Khadi as an important part of an emerging movement for natural fibres
Participants from across continents gathered early in September 2018 to continue a conversation about how textiles can become a force for good. Attendees at the event represented a cross section of the industry, farmers, suppliers and producers, emerging fashion brands, craft representatives, consumers and campaigners.
Saturday was the high point with more than a hundred people visiting, some from as far away as India, Switzerland and Germany, to learn find solutions and network. Cotton, wool flax and hemp dominated at formal panel discussions which took a note of an increasing interest in natural fibres and focused on how to build on this interest. This marked an important shift for the Khadi Initiative, from a narrower focus on khadi (the hand spun and handwoven fabrics of India) to bringing together all initiatives promoting natural fibres as an alternative to the growing menace of plastics in our textiles and clothing. Not a sudden shift but part of an organic growth of a movement began in early 2017.
Khadi Initiative: the Genesis
Five like minded organisations, Khadi CIC, Moral Fibre Fabrics, Where Does It Come From?, Action Village India and Fresh Eyes: People to People Travel – joined forces to found the Khadi Initiative and organise an event – A Way Ahead: Ethical Khadi on November 2017. Held at a prestigious venue, London’s Fashion and Textile Museum, the event was host to over one hundred exited people from all walks of life – including designers, producers, brands and charities.
Organic Growth of a Movement
Since then the movement has grown. Individuals and businesses who want to bring about generation defining social change through fashion and textiles have joined in. People who believe that fashion can be a force for good and a vehicle for change. It has succeeded in bringing together people from different parts of UK and from around the globe.
Field to Fashion Tours
Soon after AWA:EK, the Khadi Initiative helped organise tours for designers to get a first hand experience of supply chain in India – from farmers to tailors. Social media posts from these visits helped in generating further interest and keep the momentum going.
Khadi as part of Natural Fibres movement
It was clear from the outset that the Khadi Initiative was not just about hand spun and hand woven fabrics from India. It was about change in our values as individuals and as a society. Khadi, and at broader level, natural fibres and fabrics, are a tangible way of expressing that change.
Ethical Brands for Fashion Revolution, an event organised by Where Does It Come From? and Ethical Hour in April, 2018 was a watershed moment for the Initiative. A panel discussion on fibres and fabrics, brought home the point that plastics in textiles and clothing had major inroads into fashion and were posing a big threat to our oceans and the environment in general.
An idea was born – why not come together for a Festival of Natural Fibres?
The Ethical Brands event was another important landmark for the Initiative. New connections were made. An idea was born! The time for a festival of natural fibres had come, a festival that would look for solutions. To search for how we as individuals can play a role in bringing about change – a change not just for fashion, but for how our economy is organised and society governed. The idea that ‘Fashion can be a Force for Good and a Vehicle for Change’ caught people’s imagination. And soon we had over 30 businesses and organisations come together to plan and pull of a successful event.
Scaling and research
Research emerged as one of the priorities that emerged as one of the priorities if production of ethical and natural fibres was to be scaled. As Henry Palmer of Bysshe Partnership explained, large scale production of hemp fibres and fabrics in UK stopped about a hundred years ago, and therefore a challenge for hemp which had demonstrated environmental benefits to compete with other fabrics using technology from a century ago.
Getting the feel for natural fibres
Wool found the pride of place in the exhibits in the main hall, with Paula Wolton of Onehutfull creating a very a very real feel for the process of wool production from farm to fabric. A live demo of bridling wool took place and an introduction of and demo of Saori weaving with natural hand spun silk from Odisha, India and organic khadi added to the effect.
Cotton continues to be the King of Fibres
Cotton continues to be the king of fibre and found a prominent place at the event. The chequered history of cotton as a crop, a fibre and fabric was well depicted by a photo essay designed by Divya Venkatesh of Stationery Treasure. The exhibition showcased the history, philosophy and benefits of khadi.
Christa Suter, the CEO of bioRe Foundation set the tone for a discussion on challenges facing the production of organic cotton in today’s India, with the major risk coming from GM contamination in organic seeds. About 95% of cotton seeds in India are genetically modified, popularly known as BT cotton. As a result corruption in certification is not uncommon.
Reputation, trust and storytelling as alternatives to certification
This led to a discussion of other alternatives which can be as powerful, perhaps even more – reputation, story telling and a direct experience of the supply chain. Christa acknowledged that contamination was not, as yet, a major issue in Africa and cautioned that this may not remain the case in future, highlighting the importance of campaigns.
Issues around scale, minimum orders and aesthetics
Issues around scale, the demand for minimum orders by suppliers and of the importance of aesthetics in the fashion market – of the need to be continually creative in designing for ethical and responsible markets were also discussed.
The Khadi Way
Asha Buch and Kapil Shah gave a live demonstration of spinning cotton on a portable spinning wheel (charkha). Inviting viewers to give the charkha a try and talking about the way of life khadi represented as they spun, Asha talked about simplicity as being an integral part of the khadi way of life.
The demo followed a panel discussion on the ‘khadi way’ – on the values represented by Gandhi’s fabric – values of cooperation, of localised production, of personally creating and crafting with matter, and of ethics and resistance. The event itself created with a collaboration of over thirty ethical businesses and where conversations and networking took precedence over marketing and preaching was a live example of the ‘khadi way’ in a contemporary context.
There was an important discussion on how to move forward with the Khadi Initiative which had helped create this open space. There was a general sense at the meeting that the focus should be on providing physical and online spaces for experience sharing, dialogue and network. There were specific suggestion for creating a directory, an event calendar and a resource listing. Shailini of Moral Fibre Fabrics announced a khadi event to be held in India as a follow up to AWA:EK, the khadi event at the Fashion & Textile Museum held in November, 2017. Plans for organising ‘Field to Fashion’ tours around this period were also announced.
The day ended with a telling note from Kapil Shah – we are sawing seeds for ethical fibres, let us nurture them with care, patience and vigilance.
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