A symbol of fashion and freedom

Prime Minister Narendra Modi may still be making news for his rock star appearance at Madison Square Garden. However, do you know of his quiet endorsement of khadi at the recent US state visit?

Modi presented President Obama with an elegant khadi covered copy of Gita by Gandhi during the recent state dinner. And, when Chinese President Xi Jinping came calling earlier this month, the Prime Minister received him in Ahmedabad with an off-white khadi jacket commissioned specially for their visit to the Sabarmati Ashram.

The message is especially clear on this day of the Mahatma’s birthday – khadi is hip, it is young, it is in! In recent years, the hand spun indigenous fabric has soared in popularity with designers repeatedly returning to present it on runways. In the avatar of a sari or a smart embellished tunic, khadi has been realised as a versatile fabric that promises sartorial desiness.

Part of a movement and worn as a political statement, Mahatma Gandhi promoted khadi as the alternative to the expensive cotton imports that the British Raj peddled to the Indian public. The fabric quickly became a symbol of the Swadeshi movement, as did the charkha that it was spun on, and was worn by anybody who was anybody in the Indian freedom struggle.

“Khadi is democratic. It has no high or low fashion. Khadi is for everyone,” says Goa-based designer Wendell Rodricks. The fabric went through a low till its fortunes were revived by designers.

“For me, khadi is a textile with a lot of soul, time and labour involved,” says Rajasthan-based designer Rajesh Pratap Singh. “It has an amazing texture and feel that I haven’t experienced in industrial textiles.”

Rajesh is known for his work with hand woven textiles and about five years ago started collaborating with Arvind Denims for a revolutionary line of indigo-dyed, bespoke khadi denims. “To use khadi in contemporary designs or to market it for the younger generation is the only way for its survival. Otherwise it could be relegated to the museums,” he says.

Fortunately khadi has been saved from a lifetime in glass cases at government-run textile museums. The fabric has in fact travelled as far as Berlin and New York, when Hyderabad-based textile designer Gaurang Shah showed his khadi line at the Berlin Fashion Week and New York Fashion Week in 2012.

“A decade ago, chiffon and georgette were in. It was then that I started looking for an option to silk and found a weaver weaving khadi saris. I liked the fabric and found the composition excellent.  It draped better than silk and I sensed it was an enduring fabric. It was also inexpensive compared to silk,” says Gaurang.

At his shows in the Berlin and New York, Gaurang stunned fashion lovers with unexpected twists, colours, cuts and silhouettes and he got a standing ovation. “For me the challenge has always been to break the notion of khadi being heavy. I made it softer by using an 80-100 count. I also used vibrant floral blooms, birds, butterflies and foliage themes in a variety of colours. I use the threeshuttle technique in my khadi collections that allows me to get diverse colours in each sari border.”

It is on Indian runways that khadi has been reinterpreted and found its current favour. A few years ago Sabyasachi created an entire collection of 90 bridal lehengas in khadi. At the Lakme Fashion Week Winter/Festive this year, designer Purvi Doshi showcased Indo-western silhouettes in khadi. The upcoming Wills India Fashion Week too will see khadi in Wendell’s Yoga Calm collection.

“I have always endorsed khadi on my runways,” says Wendell. “I also support the Kasturba Gandhi Trust with a collection we do gratis for them every year. Apart from the historical connect with Gandhi, I want to support our weavers who are threatened by mill-made, often foreign, fabric.”

The reasons are similar for Rajesh Pratap Singh too.

“Khadi is an item of luxury that is also a great employment generator. There are virtues of a hand-spun and hand-woven textile that need to be understood and respected.”

The reasons, however, don’t matter. As Wendell says: “This is the fabric of freedom. We all need to promote it."

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Printable version | Jul 25, 2021 5:19:13 PM |

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