Spinning a legacy

Amrita Prasad
Monday, 14 August 2017

The simple Khadi, Gandhi topi, Nehru jacket and Charkha have timeless appeal. We talk to designers who closely work with Khadi to know how the fashion industry has managed to create a greater demand for these symbols of India’s freedom struggle


Indian designers have successfully put Indian clothing on the global fashion map. Or else you wouldn’t find Oprah Winfrey, Julia Roberts or Selena Gomez sporting sarees! The six yard has found universal appeal but along with it, Khadi, Gandhi topi, Nehru/Modi jacket have also managed to fascinate fashionistas, designers and revivalists.
A symbol of self-reliance and rebellion during the country’s freedom struggle — the Khadi, with a unique history, evokes a feeling of patriotism among Indians. The hand-spun and handwoven cotton cloth became popular when Mahatma Gandhi started using it as a relief programme for the lower sections of society, to eradicate poverty and unemployment during India’s freedom struggle. But over the decades, along with Khadi fabric, Nehru jacket and Gandhi topi too have been appealing to generations and even considered haute couture by many fashion houses.

Respect for heritage
Designer Sailesh Singhania says, “Charkha has assumed the significance of sustainable living and a mindfulness practice that is more fervently needed now than ever before. Nehru jackets inspire us to redefine and customise the formal look of our land. As a vast nation, we cannot define ourselves with tuxedo and bow-ties as they are not a part of our DNA. Khadi signifies a way of life that chooses natural over artificial, fair trade, growth of rural artisan talent and, above all, a respect for our heritage. Gandhi topi is like a badge or uniform that cuts across geography, financial strata, age, class — we are all same with shared human values and respect for our motherland.”

Designer and textile revivalist Gaurang Shah, who has promoted textiles from all over India and is an ardent admirer of Khadi, feels that it is the versatility of the fabric that is so amazing. “It is simple and blends so beautifully with our timeless heritage, culture and personality — truly Indian. The skill of the weavers, the unmatched precision and a movement that empowers a whole economy in our country. It is also immensely satisfying to see these beautiful things retain their glory year after year. Textile 2017, which we celebrated recently, is a testimony to this beautiful tradition of Charkha (spinning wheel), Khadi, Nehru jacket and Gandhi topi. They instantly connect you with the struggles and glory of India’s freedom struggle.”

Designer and owner Jhelum Fashion House, Jhelum Dalvi, who has a special connection with the freedom struggle because her whole family was a part of it, has grown up seeing the Charkha and Khadi fabric in Gamdevi. The young designer is deeply inspired by Khadi and handloom. “I have trendy outfits made of Khadi and heavy lehangas too made in the fabric,” she says.

Timeless appeal
Time and again, designers have made modifications to keep the Khadi, and the jacket and topi in vogue and give them a contemporary feel. “These items have survived not because of the designers but due to the respectful identification that they hold in the hearts of Indians. The relevance of these symbols is only increasing as the nation grows with confidence. The changes have come from the demand of the consumers as there is requirement for more pliable, fuss-free, easy wearability in the international trending colours with the flexibility for the wearer to make it their own,” quips Singhania.

Shah further informs, “The biggest contribution we, as designers, have made is to transform vintage weaves into modern, desirable pieces of fashion. We have also brought about changes in the looms and helped advocate artisanal diversity. This not only sustains their livelihood but has also brought many young generations back into the business of weaving in looms.”

Dalvi feels that the reason Khadi and other items are still in vogue is because the current situation is that the demand is more than the supply. “Earlier, the type of Khadi available was Khadi cotton which had very coarse texture and feel. However, now Khadi silk and Khadi wool are also available, which makes it a fashionable fabric and likeable by the masses. Khadi is the pride of India and as a designer it is our responsibility to encourage wearing it. The young generation too loves wearing it,” says Dalvi.

Traditional yet modern
“A world that is becoming increasing homogenised, these products give the wearer a clear and unique identity. It speaks of impeccable taste and a concern for the land and, above all, elevates the wearer to the tight clique of the utterly graceful intellectuals of the world,” says Singhania.
Shah, who feels that both fashion shows and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts have given a major push to handloom, says that the number of looms growing from a mere 10 to a robust 800 across India proves its popularity.

“They are simply ‘timeless’. It is hard to find a woman’s wardrobe without the iconic fashion handloom saree. They will continue to be one of the most desirable wear for weddings, and other special or everyday occasions. The huge changes that have been brought about in textures, colours and motifs have contributed to handlooms growth even more. My Jamdani sarees and outfits are a blend of traditional and contemporary, something that a mother would hand down to her daughter, and the daughter will love it because it has emotional value yet it is fun and contemporary!” exclaims Shah.

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