Khadi: A stylish uprising

Khadi: A stylish uprising

Khadi: A stylish uprising

If one traces the life and journey of khadi — the crown jewel of Indian traditional fabrics — the one sentiment it triumphantly conjures up for every Indian is that of freedom. Political freedom then and freedom of spirit now, through every phase of its growth, khadi has been more than just a piece of fabric.

Under the veil of simplicity, the versatile fabric has for long carried the weight of balancing traditions and style. And as traditions go, the time has come for khadi to reinvent. The government’s initiative to promote khadi, along with Indian fashion houses’ interest to take the agenda forward with their prowess of design and scale, has set a grand stage for the resurgence of brand Khadi.

Talking to DH about the government’s approach, Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) Chairman V K Saxena said, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative to popularise khadi has come a long way in supporting the industry. The khadi industry generated employment for about 2,025 artisans in FY2016-17, while the village industry generated 4.08 lakh jobs,” adding, “We are very keen on generating employment, and hence we are distributing charkhas and looms, and also replacing old charkhas.”

Last year, khadi and village industries’ turnover was Rs 52,000 crore, of which khadi contributed Rs 2,007 crore. This year, khadi revenues are expected to grow by 35% to touch Rs 2,700 crore.
Beyond ethnicity

Over the last one month, KVIC has announced association with textile giants Raymond and Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail that will see the launch of khadi products under their respective brand names.

Lalbhai Group’s flagship Arvind, which is due to sign an agreement with KVIC within a week or so, has been working closely with the khadi sector for several years. An MoU between Arvind Mills and Rajkot-based Saurashtra Rachnatmak Samiti (SRS), enabled the former to produce ‘denim khadi’ at a global level, wherein the latter, a voluntary organisation, provided raw khadi materials to the company.

“Public-private partnership impact on khadi sales may be difficult to quantify at this stage, as we are still experimenting. But the impact will definitely be significant,” says Saxena.

Over the past 7-8 years, Arvind has spun out hand-woven jeans for various brands, including its own Creyate, and Levi’s. This year, the company is working on a collection of hand-woven jeans for some Japanese brands. Moreover, this season, Arvind is working on hand-spun fabric in the shirting space as well. With these plans underway, the number of khadi artisans that Arvind works with, is set to run into the thousands from the 750 artisans it had worked with during the last season.

“Today, the segment claims a small part of Arvind’s total production because of capacity and price constraints, and we are trying to break through these constraints,” says Arvind Limited Executive Director Punit Lalbhai.

Raymond Vice President and Head (Sales and Distribution) Ram Bhatnagar says, “The whole idea behind launching khadi is to make it more relevant in today’s day and age. At this stage, it is all about achieving volumes and getting the supply chain and distribution right.” The company is aiming at an initial revenue of Rs 20-30 crore from the khadi collection this year. Raymond’s design team is working with 30 khadi clusters, each complementing the other to achieve innovative design and perfect finish to appeal to the youth. Come August, and it will launch its khadi portfolio consisting of shirting and suiting fabrics, and suits and jackets for men.

“Authentic Indian products resonate strongly with the Indian consumers and there is an increasing demand for hand-made fabric, that stays true to its roots and exudes simplicity and vogue at the same time,” says Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Business Head Ashish Dikshit. Peter England, an Aditya Birla brand, will launch its khadi collection across the country through its 700 retail ponts, KVIC outlets and leading ecommerce portals.

Alongside these fashion giants, khadi is also getting a good deal of its design bravado from designer Ritu Beri, who has been appointed as adviser to KVIC.

Knots along the way

Although it has written itself a rich heritage of quality and design, the industry faces its own set of challenges today. Entry barriers, market restrictions and compliance issues — the khadi industry is battling it all, in its own capacity. On entry barriers, Saxena says, “Earlier people lost interest in the industry as the procedure to get authorisation to undertake khadi activities was very tedious. Now, we have made the process simple, and it can be completed online.” Getting the Khadi Mark registration is a matter of 45 days now, he adds.

For an industry that is dealing with accessibility and affordability issues, market challenges for khadi also enlists lack of awareness. Over the years, khadi has gained itself a reputation of being an ordinary fabric suitable for politicians. However, as things are changing, now more rapidly than ever, sustainability in production and adaptability in design, have made the fabric aspirational among the youth.

“Now it is all about making it accessible and affordable, and while the domestic market continues to grow, the focus is on opening up to international markets. We want to take Indian expertise to the world,” says Lalbhai. He believes that as of now, the metrics to measure growth in the segment should be employment creation, ability to create an international market in the segment and improving affordability. “Affordability is another key area. While currently the price of hand-woven fabric is more than double machine-made fabric, the idea is to bring it to 30-40% with economies of scale in play,” Lalbhai adds.

In this context, it also becomes pertinent to create the right kind of employment, which supports social upliftment of artisans. KVIC is currently working with 2,372 khadi clusters, employing more than 4.1 lakh artisans. While Raymond is set to generate 2.5 lakh man hours of employment for khadi artisans, and has already purchased 1.27 lakh metres of fabric, Peter England has agreed for a minimum procurement of khadi and khadi products for five years, with primary purchases of muslin cotton and silk.

KVIC is already selling its products online through Paytm. Soon it will be made available on also. “While retail partners play a huge role in the growth of the industry, the opportunity is not limited to that. The railways, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Air India and other such entities, are all purchasing khadi products,” says Saxena. “We have approached various embassies to adopt khadi. Circulars have already been dispatched and we are expecting orders soon,” he adds.

With sufficient push from the government and encouraging response from the industry, khadi is set to make a glorious comeback. Keen on crossing borders this time, the fabric is sure to enwrap more enthusiasts in its simplistic elegance. Authenticity, sustainability and style — as the three converge, Indian consumers may just find their sense of progressiveness in their roots.