“The 'khadi spirit' means fellow-feeling with every human being on earth. It means a complete renunciation of everything that is likely to harm our fellow creatures, and if we but cultivate that spirit amongst the millions of our countrymen, what a land this India of ours would be!”
On this day in the year 1869, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born. Across India, us and our fellow countrymen acknowledge the life of this lawyer and political ethicist, marking and celebrating his immense achievements in leading the successful nonviolent campaign for India’s independence. He helped changed a nation and created the India we experience today as well as inspiring civil rights and freedom movements all over the world.
He also made khadi into a symbol of national pride, a fabric we at Sui adore. This humble, handwoven fabric managed to change and free a nation, so, here, we wanted to show you how special it is and why it is so treasured.
A Brief History of Khadi
The word ‘khadi’ itself is derived from the word ‘khaddar, a term for handspun fabric in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Though normally created from cotton, the fabric can also be spun in silk or wool and is a practice that has existed in India for thousands of years with evidence of terracotta spindles and and bone tools being used to spin and weave, respectively. It indicated the Indus Valley Civilisation to have had a thriving tradition of creating textiles.
In an article by The Better India, they state that “In 400 BC, Greek historian Herodotus wrote that in India, there were “trees growing wild, which produce a kind of wool better than sheep’s wool in beauty and quality. The Indians use this tree wool to make their clothes.””
As time went on, British rule and European influence affected the industry immensely with France and England banning the import of chintz, wood-blocked printed calicos (cotton), in the late 17th century and early 18th, respectively. Moreover, the introduction by the British of machine-driven mills in Mumbai saw a sharp decline in the production of handwoven khadi.
The market continued to decline until a man who saw khadi as the symbol of the regeneration of India’s economic came along to change that.
Gandhi & Khadi
“The spinning wheel represents to me the hope of the masses. The masses lost their freedom, such as it was, with the loss of the Charkha. The Charkha supplemented the agriculture of the villagers and gave it dignity.”
In the early 20th century, Gandhi used khadi to encourage the Swadeshi movement to boycott British-made clothing. It was a call to Indian citizens to urge them to take up the handweaving tradition once again, to spin their own yarn, and wear khadi to rediscover Indian pride as well as support their rural communities.
The movement sought to not just involve the elite and was what really helped include the common man in India’s fight for independence while bringing to light the exploits the British had done to the country.
Khadi in Our Modern Day
Since Independence, khadi’s popularity has steadily declined somewhat with it having to compete with so many machine-made fabrics being favoured all over the world. However, there is hope for the textile.
In India, khadi has seen a new surge in popularity in India amongst modern designers who have begun using it in their collections, bringing it to a wider fashion platform. In an article by The Culture Trip, they describe how, “Since independence, the journey of khadi has been about maintaining a balance between traditions and modernity. Khadi stands for what’s traditional, but every tradition has to undergo change to stay relevant. Khadi has seen a new wave of acceptance thanks to many fashion designers like Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Ritu Kumar and Rohit Bal, to name a few.”
And, of course, at Sui we have a deep love for the fabric and incorporate it into many of our designs. Being handwoven, the fabric is the perfect example of slow, sustainable creating and we are proud to use a material that has such a rich, significant history in the country Sui was born in.
We currently work with WomenWeave who provide the khadi we use to design our garments. They are an NGO dedicated to teaching women handlooming skills to support them in working successfully and safely in the textile industry. WomenWeave is able to provide an ethical work environment for many of the underprivileged women in Maheshwar. We are proud to work with them and continue spreading Gandhi’s message to uphold and have pride in our traditions while supporting our communities.
To check out our khadi pieces, click here.