Khadi is a fabric that connects us with the golden past, while at the same time it granting us a view of a sustainable future. The fabric is about embracing your roots and valuing where one comes from. In the last two decades, khadi as a fabric has been used in dynamic ways. Originally used in making traditional ethnic forms of dresses only, it’s now used in designing modern cuts and styles by designers the world over.

Smriti Morarka, founder, Tantuvi, a Mumbai-based fashion label, talks to Guardian 20 about how khadi is taking over the fashion industry. She says, “Khadi or ‘khaddar’, which became a symbol of our freedom movement, is today the toast of our fashion industry.  Traditionally, we associate khadi with handspun cotton clothing, but today it is also available as silk khadi and woolen khadi. The versatility of the fabric, and its ability to stand on its own, make it the preferred choice of designers across the board. It also adds to the Indian identity of clothing.

“Khadi is a fabric that has a distinct character. It can be crisp like cotton khadi or supple like its silk counterpart. It accommodates print and embroidery in its own distinctive style, giving varied choices to designers to pick and choose from blends and embellishments that complement their sensibilities.  These changes, innovations, and adaptations of khadi in the last 10-15 years have breathed new life into the fabric. Thus, making khadi so much in vogue.” 

Khadi has undergone a major change in recent years—from being a fabric that carries a political and social statement, to becoming a fashion fabric in the past decade or so. It was mostly because of its low price and rough texture that khadi was neglected for so long by the fashion savvy. But currently, the growing demand for khadi garments is at an an ever-increasing high.

Khadi has its own unique character and is woven in small looms for it to have exclusive designs. Aditya Singhal, founder and CEO, IML Jeans Co., a personalised jeans service for men, women and kids, explains the visible changes that have come about in the last two decades in khadi design. He says, “Most [designers] use sustainable dyes and so the colour and shades are earthy that suit the Indian skin very well.  Besides being used in women’s ethnic-wear, it is also used in Western wear to make trousers, jackets and more… Khadi has been declared as the global fabric as it is completely natural.”

“Traditionally, it was relegated to the handloom sector wherein old charkhas [spinning wheels] were used. Today, some organised mills have started to make better quality khadi cloth and we see tighter weaves overall,” Singhal told Guardian 20.

Khadi in its construction is unique. Since they are hand spun and hand woven, the garments made from khadi have the distinct advantage of being able to breathe.  This in turn keeps the outfits made out of khadi cool in the summer and warm in the winter. On the social front, it’s a symbol of empowerment. It provides employment to the countless number of rural women and men, which makes wearing khadi a responsible choice for consumers.  

Singhal, on the benefits of khadi, says, “Besides being sustainable and generally non-reactive to the skin, it is breathable for our hot climate and has acceptable durability. It is a lovely summer fabric and is the closest one can get to organic. Its carbon footprint is very low and provides a good economic ecosystem for rural weavers.”

However, khadi is not easy to source. The yarn isn’t as abundant as other cotton yarns and so there is some natural scarcity.

When we asked Darshan Dhupia, a Delhi-based designer, about the growing affinity towards the fabric, she said, “It’s natural, sustainable and ethical fashion.”

You can make khadi a part of your life in a fun way. The fabric can not only be used as a stitched clothing item, but one can also make other utility items with the coarser forms of khadi—for making mats, bedspreads, shawls, and wraps. Since, it stands firm in its own unique manner, designers can use it to make innovative drapes of clothing that very few other fabrics can match. Khadi is a slightly looser weave and so gives a flowy fall.

Dhupia also suggested some ways we can experiment with khadi. She said, “Khadi is a very diverse fabric, it can be woven in innumerable ways to give it different textures, hence broadening its use and purpose. It is good for dresses, jeans and summer jackets. On the design side, it is possible to add sequins, embroidery; and handwork on it but requires some skill for a well-made garment. In jeans, khadi can be used to for deconstruction and reconstruction looks.”

“With a character closer to linen and woven more like a chambray, the look is premium and so has become popular for its breathability and summery design ethos,” she added.

The fabric is not mass produced on machines and the human hand involved in its making is what gives every piece a unique and distinct texture. All of these go a long way in fanning its demand and popularity. Khadi is a fabric as old as history itself. It is gaining in popularity, and we are sure to see more brands releasing their khadi range this summer across India. With more research, especially in design, coming in and better weaving technology being employed, we are soon to see a better quality of khadi being made into high-quality garments of the future.