When Mahatma Gandhi said that the solution to poverty in India was to keep a charkha in every home, little did he realise that this humble textile, which he called the Fabric of Freedom, would one day become an international style statement.
Indian designers have embraced the concept of Khadi and handlooms, realising that it gives them that handmade label of luxury creating an edge over their foreign counterparts.
Designer Vaishali Shadangule recently showcased her Khadi & handwoven collection at the Paris Couture Week to great acclaim."With our beautifully handwoven fabrics, it is our time now to step up on the world stage, strong with the power of our handlooms," she says.
Designers like David Abraham & Rakesh Thakore have long celebrated Indian handmade textiles and the unique techniques of dyeing, printing and embroidery using traditional Indian crafts. Their work is shipped all over the world to discerning customers who understand that true luxury is handmade and not mass produced in factories that exploit cheap labour.
Designer Rajesh Pratap Singh works directly with master weavers and artisans helping them develop their textiles into even finer versions in cotton, wool and silk. It is not just Indian designers who understand and promote the handmade heritage textiles and processes that are so unique to our country.
Designer Issey Miyake is Japan actually has a label called 'HaaT' which celebrates the delicate and precious traditional fabrics of India. Sold in the very best of exclusive stores in Tokyo, the label sources fabrics created by the great textile designer Asha Sarabhai which she produces in India.
Designer Bibi Russell is the iconic revivalist of Khadi & handlooms in her country Bangladesh. Her work has resulted in international attention and she was appointed by UNESCO as the brand ambassador for her efforts in saving the textile art and craft of her country.
The post-pandemic world will buy fashion with caution and ensure that they make meaningful purchases that move away from conspicuous consumption and fast fashion. Even the giant brands like Zara, H&M and Uniqlo have sensed this shift in buyers perception and today are racing to develop more informed choices in the clothes they are offering their customers.
Khadi & handwoven fabrics are playing a major role in these developments with brands like Zara already offering a handloom viewpoint. Uniqlo offers the handwoven kurtas of designer Rina Singh with her label EKA.
Sabyasachi Mukerjee had his first tryst with fast fashion with the ready-to-wear collection he offers with the selected stores at H&M. International designers have for long used Indian handloom textiles and embroidery techniques for their haute couture labels.
They always fail to credit their sources and this has been a huge disadvantage for the Indian image. But now with our own designers promoting traditional Khadi and handloom, there is hope for the revival of our heritage textiles and the weavers and artisans who create them.
It is time we encouraged these often unsung heroes to create their own brands, and many have started the processes already. Master block printers from Jaipur like Ram Kishore Derewala and Abdul Majeed have already opened their own stores and are in the process of building their brands.
Ruma Devi of Barmer runs an NGO employing over 2,000 women who create products for fashion & home using traditional applique and patchwork techniques.
It remains for the Indian customer to realise and appreciate the vast wealth of our heirloom fabrics and the infinite variations they come in. It would be wise for institutions to encourage their young students to showcase our beautiful fabrics instead of buying cheap Chinese machine-made fabrics for their collections.
In this month of Independence, make it a point to wear a Khadi or handloom ensemble. It is only our support that will help revive this sector, which is so threatened by the influx of cheap machine-made textiles that are a long-term threat to our planet and the environment.
(The writer is a textile revivalist and curator of heritage weeks in India)