Khadi Textile: Past, Present, and Future

Arushi Sharma
Arushi Sharma

March 2021

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Did you know that the official Indian flag is manufactured and sold by a group of women in Karnataka? The unit is called ‘Karnataka Khadi Gramodyoga Samyukta Sangha’ or KKGSS, the only federation entrusted with the responsibility by the government.

Since the national flag cannot have any variation in size, shape, colour, or thread count of the yarn, the process involves 18 stages of quality check. The actual production alone has 6 steps: Hand spinning, weaving, bleaching and dyeing, chakra printing, stitching, and toggling.

As you can see, ‘Khadi’ forms an essential part of these activities. No other materials except a spun cloth of cotton, silk, or wool are allowed to be used in the national flag. Further, there are two different kinds of khadi in the design: Khadi-bunting (for the body) and khadi-duck (for holding the flag to the pole). 

Khadi-duck should weigh exactly 205 gm per square feet with 150 threads per square cm and 4 threads per stitch. This only goes to show that the procedure requires painstaking dedication and skill. It is only after the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) approves the cloth that it is separated into three lots for dyeing (saffron, white, and green). 

The symbolic national pride 

Khadi is much more than a textile product for India. Its story and spirit is tied with the Indian freedom struggle, which makes it a valuable part of the cultural heritage. 

The timeline of Khadi:

  • Mechanised Industrialization
  • Freedom Struggle
  • Swadeshi Movement
  • Post-Independence
  • Next in Fashion

The journey started when Mahatma Gandhi picked khadi as a symbol of the Swadeshi Movement  more than a century ago. Today, Khadi is world-renowned as a fashion statement due to its simplicity, authenticity, and creativity. 

Generally, rural artisans lead the traditional textile manufacturing process of Khadi in India. The rugged texture of the fabric is a result of the manual spinning and weaving methods carried out on traditional wooden frames and handlooms. This specific construction of Khadi also makes it breathable in summers and warmer in winters.

Types of Khadi and some examples:

  • Cotton khadi: Super fine muslin, kuchchi mirror, kalamkari dresses
  •  Silk khadi: Patola, chanderi, pochampalli, kanchipuram sarees
  •  Wool khadi:  Pashmina and kullu shawls
  • Poly khadi: Articles with polyester blends

The future of Indian Khadi 

Besides the cultural significance, the strengths of khadi are embodied by its strong production, supply chain, and distribution strategies. 

Firstly,  it is hand spun and hand woven by rural artisans, which form a key pillar of the Indian economy. The khadi and village industries sector employs about 140 lakh persons, thereby promoting such non-farm livelihoods and preserving traditional practices.

Secondly, it is prepared from natural fibres, which are typically treated under environment-friendly conditions. You need 3  litres of water to manufacture one metre of khadi. On the other hand, mill fabric requires at least 56 litre of water for the same length.

Thirdly, it is a durable material which can be fashioned into apparel items like shirts, trousers, jackets, bags, dhoti, kurta, jackets, salwar-kameez, saree, dupatta, etc. As per government data, Khadi sales have risen by 30 percent in the last four years. The handcrafted nature of the textile makes it a high worth item in terms of market positioning and customer loyalty. 

As Khadi takes care of the social, environment, and economic factors, there is scope for increasing its share in India’s annual fabric production, taking it to new markets, and enhancing its online presence.

This article appeared in the ‘Soft Power’ edition of The Plus magazine in March 2021. Read here.

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