Khadi through the ages: How the fabric of change has transcended time, politics and fashion

Wear your revolution?

Harper's Bazaar India

Hand-woven and hand-spun, khadi’s relationship with Indian politics has been momentous and symbolic in the struggle to attain freedom. The political swag the humble textile gained as part of the Swadeshi movement, led by Mahatma Gandhi, had a transforming effect on the Indian template, as it became a fabric of freedom against oppressive British rule. Largely made from cotton fiber, and also manufactured from silk and wool later, its rugged texture, over the years, has withstood the test of time. Recently, in a bid to revive the fabric of change and freedom, Prime Minster Narendra Modi, at the ‘Khadi Utsav’ held in Ahmedabad on August 27, appealed to people to gift khadi products made during the upcoming festive season. 

The ‘Vocal for Local’ campaign once again emphasised the role khadi has had to play in churning the wheels of motion in favour of artisans and a return to the roots. As part of the festival organised at the Sabarmati Riverfront, approximately 7,500 women khadi artisans spun their charkhas simultaneously. Symbolic of the self-reliant movement started by Mahatma Gandhi in 1918, which grew to become a nationwide campaign in later years, the ‘Khadi Utsav’ also featured ‘Evolution of Charkhas’ featuring 22 charkhas from various generations used since 1920s.

Much has been written about threadbare politics and the symbol of resistance khadi embodied as part of the Swadeshi movement. In Clothing for Liberation: A Communication Analysis of Gandhi’s Swadeshi Revolution, by Peter Gonsalvez, the author brings to light the subliminal messages subtly communicated to the people through Gandhi’s sartorial evolution over the years. Before the first Indian war of independence in 1857 that depreciated the country's wealth, India was the leading textile producer in the early 19th century. The khadi movement however brought about a ‘silent economic revolution’ the country was desperate for.

Post-independence in 1953, The All India Khadi And Village Industries Board (AIKVIB) was set up by the Government of India, while in 1955, the board was replaced by the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) in 1956. Through the years, khadi became a hot favourite of politicians, although it was also quietly undergoing change thanks to designers like Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Rohit Bal, Ritu Kumar and others, reclaiming the hand-spun and hand-woven fabric.

Last year, in a fashion show curated by Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) led by KVIC advisor Sunil Sethi, 60 designs were showcased by ten emerging fashion designers. The favourable turn to courting tradition and handloom is being carried forward by 64-year-old President Droupadi Murmu, who created history by becoming not only the first tribal leader to hold office, but wearing a stunning Santhali weave sari that paid homage to her tribal roots.

About time we unequivocally promote mindful fashion choices that safeguard meticulous craftsmanship, unique to the Indian subcontinent, that are not only sustainable, but regenerative for the environment as well. 


Lead Image: Issey Miyake
Inside Images: Instagram, Wikimedia Commons, and FDCI Instagram