sartorial one.
Once the Swadeshi movement died out, khadi was relegated to the back shelves of textile emporiums where it was all but forgotten. In 2001, Vasundhara Raje, the then Minister of Small Scale Industries roped in top designers like Rohit Bal and Malini Ramani to give a new spin to the national fabric. Suddenly, khadi became trendy and designers started experimenting with it. From kurtis, bandhgalas, palazzos, cropped jackets, dungarees, nehru jackets and saris designers started weaving a new spin on traditional designs and silhouettes.
Today, khadi isn’t about a coarse cloth in dull shades but has evolved into vibrant and beautifully dyed timeless pieces from designers like Gaurang Shah, Ritu Kumar, Sabyasachi, Rohit Bal, Péro and Rajesh Pratap. Khadi’s appeal in mainstream fashion is twofold – on the one hand, brands like FabIndia and Anokhi helped promote and popularize the fabric with the foreigners, NRI’s and the masses while designers like Sabyasachi Mukherjee created an entire wedding trousseau ensemble of embroidered khadi lehengas which was sold out in days.
The FDCI (Fashion Design Council of India) has played a huge hand in reviving the khadi in the elite circle and increasing its demand. This year, FDCI in collaboration with the Gujarat State Khadi and Village Industries Board hosted a fashion show, From Huts to the High Street in Ahmedabad, which featured khadi infused collections by designers Rohit Bal, Anamika Khanna and Rajesh Pratap. Comfortable, eco-friendly, versatile, elegant and adaptable, these designers created boyish shorts, dungarees, asymmetrical shirts, dhoti pants and cropped jackets out of khadi.
In the year 1990, designer Ritu Kumar presented her first khadi collection at the Crafts Museum. Her Tree of Life show, showcased the designs of India and where they originated from thus displaying the versatility of this country. From the eight collections presented, khadi was a significant one. The collection for 2015 was created by Gaurang Shah who brilliantly merged the khadi with phulkari, chikankari and kalamkari into an enchanting and classically contemporary line.
Although khadi is something you don’t see often on the big screen, Sabyasachi dressed Aishwarya for Mani Ratnam’s Ravana, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Guzaarish, and Vidya Balan for R. Balki’s Paa in this humble material. Sophistication with a touch of glamour is exactly what khadi stands for.
Although Indian designers and a few brands have started experimenting with khadi, it still remains largely absent from high street brands, due to the fact that it is more expensive than your regular factory produced garment. But, khadi could be our solution to the onslaught of global brands in the Indian market and the revival of the Swadeshi movement.
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