The author Jo Salter is the founder of Where Does It Come From?, and, Non Executive Director of Khadi London. She was inspired to write the blog, Fabric and Fine Wine, after attending a khadi conference in Jaipur, India. A fellow speaker confided that they expected a better cotton crop than previous years because of higher rainfall. This got her thinking, ‘we’ve drifted away from the idea of fabric as having dependency on nature. We understand with wine that there will be good years and bad years, why not with fabric too?’
Fabric and Fine Wine – Making Khadi Connections…
Are you a wine lover? It could be your Friday evening relaxant (guilty as charged!), a social lubricant or part of a fine dining experience. Perhaps you’re a wine connoisseur, knowing your vintages and vineyards. But what’s interesting is that for many wine drinkers the moment of actual drinking comes at the end of a pleasurable ritual. First we explore the origins of the grapes – where is the vineyard? When was it produced – was it a ‘good year’? and what were the various steps that were to turn fruit into the delicious stuff – from harvesting to how the wine was stored. Then an examination by eye, swilling around the glass, giving it a sniff and finally, the first sip. Ah. (is your mouth watering yet?)
Khadi Connections – Re-establishing The Craft of Fabric
Unfortunately for much of what we consume these days we’ve moved away from these little rituals – thinking about the ‘stuff’ in our lives as no more than just an end product. Nowadays it’s often just ‘how much is it’ and ‘how quickly can I have it’. This is a real shame, because there’s so much pleasure to be had from individuality and uniqueness. Understanding the craft processes that brought us our fabrics and clothing builds a deeper connection and deeper love for the garments we wear.
Last month I was invited to address a conference in Jaipur India. The conference was to explore the traditional Indian handloom fabric called khadi – the fabric we’ve been using at Where Does It Come From? since we set up in 2013. khadi has an impressive heritage, promoted by Gandhi as part of Indian independence and social inclusion, but now its credentials are firmly set in sustainability and ethics.
There’s been a return to ecological farming of indigenous cotton varieties, some thousands of years old, which grow in partnership with the natural environment. These need little or no added water or pesticides and align with the already low carbon and fair trade processes of hand spinning and weaving. This all results in a tip top sustainability and ethics story that’s traceable too. This is why I fell in love with it back then and why many others are joining the party.
So What’s The Problem?
Unfortunately we’ve all got used to our clothing being cheap and mass-produced. But as consumers we’re now starting to become more aware of the negative impacts of so called ‘fast fashion’, where cheaper garments are churned out in anonymous factories using materials that have enough hazardous chemicals to make your eyes pop.
But culturally we’re still used to paying very little for clothes – mainstream clothing prices have barely risen since the 1980s. And why would customers pay more, especially when so many cheap alternatives are being pushed at us as the norm?
Making Connections with Khadi
But back to Khadi Connections – what has inspired this vintaculture analogy? At the Jaipur conference a fellow speaker confided to me that this year’s cotton crop was likely to be better than last years due to the higher rainfall. This got me thinking about how we’ve drifted away from the idea of fabric as having dependency on nature. We understand that with fine wine there will be good years and bad years, why not with fabric too?
And not just the crop – it also matters how you process the wine – whether you age it in an oak or metal vat, whether you mix varieties of grape etc. For natural fabrics the processes also add uniqueness , the varying thickness of threads driven by the spinner’s human touch, the places where the weaver changed thread – each piece of handcrafted fabric carries something of the artisan uniquely within it.
Just as with fine wine, there is so much to connect with in a hand crafted fabric like khadi. I yearn for a future where we choose what we want to buy kindly and thoughtfully, considering the impacts on our planet and all the people in the creation chain as well as our own desires. It would wonderful indeed if we learned to understand and love the ritual and craft that brought our clothes into being. I imagine myself one day looking at a khadi shirt, feeling the fabric and saying ‘2020 – that was a good year’.
Text: Jo Salter
First published in Where Does It Come From?. Reproduced with permission.
Better knowledge of where the fabric comes from is an important theme in our blog space. Below are a few selected blogs which dwell on this:
In Discovering Khadi …..Our Traceable Clothing Range, Jo Salter talks about her dream for setting up a traceable clothing business. And how hunt for the right fabric which meets this requirement led her to khadi.
Henrietta Adams reflects on her trip to Kutch to understand her supply chain in “…as if time had stood still”
Karuna Futane discusses how indigenous cotton varieties have been replace by American breeds. And about Gram Sewa Mandal’s programme to revive indigenous cotton. Read about it in ‘Cotton: Towards a Holistic Solution for Change’.
A review of ‘A Frayed History: The Journey of Cotton in India’, by Katie Anderson.
In Khadi: Innovations that Inspire”, Kishore Shah reflects on ideal production systems for fabric.