The freedom fabric

Khadi symbolises our freedom struggle and is also a great material in the sustainable fashion environment

Khadi is gradually being resurrected by designers.

Once a symbol of India’s freedom struggle, khadi is more than just a fabric in our country. The handwoven cloth embodies a spirit of resistance and pride, making it the poster child of India’s homegrown textile industry. It was Mahatma Gandhi, who popularised khadi during the Swadeshi movement and wove it into the country’s collective consciousness. Since then, it has come a long way.

But the journey has been quite erratic, observes fashion designer Anu PD. “The Second World War and Independence of India was a period that portrayed relatively simple and functional clothing. Strong patriotic influences made khadi garments a rage among women. Subsequently, and with the emergence and ease of synthetic textiles, khadi went into a decline and became more of a political statement popular with the netas.”

Conscious & sustainable

But that has changed in the recent past and is set to shift in a big way in the future. In the age of sustainability, it is a natural way forward. “Khadi accomplishes sustainability in a relaxed manner, which is what fashion brands try hard for these days. In recent years, the emergence of an eco-consciousness has revived khadi, which is hand spun, hand woven and a low carbon-footprint fabric and needs no electricity or fuel for creating. It is a fine show of sustainable textile from India,” adds Anu.

In an age when many million tonnes of non-biodegradable clothing lies in land-fills everywhere, khadi comes as a great choice and is once again making its way into our wardrobes. As designer Mishru observes, “Fashion designing students are filling in the array of innovative fashion and blending patriotism into modern concepts. Many designers have started introducing exclusive khadi collections on e-commerce portals. It’s amazing how the efforts to resuscitate khadi has now matured into a new wave of nationalistic fervour.”

Contemporary twist

Like fashion itself, khadi too has evolved in terms of its wearability. What started off as a staple for sari and dhoti material, has today translated into multiple modern ensembles. “My personal favourite way of incorporating khadi in my wardrobe would be a nice sharp bandhgala. Even though it is a menswear silhouette, it has been used by women to give it a sharp, Nehru style look and I feel it would be a really great take on androgyny,” says designer Arpita Mehta.

For designer Rhea Pillai Rastogi, “An asymmetric khadi kurta with minimal tone on tone embroidery, khadi palazzos, a beautiful khadi dupatta or a loose summer dress would be the best way to incorporate it in the wardrobe. Due to the varied climatic conditions in our subcontinent, khadi kurtas can be a boon to the consumer as they have the ability to keep one warm in winter and cool in the summer.”

Khadi also makes for a great layering fabric, suggests designer Nikhil Thampi. “One can throw it over a crop top or a sari to add a contemporary twist to a look,” he adds. Having said that, the khadi saris available in the market today too have a very contemporary feel and look great when paired with brogues or moccasins.

Accessorise right

Given how simple the fabric is, khadi offers a clean canvas for one to accessorise it. Rhea’s favourite is a look that compliments the fabric’s earthy flavour. “You can go from over the top silver jewellery to chunky statement necklaces in vibrant colours to handcrafted quirky jewellery in brass or dull gold, all of which will complement the look beautifully,” she suggests.

In keeping with its rustic and Indian character, throwing on a jhola or a cloth bag and pairing it with a pair of kolhapuri chappals will never go wrong either. Another good idea is to use belts and shoes made of organic material — seeds, feathers, shells, twine, tulsi beads etc.

High maintenance

The reason khadi dipped in popularity is because of how restrictive the fabric is in terms of its character. For instance, “Like all natural fabrics — cotton, silk, linen — khadi gets softer with every wash and doesn’t irritate the skin like polyester does. It has to be starched and ironed to drape well and it creases quickly. This is part of the reason why busy professionals don’t choose it for their office wear. Good-quality khadi is hard to source because it is mostly available at musty government outlets. Besides, it shrinks about 3% after the first wash and is expensive,” points out designer Nikhil.

Things to bear in mind...

  • Khadi works better with sharper silhouettes than the fluid ones. 
  • It’s a perfect material to be used for layering. 
  • Khadi can not only be worn as simple outfits but can be made interesting using elaborate embroideries.
  • Khadi is essentially a translucent or sheer fabric and using it as normal cotton kills the look. 
  • Khadi needs maintenance and it is important to follow wash care instructions for a fresh and stiff feel. A lot of people make a mistake of treating khadi as usual cotton fabric.

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