Khadi is a rough, hand-spun, and hand-woven fabric that is often created from cotton yarn and is a part of the rich textile culture of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The process of creating khadi, which is derived from the term khaddar, entails utilizing spinning wheels to turn the fiber into yarn and looms to weave the yarn into cloth. India has long incorporated hand spinning and weaving into its social and cultural life.
Spinning wheels were valued wedding presents during the Vedic era (1500–1100 BCE). In the Indus Valley Civilization’s remains, cotton cloth fragments, clay spindles, and figurines wearing woven clothing have all been discovered. Women are seen as spinning cotton yarn in the 5th-century artwork at the Ajanta Caves.
Cotton was traded from India to other regions of Asia and Europe. Handwoven muslin from Bengal and Dacca that had a translucent quality rose to popularity in the 17th century. Because it was cozy, strong, and affordable, calico cloth and chintz were exported from India by the British East India Company and quickly became popular in Europe.
Early in the 18th century, England outlawed Indian textiles due to their rising popularity and instead inundated India with machine-made cloth, which was devastating for handwoven khadi. The British continued to import inexpensive cotton from India, weave it into clothing in Britain, and then sell the finished products in India for a high price.
Mahatma Gandhi once said that if 200 million people produced khadi with their own labor and wore it, India’s appearance would change.
In 1918, the freedom fighter and political figure Mahatma Gandhi rekindled interest in the hand-spun fabric by elevating it to the status of a potent swadeshi emblem (all things Indian). Indians began to once again take pleasure in “Made in India” textiles and began to shun clothing produced in the United Kingdom. Gandhi popularized khadi and made spinning before a charkha (spinning wheel) a social statement in an effort to better socioeconomic conditions and promote independence, particularly among those living in the Indian countryside. “The machine cannot convey Swaraj [self-governance]. However, the face of India will change if 200 million people, with full understanding, manufacture khadi with their own labor and wear it “added he.
“Acquiring the skills and the tools necessary to produce handspun and hand-woven cloth allowed Gandhi to do more than downplay industrially manufactured goods, whether foreign or indigenous; for the first time he could proffer the local consumption and production of handmade goods as a path to India’s liberation,” writes Lisa Trivedi, associate professor of history at Hamilton College, New York, in her book Clothing Gandhi’s Nation: Homespun and Modern India.
The All India Spinners Association was formally founded in 1925 to manufacture and market khadi. The Khadi, Village and Industries Commission (KVIC) was established by the Indian government after Independence to support research, provide raw materials, manage quality control, and advance the marketing of khadi. Because of its connection to the Independence war, khadi became the material that politicians favored the most. Those working in government also wore jackets and topis (hats). All national flags are still made in India using khadi.
The Mahatma’s ideas and “thought leadership” have had an impact on the artist Shelly Jyoti. With site-specific installations and Ajrakh (an old tradition of printing) material manufactured with khadi, she highlighted the textile heritage of the nation in her exhibition The Khadi March: Just Five Meters at the Visual Arts Gallery in New Delhi. According to Jyoti, “Khadi is a sign of self-reliance, self-purification, and independence.” The 300 million urban residents of India will engage with and connect with the rural community and help the spinners and weavers if they merely buy five meters of khadi once a year.
Khadi was ignored for many years following Independence, leading to its reputation as a “poor man’s cloth.” The material returned to the fashion world in the late 1980s and early 1990s, emerging from the khadi emporiums controlled by the government’s dusty cabinets. KVIC hosted the inaugural khadi fashion show in 1989 in Mumbai. Ritu Beri, a fashion designer, debuted her first khadi collection in 1990 during a display held at a Delhi craft museum.
Khadi is a classic fabric with a genuine vintage look that is elegant, straightforward, and airy. Graham Shah
Since then, a wide range of designers, including Wendell Rodricks, Abu Jani, Rajesh Pratap Singh, and Sabyasachi Mukherjee, have experimented with the adaptable fabric with a tough texture and given it a fresh spin in their collections. From bridal lehengas to jumpsuits and gowns, several of these designers have given the cloth a stylish appearance that can be worn for both casual wear and formal and evening wear. There are now several finer variants of khadi that are combined with silk and wool that were previously only available in the form of coarse, khadi cotton.
