The indigenous fabric, once synonymous with the Indian freedom struggle, is now becoming an all-inclusive fashion statement, says S Mallik
Khadi was, for Mahatma Gandhi, a symbol of self-reliance, sustainability and hard work, which soon became synonymous with India’s freedom struggle. Today, more than half a century later, Indian designers are turning this indigenous hand-spun fabric into luxurious and trendy products! From being used to make a garment as traditional as a nine-yard saree to silhouettes as modern as an evening gown, this versatile fabric seems to have truly arrived.
“Apart from being skin-friendly, khadi embodies the country’s spirit of patriotism. Given the kind of patience and labour involved in spinning the yarn, the fabric is also a symbol of strength, power and determination. According to Gandhiji’s philosophy, the more we support local weavers, the more self-reliant and independent we become,” said designer Anju Modi, who displayed her work at a recent showcase centred around the fabric in Delhi. The show, which also featured works of designers such as Payal Jain and Rohit Bal, was organised by the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI), in collaboration with the Khadi Village and Industries Commission (KVIC). It reflected Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s philosophy of making rural communities self-sufficient and promoting products made in India.
Anju Modi’s collection boasted all things Indian – from silhouettes and cuts to designs and motifs. The garments were Indian: peplum kurtas, South Indian veshtis, dhotis, long kurtas and tie-dye scarves. The colour palette was restricted to whites and ochre yellows, or “vegetable colours”, as the designer put it. “The idea was to maintain the essence and soul of our soil and make a glamorous collection,” she affirmed.
Designers working with Indian textiles are always looking for ways to broaden the horizon of the utility of a particular fabric, and khadi is no different. Just when we thought that the fabric could only lend itself best to traditional clothing, Jain’s collection proved us wrong. From stylish khadi shorts and floor-hugging dresses to men’s formalwear and jumpsuits, the designer showcased the fabric in a whole new light. “We do not traditionally think of khadi as cool and fun. My core idea, therefore, was to interpret it differently and turn it into something people can associate with in their everyday lives,” she said, pointing out a well-tailored men’s jacket suitable for a board meeting.
Highlights of Jain’s line included a stunning black full-length, handcrafted gown with three-dimensional floral cut-work embroidery, and jumpsuits with embroidered frill details. “I love experimenting with Indian textiles and fabrics to create modern silhouettes, and khadi is my favourite, because it is hand-spun and is a source of income for the numerous craftsmen who are keeping it alive,” she shared, adding “its inconsistent texture makes every garment stitched from it unique”.
Khadi for the bride Designer Ritu Beri was one of the first Indian designers to create a ceremonial khadi line in the 1990s. She believes that, along with a patriotic tone, there is also a romantic side to the fabric. “A khadi bride is modern, yet upholds her traditional values. She is someone who has evolved with time yet is humble enough to look into her soul,” she once said in an interview.
When it comes to trousseau, Kolkata-based designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee is one of the most sought-after in the country. And he, too, has tasted success with khadi bridal lehengas – they are reported to be his highest sellers till date. Another designer from the city, Debarun Mukherjee, took everyone by surprise when he presented a khadi collection apt for a wedding at a fashion in Dhaka recently. To give a modern spin to the indigenous fabric, the designer had used zardozi embroidery and block prints. “The collection, titled Khadi Resplendent, is meant for light bridal or occasional wear. I also wanted to promote khadi for power dressing. I believe that if styled well, khadi can suit any occasion. The colours and textures of khadi make it an inspirational fabric. My collection will find favour with anyone who is looking for a garment with a strong Indian identity and aesthetic,” the designer had once said in an interview.
Considering the support and encouragement khadi is receiving from the Indian design fraternity, as well as from the Indian government, it may not be long before it becomes one of the most accessible and popular fabrics.