My first brush with ‘Khadi’ products was at the large Gramodyog Bhavan in Connaught Place many, many years ago. Even though the kurtas, stoles and saris occupied much of the display space, my eyes fell on the range of colourful bath and body products infused with the goodness of apricots, eucalyptus, honey, germanium and hibiscus. I dragged my mother to the checkout counter with body washes and shampoos in each hand and the hope that my skin and hair would be instantly transformed. Years later, even as I fell out of touch with the Gramodyog because the Khadi store in Khan Market was closer, my shopping habits remained unchanged – I was a fan of these all-natural, made-in-India cosmetic and hygiene products but never really experimented with apparel stitched from the namesake textile that is so intricately woven into the fabric of our country.
You see, clothes made from khadi or ‘khaddar’ fabric weren’t as easily accessible (from an aesthetic standpoint) to me as the export surplus clothes of Sarojini Nagar market, the mass-produced crop tops at Forever 21 stores or, as I grew older, day-to-night pieces that ZARA does so well. A mighty cloth in the 19th century that became a symbol of India’s freedom movement, the words ‘Khadi cotton’ evoked images of straight-cut, unisex kurtas for me (and probably for a lot of other people as well) in this day and age. So I was considerably surprised when I discovered that, last year, the humble Khadi industry drummed up sales worth INR 50,000 crore - a staggering, record-breaking statistic.
Grass-fed poultry, free range eggs, cruelty-free makeup and sustainable fabrics - recently, there has been a surge in the demand for pure, preservative-free, organic products the worldover. As people came to the conclusion that what goes on your body is as important as what goes into it, conscious fashion companies also went the same way and began trading in polyester for organic cotton, nylon for hemp and acrylic for Tencel. Luckily, for India, this switch has simply meant going back to our culinary and textile roots. Perhaps, it was only a matter of time before Indian designers started experimenting with the airy, breathable and extremely sustainable khadi – a fabric that had, thus far, been cast aside and (almost forgotten) for having the reputation of being uncomfortable, hard to work with and coarse.
The results of these ‘experiments’ are stunning.
Today, contemporary Indian designers and indie clothing labels are embracing the freedom fabric wholeheartedly to bring their designs to life. From high-street clothing to ramp-ready garments, the spotlight is on khadi, but designer Gaurav Jai Gupta insists that this is not a comeback; it’s been there all along. After all, “Can anyone revive Indian classical music or Bollywood music?”, he asks.
Here is a list of nine fashion labels who are changing the way we look at (and wear), handwoven fabrics with a special place in their collections for khadi.
I. 11.11 / eleven eleven
Founded by fashion designer and graphic designer, Shani Himanshu and Mia Morikawa’s label 11.11 is committed to going the khadi way. The luxury garment line, founded in Delhi and now retailing across the world has ‘consolidated its roots in khadi’ as the versatile textile finds place in each collection as Khadi denim and 300 count Khadi cotton. Driven to perfection by virtue of their name – 11.11 signifies a ‘never-ending quest for mastery’ – a thread of consistency runs though each collection. For someone like me who is obsessed with a ‘uniform’ and minimalist wardrobes, the fact that each piece transforms from daywear to nightwear with remarkable ease is comforting. The colours of the earth and sky dominate the label’s palette – think lots of earthy browns, pale yellows and vibrant blues and a hint of white.
An ethical design house, 11.11’s use of khadi hopes to bridge the gap between farmers and weavers, and vegetable dyeing and block printing traditions, in addition to modernising the way the fabric is perceived.
II. Akaaro by Gaurav Jai Gupta
There’s no mention of the word ‘khadi’ anywhere on Akaaro’s website or Facebook page; the only thing that’s labelled (in bold) and then highlighted for good measure, is designer Gaurav Jai Gupta’s relentless love for handloom. Two sides of the same coin – the Delhi-based maverick designer’s work and his commitment to making (perfectly) by hand – all the fabric that Gaurav uses is developed at his studio in Lado Sarai. Finding ‘happiness in handloom’, Gaurav named his label akaaro, which means the sanskrit word ‘a’, since it resonates so perfectly with his philosophy that the design process originates from the textile.
Gaurav’s inspiration is brought to life as urban separates that have me saving up – tailored jackets, dramatic capes, engineered saris and resplendent lehenga tops – in moody charcoal black, festive reds and pinks and even glazed metal. His designs are as striking as his fierce passion for handloom and a peek into his lookbook is all you need to tell.
