As the wave of sustainability and minimalism continues to take over (and rightly so), there has been growing consciousness of what we put on our bodies, as much as what goes into it. Luckily, for India, this switch has simply meant going back to our textile roots. A mighty cloth in the 19th century that became a symbol of India’s freedom movement, the words ‘Khadi cotton’ would evoke images of straight-cut, unisex kurtas and pants for us (and probably for a lot of other people as well). But more and more people are coming up to champion Khadi and weaving it in creative ways to further the cause of sustainability and Indian textiles.
One among them really caught our eye with its creative take, vivid colours, innovation and unconventional choice of ‘models’ – DesiTude. Curious about the name we posed a question regarding its origin to the label’s founder, Siddharth Mohan Nair. A 26-year-old Engineer by profession who just completed his law degree, Nair is a Gandhian who is originally from Palakkad, Kerala. “DesiTude = Desi + attitude. When I started, I needed to create a Facebook page as that would be the best way to get the word out but I didn’t know what to call it. From the time that I became a Gandhian the concept of swadeshi has been very close to my heart. People often associate it with something negative, a rejection of outside things but it’s not really like that. It is whatever you get locally, using and producing that itself. If there is ‘swadeshi’ or ‘desi’ in something then it doesn’t attract many people. People often think of it, it’s the Indian mentality that it is something that would be of bad quality, they find it below their standards. But I wanted ‘desi’ or ‘swadeshi’ in the name, so I played with the prefix and suffix to make it sound cooler, more approachable and likeable, so to speak,” Nair tells us.
Growing up in beautiful rural Kerala, Nair grew up with a feeling of closeness to the environment and his natural surroundings. Instead of watching television or playing computer games he preferred climbing trees and jumping into ponds and lakes around him. It’s no surprise then that Environmental Engineering is what drew him professionally. He travelled to Delhi thereafter to prepare for the civil services exam and it is at that time that Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement was taking place. He got majorly involved in the movement and volunteering with Kiran Bedi. Reading up on Mahatma Gandhi, he got interested in the concept of Swadeshi and Khadi.
“This is when I also got interested in law and started pursuing it. I became a vegetarian as well and started wearing Khadi when I became a Gandhian. I started travelling a lot too which is when I came across Khadi denim. Khadi is something that the youth generally doesn’t really want to associate with,” he adds. It’s often cast aside and (almost forgotten) for having the reputation of being uncomfortable, coarse and because it needs to be hand-washed it is seen as high maintenance, as Nair shares.
He never really approached Khadi denim with the intention of starting a business. “I just made a pair of jeans out of it as a hobby, of sorts, and a friend of mine wore it and really liked it. They thought it was really cool and then we put it up on Facebook. The images spread like wildfire and I suddenly started getting a lot of inquiries about orders. It is then that Desitude was set up and it turned into a business,” he muses.
The denim weave is more rigid he explains, Khadi denim that way is a lot more flexible. There’s so much more to the label than just its visual appeal. A kind of personalised, human element goes into each step of the process of making the clothes. Raw fibre is hand-spun on a charkha and woven using a hand loom, dyed and stitched – they can even make their clothes to order.
What’s incredible about Nair’s venture is that for every sale they make, they plant a tree. 10% of each sale proceeds go to social causes and groups – they are currently utilising it in the purchase and distribution of sanitary napkins to underprivileged women with the help of CodeRed. “We donate some part of our buying pads made by an SHG in Kerala and then sending it to orphanages. As we believe in sustainability, we ideally should not be promoting sanitary napkins at all, but village women are still not aware of the usage of a menstrual cup. It will take time. So we continue donating pads but have also started holding workshops on the use of menstrual cups as they are more sustainable. Our packaging is also completely plastic free,” says Nair.
For him, a brand is an attitude, an ideology, and he presented it through their unconventional lookbook and ‘models’. He wanted to use ‘normal’ people, without any cosmetics, all natural and everyday folk from a variety of backgrounds – lawyers, students, photographers, migrant workers, labourers; DesiTude wanted to represent everyone, the entire community and did the very same with their shoot in Kerala.
Jeans, jackets, skirts, shirts and shorts – DesiTude has a great catalogue of pieces you can choose from (and get customised as well), all in a variety of beautiful colours. You can follow them on Instagram and Facebook, and visit their website for orders and their complete collection.
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