According to fashion designer Gaurang Shah, khadi is a classic fabric that is elegant, straightforward, and airy and has a genuine vintage look. “In the 1990s, when chiffon and georgette were in style for saris, I was seeking for a substitute for silk when I came across a weaver making khadi saris. I fell in love with the fabric right away because it was less expensive and more durable than silk.
“At the beginning of my design career, I struggled greatly to have khadi accepted in contemporary India. It took me years to persuade my customers that khadi is distinctive.
The designer from Hyderabad is well known for his effort in which he interlaced 33 sarees with artwork by renowned Indian artist Raja Ravi Varma using khadi and natural dyes. Each sari took six months to weave using high-quality fabric from Odisha and silk thread.
The fabric’s sustainability factor makes it even more relevant now. Hand spinning and weaving have a little carbon footprint, and it is strong and long-lasting. Compared to mill fabric, which uses 56 liters of water to produce one meter, khadi uses just three liters. In some states, including Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, organic khadi is made without using any of the pesticides used in cotton farming.
Khadi used to be associated with the nation and fashion, but according to Narendra Modi, it is now associated with transformation.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged people to purchase khadi during the festive season in October 2016 during his monthly radio talk show, saying that doing so would help poor families and “brighten the lives of… the weavers who toil day and night. Earlier it was khadi for nation and khadi for fashion but now, it is becoming khadi for transformation.” The Fashion Design Council of India held an event called Khadi Transcending Boundaries in Delhi in 2018.
Since then, KVIC has been heavily promoting khadi and collaborating with other institutes to work towards better design. As a result, khadi sales have increased by 100% in recent years.
Since its early years as the strong, undyed, handwoven cloth championed by Gandhi, khadi has undergone significant changes. The majority of fabric sold now is mechanized khadi made with modern model charkhas, where the yarn is created by automated and partially automated procedures even if it is handwoven. In order to introduce khadi lines, major menswear textile brands like Raymonds, Arvind Mills, and Aditya Birla Textiles have also been collaborating with KVIC.
Khadi denim has been introduced by designers Shani Himanshu and Mia Morikawa, co-founders of the Delhi-based brand 11.11. According to Morikawa, the material is 11.5 oz. selvage khadi denim, which “engages the work-wear twill weave structure of denim and links it to the legacy of khadi.” “The natural fiber is Kala cotton, which is native to the Kutch region and is automatically organic because the growers don’t use pesticides or artificial fertilizers. It is a crop that only receives water from the rain and doesn’t require any further irrigation.”
The fabric’s yarns are hand-spun, naturally-dyed indigo, hand-loomed, then hand-stitched, she continues. “This technique helps to link the communities concerned and activate the rural economy. Each piece is entirely handmade and the artist personally signs, dates, and numbers each one, establishing a direct line between the creators and the wearers.
Debarun Mukherjee, a fashion designer with 10 years of experience in khadi, says: “What is needed is a new glamorous appearance and [designers] to go outside the box, and rescue the fabric from its staid, drab, worn-out conventional image.”In one of my collections, I dyed the cloth black and used it to create evening wear with Indian silhouettes, including skirts, dresses, and salwar suits. I frequently use it to make celebratory clothing that is adorned with traditional needlework because I adore the way it feels and falls and the fact that it is sustainable.
Through her Instagram account @the.k.cult, young designers like Priyanshi Jariwala, the creator of Khadi Cult, have engaged millennials’ interest in khaki. Her brand combines modern and ethnic aspects with funny graphics on the fabric to appeal to a younger market. Her clothing features humorous elements like Rubik’s cubes, silly faces, and hands.
The cloth has also become well-known and well-liked abroad. Many upscale Japanese designers are willing to spend a lot of money on the fabric. Issey Miyake, a Japanese avant-garde fashion designer, introduced khadi to New York in 2019 with an exhibition titled Khadi: Indian Craftsmanship at his flagship store.
Handspun khadi falls well short of Gandhi’s goal of providing garments for all citizens of the nation. Today, the focus is primarily on sustainable luxury, which is offered at a premium cost to those who can afford it as a high-end fabric, thereby saving this ancient craft from extinction.
Khadi is more than just a fabric, according to brand strategist Harish Bijoor. “It is a declaration. Khadi is a declaration of intent in both the Indian and international contexts. Even before the world was aware of what the term “awake” meant, I think khadi is “woke.” Gandhi incorporated independence into it. Khadi makes a statement in a world controlled by machines by being hand-spun. And in fact, that is its major USP. In contrast to a world created by machines, it is about a genuine reality.”