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Updated: January 12, 2012 20:27 IST

An affair with khadi

Sangeetha Devi Dundoo
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Designer Aravind Joshua feels at home specialising in eco-friendly clothing Photo: K. Ramesh Babu
Designer Aravind Joshua feels at home specialising in eco-friendly clothing Photo: K. Ramesh Babu

After giving a fashionable spin to khadi, Aravind Joshua talks about going organic and eco-friendly. Sangeetha Devi Dundoo listens in

Aravind Joshua's boutique in Banjara Hills is anything but a conventional designer store. The home that's now a store spells simplicity, furnished sparsely with bamboo racks and clotheslines. “I want to keep everything as eco-friendly as possible; I refrained from redoing the interiors with false ceiling and chemical paints,” says Aravind, ushering us in on a nippy morning. A decade ago, when Aravind was a budding designer, he wouldn't have thought that he'd one day succeed in helping young women make a style statement in khadi.

As a young student of the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Hyderabad, his knowledge was limited to khadi as a ‘freedom fabric' popularised by Gandhi. “As students, we were slowly influenced by our seniors who were working with weavers. We would hear about awards being given to designers who help in developing new weaves. The faculty also encouraged us to work with traditional weaves. But I knew very little about the fabric,” he recalls.

Intrigued about the aura associated with khadi, Aravind sought help from the state director of the Khadi and Village Industries Commission for a charity show for which he was designing garments. Later, he learnt that the state government was looking for design intervention and began working with the weavers. “I learnt by observing them at work. The situation was bleak and the weavers didn't see a future for khadi. The younger generation didn't want to take up weaving,” says Aravind.

As a beginner, Aravind also worked with synthetics and was hugely inspired by Sabyasachi Mukherji, who at that time was bursting on the national scene with his innovative look at fashion.

“In the beginning, I was influenced by Sabyasachi's work. With time, I realised the need to develop my own style. I don't know why and when I started falling in love with khadi. As a fabric, khadi has its limitations and most often it is in the hands of people who do not have a vision,” says Aravind.

The turning point came when he met Sekhar Kammula, who was then starting his film Anand. “Sekhar is a simple person and wanted to stick to garments that are simple and aesthetic. The girl's character (Kamalinee Mukherji) was that of a music teacher. Sekhar was sceptical if cottons and khadis would have a good fall. I designed a few costumes using Mangalagiri cottons and Kamalinee looked better in cottons than in synthetics,” says Aravind.

Anand was a surprise hit and Aravind had made a mark. His partnership with Sekhar Kammula continues. Godavari again saw Aravind dress up Kamalinee in saris and stylish outfits in khadi and cottons. In Leader, khadi suited Rana Daggubati's character of a politician. And now, for Sekhar's forthcoming Life is Beautiful, Aravind is again busy at work.

“Cinema is a good medium and I am happy to design with cottons and khadis, with minimal use of synthetics. You can't preach but when you show how these fabrics can be used to make chic garments, people get the point. I remember filmmaker Bapu saying that he tries to incorporate a bookshelf somewhere in the background in his paintings to emphasise the importance of reading,” smiles Aravind.

Aravind had no background in cinema. He grew up in a small town near Eluru in a conservative Christian family and his family was sceptical about his joining a fashion institute. “I guess they had no option but to agree since they perceived me as a good for nothing,” he laughs. His decision to design for cinema was met with even more scepticism. “My parents asked me if I will be designing skimpy clothes. Luckily, I got to work with directors like Sekhar Kammula and Indraganti Mohanakrishna (for Ashta Chemma) who understand handlooms,” says Aravind.

Away from his work for cinema and designing for well-heeled women, Aravind loves being among weavers at the Thrithvaa khadi production centre, Khadi Maha Vidyalaya, Rajendra Nagar, motivating weavers to experiment — from malleable fabric with higher thread count to unique colours. “Sometimes, designers get enthusiastic and try to apply their fashion principles and end up spoiling the weave. I try not to do that,” he says.

Aravind is trying to move into a 100 per cent eco-friendly line with his label Thrithvaa. “Sometimes we end up using synthetic dyes, which we want to avoid. We are working with Satish Chukkapalli of Zameen Organics to develop organic khadi and khadi with elements of crochet,” he says. His experimentation has lead to interesting results. He shows us a khadi shirt with tie and dye patterns. “The pattern doesn't have a repetitive motif. You cannot weave khadi in a predictable manner. Each piece is exclusive,” he says.

As Aravind designs skirts, trousers, kurtas and tunics in khadi, he rues the fact that fashion institutes do not teach students to work with Indian body types in mind. “We studied the history and evolution of American fashion. Isn't it high time fashion institutes teach students about Indian textiles and fashion?” he asks.

Unlike designers who work with khadi and other eco-friendly fabrics because it is perceived to be the ‘in thing', Aravind's is a long-term affair with khadi. Working with khadi has made him introspect on living closer to nature, as much as possible in an urban setting. “We have messed up with the ecosystem. Going back to nature is the need of the hour,” he says.

Finally, he says, “Don't wear khadi because it has a history or it's eco-friendly properties. Wear it because you like it.”

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