It has been a different year, a difficult one. For me, challenging and inspiring describe the year better. The pandemic caught most of us unaware yet we have all taken it in our stride. Most people I have been in contact with feel more resilient and reflective than they were before the pandemic.

Keeping Safe

Early in the lockdown I was inspired by a webinar conversation, an interview with Naran bhai, a weaver from Bhujodi in Kutch, ‘at first I was afraid when I heard about the global pandemic. And then, a greater sense of fear followed when patients in India were tested positive. And then, a sense of control as I learnt that there were ways of keeping safe’. 

Screenshot of the Webinar on Weavers and Bhajan Mandlis of Kutch

We at Khadi London also did not let fear overcome us. Instead we calmly went about the business of finding solutions.

A Sense of Momentum

The year had started with a sense of momentum, building up on the success of the Festival of Natural Fibres in the November gone by. New clients were coming on board. Known brand names had started taking an interest in our fabrics. The student consultancy groups from University College of London shared useful insights which we could start building on.

We were also busy helping the Government of Rajasthan organise a global conference on khadi which brought together actors working for sustainable fabrics. Actors old and new. Experts, designers, start-ups, khadi institutions, and policy makers were there to listen and take action. As one participant described the event, it was a first of its kind. Khadi London was represented by three of its team members. Our new website was launched by the Chief Minister of the state.

Suddenly things started to fall apart. Orders couldn’t be fulfilled in time as our suppliers couldn’t reach weavers in far off villages. Orders ready to be shipped stayed put as courier services were in short supply. New orders stopped coming in as our clients were themselves struggling.

The Khadi Masks Story

Kudos to the artisans in India who kept on weaving in the hope that the pandemic too shall pass. The stockpiles of inventory that they were building would one day dwindle. Spinners and weavers working in khadi cooperatives were luckier. Being part of an institution gave them a sense of security. And before long the idea of khadi masks caught on, the cooperatives started getting orders from public and private clients, for hundreds, thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of khadi masks.

The emerging story of khadi masks caught our attention. Working in partnership with Where Does It Come From? and Couchman Bespoke decided to design and make our own organic khadi masks using the fabric in our stock. Transport from India opened up in time to get organic khadi from India to keep us going, and eventually masks made with indigenous rain fed cotton from Gram Sewa Mandal. Logistical support from Mishika Enterprises played an important role in making it all happen.

Masks gave us a new sense of purpose, a new momentum and a confidence that we could diversify and start selling products online, something we had cautiously avoided in the past. The idea of a Diwali collection to help our makers turn their inventory into cash was born. We launched the collection with a successful webinar attended by our supporters in the UK and India.

A Year of Reflection and Team Building

The year of the pandemic has also been a year of reflection, team building. And a year for finding new ways of doing things and connecting with a wider world. This manifested itself as we went around creating our Christmas collection. A collection lovingly brought from our villages to your homes.

The Diwali and Christmas collection also helped us strengthen our spiritual resolve. Masks have become a symbol of being diligent. But as Naran bhai would remind us, masks and sanitisers are only part of the solution to the problems that confront us. Actions which keep us safe from the ‘virus within, the ego’ are as important.

The pandemic has taught us that cooperation at all levels, from village to global, can be effective in finding a way forward, a way around what appears to be intractable. Hopefully history will tell us that it was the year when we as a human society began to act with a greater commitment for a resilient and sustainable future. A year when we as a human society learned from the tortoise, to retreat into a defensive posture when the going is rough, to keep calm. And to start moving again when the danger has passed. 

An Invitation

We invite you to join our slow and steady journey as we move into the new year, preparing for a new fabric collection to be launched in the spring. And to continue building our own brand products, to bring the spirit of village crafts into your homes.

Happy New Year, Happy 2021!

Text: Kishore Shah
Photos: Khamir, Gram Sewa Mandal, Khamir, Weaver Bird, Gram Bharti Samiti, Jo Salter, Erna Janine Kok, Amit and Swapnaja Dalvi
Feature Image: Snehal More