Cool, cool khadi

Cool, cool khadi

 Contemporary khadi Photos: Vaishali Shadangule & Metaphor Racha

This fabric is synonymous with comfort. Some of us even call it the ‘AC’ fabric because it’s cool in the summers and warm in the winters. What more? It’s organic, handwoven and ‘living’ because it helps your skin breathe. And, the best part, it comes in all types, cotton, silk and wool.

No, it’s not a new kid on the block, rather it’s our quintessential khadi. Did anyone say khadi is only for the old and the rural folks? Think again. You couldn’t be more wrong. The who is who in the world of Indian fashion are into it from Ritu Beri, Wendell Rodricks, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Aneeth Arora, Anavila Misra, Debrun Mukherjee, Daniel Syiem, Vaishali Shadangule, Sreejith Jeevan, and the list goes on. 

Khadi or the sustainable fabric is the latest mantra of being in vogue across fashion weeks. However, this is one area where the designers of Paris and Milan take a backseat. For, this is an Indian fabric, and, as a result, designers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are at the forefront. That said, natural whites and unbleached tones of khadi fabrics are of interest to the West. 

Also, one cannot mistake khadi for handlooms, as sometimes, they are woven in mill-spun yarn. But, in the case of khadi, from making the yarn to weaving the cloth, everything is done by hand. So, the fabric has a very unique texture and forms its own natural pattern.  

Au natural

Ravi Kiran of Metaphora Racha, a Bengaluru-based khadi brand,says, ‘’Since, the entire process of khadi involves only hands, imperfection becomes an integral part and beauty of the fabric. Using this imperfection into design is what makes it unique.’’

‘‘The possibilities with khadi are immense. Like other handwoven textiles, khadi also inherits our traditional and cultural amalgamation of simplicity and grace,’’ says Mumbai-based designer Vaishali Shadangule, whose khadi designs were showcased in the New York Fashion Week recently. 

Speaking of the virtues of the fabric, Kochi-based designer Sreejith Jeevan says, ‘‘Khadi as a fabric has a character of its own. Its breathability, amazing absorbency and lightness are what makes it so perfect. Effortlessness is the key character of this fabric.While using khadi, it is important to make use of this.’’

There is a misconception among people that khadi can be worn only as a saree, a dhoti or used as home linen or a gamcha. That may have been the case till the 1990s. But once KVIC (Khadi Village Industries Commission) decided to popularise the fabric by inviting actors and fashion designers to design and talk about it, the sale of the fabric got a boost.

The first khadi fashion show was organised by KVIC in 1989 in Mumbai, and designer Ritu Beri held her first khadi show for them. In fact, in 2016, the designer introduced a line ‘Vichar Vastra’ for KVIC. ‘‘The idea is to promote khadi among the masses and encourage them to make it a part of their everyday life. ‘Vichar Vastra’ is a single and simple piece that can be worn by anyone and can be paired with pants, salwar, skirts or jeans’’, she said. 

Little changes can transform khadi completely. Relaxed and simple silhouettes work best for this fabric. So far, khadi has been mostly used in a simplistic manner, but it has the potential and appeal from daily wear to couture segment.

Prominent Indian women have always had khadi as part of their wardrobe. — from late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Shabana Azmi to Nandita Das and Gauri Shinde and several others. Khadi attires were part of many recent Bollywood films too, like Padmaavat and English Vinglish. 

As Sreejith points out, ‘‘I feel the younger generation uses more khadi these days since it has become a cool fabric to own. The fact that the new avatars of khadi come in the form of frumpy chic dresses and sheer over layers make them an effortless addition to the everyday.’’

Popular across time & space 

The best part is that khadi isn’t restricted to any single region. The cotton yarn is handspun in the Kutch region of Gujarat on a charka. In Kashmir, one can see shepherds, while grazing their goats, spinning yarns of wool, sheared from their goats, on their wooden spindle. Scenes of people spinning the silk yarn in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and cotton yarn in Kerala are quite common.

Daniel Syiem, a designer from Shillong, Meghalaya, which is famous for the region-specific khadi silk namely Ryndia or Ahimsa, says, ‘‘We have grown up watching our grandmothers, mothers and sisters spinning and weaving silk and cotton every day in our homes. So, I can’t think of designing in any anything other than khadi silk. And being from the northeast, we are familiar either with our traditional wear or Western wear. So my designs only have Western silhouettes.’’

The best khadi garments are those which haven’t seen many experiments either in the designs or colours. The plain khadi dyed in typical organic colours, when enhanced by embroideries like kasuti, kantha or hand block prints, and cut in any modern style, makes the wearer stand apart from others. They may be slightly pricey, but worth every rupee!