An Ancient Green Solution: Kala Cotton

Looking at the fast fashion world particularly, we have grown used to the limited selection of fabrics that are commonly used, many of which being synthetic. They are often processed with plastics and chemicals that, in the long run, end up harming our planet in many different ways, and the world is slowly realising that this norm needs to change now.

Thankfully, there are many innovators around the world who are putting in the research to develop new fabrics in amazing ways - you can read about a few here. From deriving fibres and fabrics from pineapples to kelp and even developing processes like biofabrication, which aims to literally organically grow clothing, there’s some great green strides being made. However, today, we wanted to talk about fabric that we have already discovered, one that has existed for centuries and can help us work towards a cleaner, greener world.

Kala cotton is one of our newest fabrics we are working with this summer and it’s a sustainable alternative that has been revitalised in recent years in India. There are many conscious benefits of using and supporting it so, without further ado, let us tell you more.

What is Kala cotton?

Native to the state of Kutch, Kala cotton is India’s original Old World cotton and evidence of its existence seems to stem back to c.2750-3000 BCE in which a closely related plant type, Gossypium arboreum (a dominant native cotton strain), was discovered at the Mohenjo daro archeological site of Dholavira. Though it is evident India cultivated several of these domestic varieties of cotton, including Kala cotton or Gossypium herbaceum, it’s also important to note that colonial rule played a key part in its decline, which has led to its lack of mainstream use in our modern day.

An article by summarises this occurrence here:

“Kala cotton (Gossypium herbaceum) is an indigenous strain of rain-fed ‘old world’ cotton that was a part of India’s cotton export to Great Britain during colonial rule when the forcible cultivation of long-staple variety of cotton led to disruption in the value chain between domestic cotton farmers, weavers, natural dyers and markets till its production was almost obliterated, resulting in the meltdown of the homespun industry. Even after Independence, in spite of its sturdiness and pest resistance, it was tagged for perceived ‘inferior’ status as compared to the long-staple American and other hybrid varieties.”

And so, the effect was drastic. Where in the 1990s around 2000 weavers in Kutch were making their livelihoods by creating and selling Kala cotton fabrics and products, only 600-700 practice the art today. However, recently the fibre is being revisited as a viable sustainable fabric alternative in the fashion world, and we hope by using it in our own designs and supporting Kutch weavers, we can show the world how incredible it is to craft with it.

How is Kala cotton produced and what makes it green?

“Kala cotton has specific characteristics. This indigenous strain of cotton is genetically pure, which differentiates from the genetically modified Bt cotton. Kala cotton is hardy and resilient even under harsh weather conditions. Completely rain-fed and growing naturally even in the arid, drought-prone areas of Kutch, where there is less than 40 cm of rainfall, its high drought tolerance imposes minimal or no demand on scarce water resources, which makes it extremely water efficient.” -

From this description, it's evident that the production of Kala cotton is far less reliant on mass resources than conventional cotton - for example, around 10 tons of water is needed to produce just one pair of jeans, moreover, cotton production needs so much water , it’s practically emptied The Aral Sea. Many different parts of the world are facing the problem of water scarcity where large populations are left without clean or accessible water,  and so, the need for plants that can withstand less than optimal conditions is great.

It also takes out all the excess work that is needed for irrigation or providing pesticides to aid in its growth. Having no need for systems such as these means less electricity is required, less harmful chemicals are used in the process (making it safer for the farmers and for us when we wear the final fabric), and less greenhouse gases are released into our atmosphere.

How else does the fabric help our planet and communities?

According to an insightful article by Border & Fall, there are three main points that outline how potentially effectively green the fibre can be aside from the points we have already brought up. 

These are that:

  • Farmers and artisans are able to sustain livelihoods that encourage a more sustainable practice while also being safer for them. Since Kala cotton does not require pesticides and is rain-fed, they are able to cultivate the fibre organically.
  • It encourages enrichment of an Indian art. By supporting it, we are able to pass on the craft and teach more about our rich textile heritage.
  • Through Kala cotton’s resurgence, It can catalyse others to revitalise more strands of desi cotton that were lost during colonial rule, in fact, “in different parts of the country, small, fragmented efforts towards their reappearance have already begun.”

Where do we source our Kala cotton from?

Our Kala cotton is sourced from green NGO, Karghewale. The initiative is newly launched and is founded by Nivedita Rai, who we have known since her days working with WomenWeave. She has always had a passion to cultivate artisan craft within small local communities so we were so excited to bring them on board for our latest collection.

In their own words, here’s a little bit more about their initiative:

“Karghewale works with 150 young weaver entrepreneurs, most of whom are graduates of WomenWeave’s The Handloom School, across thirteen states of Arunanchal Pradesh, Bihar, Chattisgarh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Nagaland, Ladakh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Odisha, and Telangana. Our mission is to empower the creators of our textiles, this talented community of young and aspiring weaver entrepreneurs, so that they can build robust businesses. What differentiates us is the belief that weavers are equal partners in the business, not mere wage workers who will weave the said design and be paid per meter wages. We believe in the agency of artisans to transcend impediments in traditional value chains to co-create, manage business and sell the final products directly to the end consumer.”

(Seen here: a little look behind-the-scenes with Karghewale.)

We also got to chat with Nivedita so she can tell us about their specific value chain. Here’s a little overview:

  • All their Kala cotton is grown in Kutch where it is native to
  • It is then harvested and transported to Rajput which is where the spinning unit is located
  • The fibre is cleaned here and made into a yarn
  • Karghewale has direct contact with the owner of this unit and so directly sources and orders from them the majority of the time.
  • The yarn is then delivered directly to Kutch to hand-weave the final fabric
  • Regarding dyeing, it is either pre-dyed in Ahmedabad in which they are directly in contact with a dyeing unit then brought to Kutch; however, custom and natural dyeing are all done in Kutch.

Sustainability is not just about the process being conscious but considering who is making your products. Taking care of our people is so important in the fight to a healthier planet because they often work hand in hand. As many of you already know, one of our key pillars is supporting craft communities so it has always been vital to us that we connect with small artisans to both bring the art to our audience and show how sustainable it can be too. Working with Karghewale helps us do just that.

How do you take care of Kala cotton garments?

Making sure your clothing lasts is also an important step within your slow fashion journey. We should all be treating our clothes like lifelong friends and caring for them as much as possible so they last as long as possible - this ensures less clothing is thrown away to fill landfills or be incinerated (which produces a large amount of carbon emissions).

(Seen here: Island maxi dress, Bougainvillea Blooms dress, Endless Summer kaftan, The Wilds dress - all crafted in Kala cotton.)

Here’s how you should care for your Kala cotton pieces:

  • Hand wash separately at room temperature or machine wash in gentle cycle and use mild detergents only 
  • Do not bleach or scrub 
  • Dark colours may bleed. Wash alone for its first wash then with similar colors 
  • Dry away from direct sunlight 
  • Iron on low heat to get rid of crinkles 
  • Dry clean only if necessary

And with that, we hope this has helped you understand why choosing more consciously is better for our planet, stay green!

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