Recently we asked a question on our social media on "Is there a lack of awareness about khadi amongst consumers?" and the response was overwhelming with an 88% 'yes'.
It got us thinking on whose responsibility is it to create that awareness? Should the buyer be asking more questions and be aware? Is it the responsibility of the primary producers, in this case, khadi sanghas, the bhandars, KVIC, or MSME ministry? or brands like us who are taunted as middlemen?
I have taken some time to answer as I was trying to find an appropriate word, unlike Germans who have already come up with the word 'Jein' which means both yes & no, we haven't.
In reality, almost everyone in the country has heard and are aware of the fabric khadi but regrettably filled with some misconceptions. I am not getting into technical details about how, where and why the fabric is made (we have been writing about it and continue to do so), but today, I present a generic view of how the fabric is wrongfully perceived sometimes.
1] Khadi was not found in the 1930s, the spinning and weaving existed for many decades before Gandhiji revived the process and used it as a tool for independence. Khadi does not have any political party affiliation.
2] Khadi does not mean organic. It can be, but generally, it isn't. Nowadays, khadi institutes seldom have anything to do with local cotton farmers, let alone indigenous and organic.
3] It's inaccurate to call khadi as a zero-carbon footprint fabric, but it is certainly a textile with less-carbon footprint. The way, the fabric is produced now, not only cotton travels a distance but also the ginning and roving require machines which consumes electricity.
4] All coarse fabric is not khadi and all thin fabric is not muslin. One needs to understand the skill and the variety of cotton used in making of the fabric. Almost all simple khadi textile can be woven on a power-loom and passed off as handwoven.
5] Khadi is not GI tagged but the word khadi is trademarked. Only certified khadi institutes can use the term khadi unless the word has been bought by a private party from the khadi commission and certified to use.
6] It's unfair to describe khadi as made from handspun yarn. The word handspun technically implies that the cotton is ginned, carded, combed, and spun in hand and using Gandhi Charaka, which is not the case most of the times. Hence it's important to understand and differentiate the various process. Nowadays, the yarn is spun on box Charaka, Ambara Charaka in various numbers of spindles, and solar Charaka to name a few.
7] Khadi by in itself is not sustainable fabric unless there is a closed loop of a healthy economy around it. Not only the unusable and unsold fabric on the counter is not sustainable but also improper working conditions and wages are. Khadi weaving is not necessarily an employment generation activity but a solution towards under-employment.
8] All khadi fabrics are not miraculously eco-friendly. The bright and harsh naphthol dyes are harmful, whereas azo-free and natural dyes are better. Undyed, unbleached, handspun organic kora cotton is the best.
9] Khadi is (and should be) more expensive to that of handloom cotton textile. The fabric retailed in certified outlets is often subsidised. The true value of the fabric is surely more than what it's understood to be.
10] Khadi, woven in various clusters look and feel differently. Even today, many khadi institutes barter their fabric with that of another institute. Fabric made of cotton, silk, and wool are called khadi. Whereas when mixed with polyester, the fabric is technically called poly-vastra and not necessarily khadi.
11] Khadi comes under MSME ministry and not under the textile ministry. Govt of India --> MSME ministry --> KVIC --> KVIB --> co-operative societies --> Production centres --> Godown --> Retail outlets. KVIC's objective is to engage with all the village industry and not exclusively in textile making, hence the pickle, shampoos, agarbattis, honey, soaps, slippers, etc. The process of khadi weaving is more centralised and hierarchical than what we would want it to be.
12] The success of self-sufficiency idea behind khadi lies in the fabric being produced by the mass and for the mass, but not mass-produced. The number of people the fabric has touched and made a difference has to be more important than the number of meters woven. We should aspire the fabric, to be not only a decentralised way of producing but also in selling.
Disclaimer: These are some of my individual opinions and we do not use the word khadi for any monetarily beneficial objectives. This post is not about the right or the wrong way of working by any person or organization.