Note: In her blog, Fibres and Spindles, Asha Buch discusses important issues around the production on khadi. Avoiding polyester fibres is a must if khadi is to have meaning in today’s world. She also explores issues around the size of the spinning machines, the importance of getting the number of spindles right. Further, she recommends the use of solar energy for making khadi. This is the fifth blog reflecting on the Jaipur conference. One more to go.

Diversity of Topics: From Farm to Fashion

I was fortunate to attend the International Conference on Globalisation of Khadi at Jaipur on 30-31 January 2020, representing Khadi London along with Jo Salter and Laurence Sewell. During six sessions, diverse topics related to Khadi industry ranging from farm to fashion were discussed. There were about forty five speakers and about two hundred delegates. I commend the Government of Rajasthan, HMC RIPA, CII and all who were involved in planning and executing this conference.

Fibres and Spindles
Asha (right) with Laurence and Jo. Photo: Abhishek Jain

There were dialogues and discussions taking place on and off the stage. This helped the delegates to understand the issues, concerns and problems. Attendants represented 14 states of India and almost an equal number of countries, from Japan and Australia in the east to the United States in the west.

This was the first attempt to gather all stakeholders working to preserve and promote khadi in India and globally. Here is a brief presentation of my views and what I understood. And ideas for the way forward.

Natural Fibres and Multiple Spindles

Three main elements define khadi.
1) Use of natural fibres
2) Hand spun yarn and
3) Hand woven cloth

It is clear that pure cotton yarn mixed with polyester yarn, marketed as khadi is NOT khadi. Organic cotton fibres are a pure natural product. But polyester is not a natural fibre, it is man made. We expect KVIC and all other regulating bodies to adhere to this principle. Instead of resorting to promoting polyvastra, they should invest on research and development to make khadi viable and affordable.

Amber Charkha: Designing for Health and Safety

There were discussions on the size of charkhas. Gandhiji encouraged modification of the traditional charkha. Thus the use of Amber charkha was a natural progression. However, we should ensure the health and safety of the spinners and weavers. They should be provided with protective gears. Designs for Amber charkhas should include devices for suction of the dust from the cotton and silencers.

Should we promote Amber charkhas with more than 10 or 12 spindles? Will this provide employment to large number of population? And will the capital investment be too high? In addition there are issues such as maintenance, premise size and other infrastructure requirements. Certainly a unit with ninety six spindles Amber charkha will become a mini mill. It will bring its own problems. With the increased production of spun yarn, an issue of weaving and selling the final product will also arise. Therefore we need to think of all related aspects.

Then there is the question of whether we insist on hand spun and hand woven fabric. Versus the use of other sources of energy. My opinion is that we should allow ourselves to use solar energy for spinning and weaving if we want to spread the use of good quality khadi fabric among the majority of people in India and abroad. Because it is a natural source of energy which hardly produces harmful emission.

Khadi and Simplicity

Simplicity and ethics are closely related to each other and to khadi. Inputs from fashion designers and business experts were useful. As they gave insights for placing khadi on an international market. Which is also pertinent for the sustenance and progress of the khadi industry. My concern is on the cultural side of fashion design. The films on fashion showed that men wearing fashionable clothes were fully covered. Whereas young ladies are seen wearing minimum clothes. If we think that giving up our culture of simplicity and modesty is the only way to stand in the world market, then we should be prepared to let go of the profits in millions and be happy with earnings in thousands.

Our moto should be ‘Wear Khadi’ instead of ‘Buy Khadi’. Because the former is based on our requirement and the latter is based on our commercial motive. Of course we should design attractive khadi outfits, suitable for the younger generation, but not at the cost of our core values of simplicity and modesty. Khadi attire can be the tool to embed our culture and help the men and women of new generation to see each other as humans and not as commodity.

In Conclusion

I am sure the aim of Khadi industry is to maintain decentralise production and trade system and make sure it is free from exploitation and pollution. Let us focus on achieving this. pivot our plans and efforts towards this end.

An international conference of this scale will have an effect on the Khadi industry. All the organisations, dignitaries and individuals working on the ground who participated in this conference would like to meet again and take this initiative further. For that to happen, we need an action plan. Perhaps formation of regional sub groups involving all stakeholders from researchers and producers of cotton seeds to designers and marketing experts to work in harmony is the next step to take.

I would like to thank the CII and Govt of Rajasthan for providing a platform to think global. Now we are prepared to act local in order to take this ethical Vastra – Khadi from local to global domain.

Post Script

The conference brought together different perspectives. There was an immediate focus on follow up action, especially in the state of Rajasthan where the conference took place. Unfortunately it all came to a halt with the pandemic. However, it did not go all in vain. As we settled into the lockdown era, Jo of who represented Khadi London and Where Does it Come From? organised a webinar in the Fashion Revolution Week of 2020. This was in April. Khamir organised a webinar series focussing on the textile traditions of Kutch.

We published a blog on the first webinar in the series entitled ‘Weaving from Within: Narratives from Kutch‘. Followed by another webinar discussing issues related to spinning, called ‘Hand Spinning Matters’. Khamir also raised funds for and have started a programme for spinning with a one spindle box charkha. Fibres and spindles have continued to be an important part of the discourse. Another important development during the pandemic has been coming together of like minded organisations to set up an online portal called the India Handmade Collective.

We started publishing blogs on the conference about a year ago, beginning with a blog by Jo Salter, ‘Fabric and Fine Wine’ . It will only be fitting to end the series of blogs on the conference with another blog by Jo. eulogising ‘The Little Lady’ – am object which symbolises the conference for her.

Feature Image: Amit Dalvi