Can Kamal Haasan help khadi?January 29, 2022 13:30 IST
With the actor’s new brand, KH House of Khaddar, having launched in India on Republic Day, some industry experts weigh in
Last November, KH House of Khaddar (KHHK) — a joint venture between designer Amritha Ram and actor Kamal Haasan — launched in Chicago, with a Fall-Winter collection that included trenches, blazers, and skirts. On Republic Day 2022 it came to India. With organic colours such as olive, dove grey, spring blue and a fruity pink, the palette is youthful and hip, in keeping with KHHK’s aim to push the handloom conversation beyond our borders.
Was it because of KVIC’s (Khadi and Village Industries Commission) trademark of the name ‘khadi’ that they used khaddar in the brand name? “My father’s name is Srinivasan, but I go by the name Kamal Haasan. [Similarly] the genesis and DNA [of khadi] are the same, but our business models are different,” Ram recalls Haasan as saying.
She adds: “It’s all handloom and handwoven, and that’s the beauty of it. If demand for our weavers’ work grows, we will employ more and even train new weavers.” Meanwhile, the big question is whether a celebrity-endorsed venture will finally help bridge the gap between the handspun fabric and a new, young audience. (The finished product is often expensive and inaccessible after top designers work with it.) We talk to some industry experts.
Priced between ₹4,950 and ₹9,450, on khhk.in.
Founder of Save the Loom, which works with handloom weavers in Kerala
Hand-spun fabric and youth: Khadi has definitely got attention in the Modi era, but not enough to rejuvenate its spinners and weavers. Handspun, handwoven khadi has huge potential as it is entirely produced by human hands; it is not just sustainable but also is suitable for all seasons. There is a global awakening towards khadi — this is from our experience of launching the ‘Colors of Resilience’ project [when over 20 leading designers worked with Kerala khadi and this found a global audience in 2018-19].
The Kamal Haasan connect: He is a legend and will surely bring attention to khadi. We hope that instead of merely selling it under his brand name as a business, he steps forward to speak of [the fabric] and its Gandhian values. Khadi needs the attention and who better than the country’s cine stars?
Founder of Metaphor Racha, which works with ambara charaka handspun handwoven fabric
Celebritiesand khadi: Rather than launch a label, a celebrity wearing the handloom regularly is in itself a huge endorsement! An actor does not have to launch a label to promote the fabric.
A new audience: We should first educate the younger lot about not just what khadi is, but also what it signifies. [Since it is often expensive] rather than expecting them to dress up in it, they can start small, with, say, a handkerchief that does not cost much. The idea is that they understand the fabric.
Founder of Border & Fall, who spearheaded The Sari Series — a digital anthology on how to drape the sari
Hand-spun fabrics: Handmade, in general, is receiving more visibility, though it is less about individual brands breaking through and more about current trends and shifts in society. That being said, visibility with younger audiences only matters when it resonates. This connection is still driven by aspiration; that is, will they want to wear it, will it look good?
Celebrity and branding: Khadi branding is already problematic, most of what is sold in the market is semi-mechanised and, in reality, it has become an elitist textile. An actor is not going to fix that, especially if they position it in the same tired way as before — that is, as a moral duty to save the craft, or within a saviour complex — which seems to be the case here as well. Overall, real ambar charka khadi needs to be understood. It’s an expensive textile, you can’t throw it in the washer/dryer. Moreover, it represents a way of living. The best ambassadors khadi can have are the people who live its values every day.
Ad veteran and founder of Motherland Joint Ventures, which works with urban regeneration and lifestyle products
Khadi in the everyday: The handspun fabric’s image was good; it was cool when Gandhi wore it — as it denoted strength and self sufficiency. Then it got messed up in the middle. The design community was not able to do it justice. It either became over stylised and expensive or not well fitted. From the general perspective, you should be able to buy it as a happy, cool thing to wear. But that doesn’t exist, unless you come from a certain background or really believe in it. All of us should be able to wear khadi when we travel, work, in the everyday.
Star power: I believe khadi is not presented to people in the right way. And if Kamal Haasan can do it, then that’s great. Sometimes it needs a big name like his to bring the handloom out as a serious conversation. Knowing him, the way he sustained himself [in the film industry], if anyone can sustain it, it’s him. Still, the important thing is to do it with khadi’s strength in mind. Just like how Italians and the Japanese are proud of everything handmade in their countries, I hope we get there. We need that pride, that everyday connect.
With inputs from Subha J Rao, Rosella Stephen, Surya Praphulla Kumar, and Shilpa Nair Anand