III. The Pot Plant
The Pot Plant, a sight for sore eyes in the concrete fast fashion jungle, is rooted in its love for ‘natural fabrics and congenial clothing.’ Founded in 2014 by Resham Karmchandani and Sanya Suri, The Pot Plant’s clothes have been crafted for lazy Sundays – unhurried, mindful, yet playful. Anti-fit dresses, asymmetrical maxis, flared trousers and calf-grazing culottes – made from natural fabrics (and khadi features prominently) – the label’s ethical, sustainable collection hinges on the principles of conscious dressing and mindful living.
IV. Red Sister Blue
Remember the disconnect I felt between khadi and a modern aesthetic I spoke of? The founders of Red Sister Blue, Nanda Yadav and Michael Grobe address it with their line of clothing that makes this centuries-old fabric wearable for the jeans-clad, crop top-wearer of today. The high-street apparel house, based out of Mumbai, seamlessly blends the old with the new in its collection of pants, shorts, dresses and skirts.
Completely wearable, especially given Mumbai’s sticky weather, the collection is dominated by vibrant colours and fresh silhouettes that bring khadi right back into the 21st century.
Kolkata-based brand, Bunosilo is on a mission to revolutionise the fast fashion industry by producing high-quality, handmade and honest clothing. The name roughly translates to ‘knit and stitch’, and every single one of their products are ‘handmade for you’ – in fact, the label even carries the wearer’s name. The brand cuts out the middlemen and works directly with ethical suppliers, sources natural materials, uses sustainable fibres and supports ethical craftsmanship. Committed to heroing the maker, Bunosilo’s product range is filtered by ‘Artisan Skill’ and ‘Khadi’ finds place among categories such as ‘Hand-crafted Jewellery’ and ‘Natural Dyed’. The results include extremely wearable, one-of-a-kind shirt dresses, pleated pants, dapper kurta sets and easy-breezy tunics at a price that won’t break the bank and the Bunosilo stamp of uniqueness.
VI. Runaway Bicycle
‘With a passion to make art for everyday life’, Runaway Bicycle came into being in 2013. If it seems like sustainable production practice and the use of khadi go hand-in-hand, it’s because they do. The Mumbai-based label works closely with weavers to make their own fabric, has hustled to ensure that all their organic cotton fabric is certified by the Better Cotton Initiative and primarily uses natural dyes. Firm believers in the ideology that better practices make better clothes, Runaway Bicycle’s collection is indeed wearable art. Clothes that breathe (and look amazing), the brand steers clear of form-fitting silhouettes and, instead, marks each of its designs with the ease to move around and go with everyday life.
VII. Brass Tacks
If you can’t find it, make it. As I grew up, I longed to have my own clothes stitched, tailored to my unusually shaped body and distinctly different from anything I could find in a mall. The founder of Brass Tacks, Anaka Narayanan, was also stumped by a lack of clothing that she could identify with, and it was from this problem that the Chennai-based label was born. The clothes are designed for the modern-day, working, urban woman, so each piece is immaculately cut, stitched and assembled. In a bid to dress the brand’s muse, Anaka and her team ensure the highest quality of their garments but that’s not the most exciting thing about Brass Tacks.
She works closely with weavers and pattern-makers to shape Indian textiles and fabrics into wearable, everyday looks but guaranteeing the right fit and shape doesn’t stop there. Anaka has developed a Brass Tacks size guide for women whose bodies refuse to conform to the standards of ‘36-24-36’, and enlisted the help of India’s freedom fabric to overthrow the one-size-fits-all mentality.
VIII. Metaphor Racha
The smell of wet earth threatens to overcome me each time I browse through Metaphor Racha’s simple, yet elegant collection of khadi clothing. Divided into clothing for him and her, home decor, sarees and blouses, Bengaluru-based Metaphor Racha is all about the textile. I find myself drawn to their limited selection of khadi pants and skirts and, when I’m reminded of my grandmother in a saree, their collection of six-yard drapes.
The store deals exclusively in khadi, in so much as ‘The Khadi Store’ is a part of its unique identity.
Special mention: Love The World Today
Making quality clothing for children, Love The World Today ensures that their garments are especially good for their tiny customers. In addition to using only herbal dyes, organic cotton and sustainable fibres, khadi features prominently in the label’s collections as well. The best bit? LTWT encourages mummies and daddies to send back the pieces once the child outgrows them so they can close the loop and ensure zero wastage.
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