It is symbolic of the Swadeshi movement, and has been a frontrunner in establishing its robustness as a fabric that is both empowering and modern in its interpretation. That’s why khadi has found favour with the younger generation, as it transcends from being termed as “slubby” and jhola chic to now being accepted as an effective medium of communication.
Five Indian designers — Abhishek Gupta, Anavila, Anju Modi, Rina Dhaka and Charu Parashar — came together to give it a unique narrative at the FDCI X Lakmé Fashion Week. The fabric has now also crossed borders to get a French chic aesthetic with French designer Mossi Traoré adopting it.
Anju Modi’s khadi collection
Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) Chairman Sunil Sethi, who is also the advisor to the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC), encouraged Traoré to visit India and sample the various fabrics available at the Khadi Gram Udyog. “We want to promote khadi as a sustainable fabric, a new-age fibre that remains cool in summer and keeps you warm in winter,” says Sethi. “Traoré has crafted 16 garments out of khadi silk, cotton and wool, and we hope to do a presentation internationally too, soon. This will be on similar lines of what we did in Bhutan in pre-Covid days where even the royalty showed great interest in the simplicity of khadi.”
The key to making this avant-garde is to encourage young designers to make collections to woo millennials.
Mumbai-based Anavila sourced khadi from Bardhaman, West Bengal, making it minimalistic, crafting lightly constructed jackets and trousers – not limiting it to conventional saris, her forte. “Now you can get the finest threads woven in khadi up to 400 counts with a buttery smooth consistency. We have worked with 3D embroideries, with a fresh take on traditional animal motifs,” she says.
Rina Dhaka decided to mix and match khadi with sheer, her signature
Meanwhile, Parashar, who is known for her commercial lines, has been working with khadi for the last seven years. She fondly recalls a show she did exclusively with khadi in Paris, at a polo club owned by Hermès, where her long tunics executed in the finest threads found resonance with the culture of handmade. “My role as a designer comes into play to make sure the Varanasi-sourced khadi is not looked at as non-glamorous, so the effort has been to digitally print it and add an element of effortlessness to it,” she says. Embodying the hues of spices, with minimal embroideries, Parashar’s dhotis and structured jackets can be worn even to a holiday in Milan, making each piece universal.
What Covid has taught fashion is that “less is more”. With even pre-wedding events getting increasingly organic, silk khadi lehengas with ruffled blouses became Parashar’s mainstay during the lockdown months.
Modi, who has been working tirelessly with this fabric, believes as the world is moving towards an austere approach to life, khadi fits in well “satvically” (pure, harmonious).
Sourced from Vijayawada, Hyderabad, khadi’s purity is undeniable, she says. Unlike mill fabrics, it is spun on a charkha and not twisted or turned on machines. “If you see an Amrita Sher-Gil painting, it captures the essence of women in khadi saris. I have added foil printing, resham, patchwork, and have been inspired by Bidri designs from Telangana,” she explains. A recurring leitmotif is the “Tree of life”, which metaphorically means no start or end to life, of being eternal. “This is why it is used in temple architecture to signify the immortality of the soul,” says Modi.
Known for her stretch churidars that redefined the way women wore their white cotton kurtas in the ’90s, Rina Dhaka believes new innovations and interesting blends available in khadi are what make it endearing. Sourced from Jharcraft, Dhaka decided to mix and match it with sheer, her signature, and then added crushing for dimension. “One of my first collections in khadi, modelled by Simar Dugal, in the early ’90s was photographed by Asha Kochhar. I have revisited those austere times through this line,” she explains. Skirts with volume, dori work, cotton lace kurtas along with cording elevate the ensembles.
Pin tucks and plisse also find a new interpretation, as Dhaka attempts to give women the comfort of a safari suit. “Instead of embroidery, I prefer to use laser cuts and crinkled effects, invisible but impactful,” she says.
Designer Abhishek Gupta has, meanwhile, given khadi his signature fabric manipulation to show that you can use myriad techniques to create a buzz on the runway.