Gobar Times
Open Forum

Khadinomics

Gandhi

Khadi. I am certain the image that this word conjures up in your mind is that of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The man who made it the ‘cloth of the nation’. The fabric that with time became the symbol and spirit of the Indian freedom movement.

Several decades have gone by and khadi has travelled a long way. From being the common Indian man or woman’s choice of garment, it has evolved as a hot commodity in global fashion circles. But does it still retain its humble character? Can the common Indian still afford to include khadi in his or her wardrobe?

Although it became a sign of rebellion against the British Raj, khadi’s tryst with India started out on the foundation of economic freedom more than anything else. Gandhi advocated the use of khadi primarily to support the India rural weavers and give a much-needed boost to Indian economy.

Khadi couture
Somewhere along the road, however, khadi’s importance diminished and it was relegated to the background by the more svelte and ‘fashionable’ garments such as silk, denim, leather and fur. However, in the last decade, there has been a sudden spurt in the demand for it. In fact, it can no longer be labelled only as a fabric of the masses. Indian fashion designers of global repute have begun to use it extensively in their collections. If you are a fan of khadi, you would know that it is now an expensive buy. But if khadi is gaining popularity shouldn’t it be mass-produced and consequently be cheaper to buy? The answer is No. Let’s delve a little deeper into the economics of khadi.

  • According to the Khadi & Village Industries Commission (KVIC), khadi manu - facturers currently employ around 83 lakh people.
  • An assessment made by KVIC in September 2010 indicated that the KVI sector has recorded significantly higher sales (`150.55 crore) during April to August 2010 over the corresponding figure (`141.32 crore) of 2009-10, and it is projected to be eight per cent higher during 2010-11 than 2009-10 sales.
  • According to the Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, Dinsha Patel, exports of Khadi and Village Industries’ (KVI) products stood at `104.84 crore in 2008-09 compared to `53.73 crore in 2006-07 .In 2007-08, the exports amounted to `91.92 crore.

With such optimistic figures to its credit, it seems rather strange that the price range of the fabric keeps mounting. As it turns out, there are several factors at play when it comes to khadi pricing:

Khadi manufacturing process is extremely labour-intensive:
Farmers pick out cotton from fields. These cotton balls are very coarse in nature and the fibres have to be separated from the seeds by hand using a sharp comb-like object. A process called ‘carding’ removes the final traces of waste from the cotton to produce what are called ‘slivers’. These are then spun into a yarn on a spinning wheel, or a charkha, which thins out the slivers and twists them at the same time, thereby strengthening them. It’s a long and completely manual process. Thereafter, the yarns are wound into reels of thousands of meters each, manufactured and hand woven into fabric using handlooms.

■ Meagre pay:
Considering the amount of work involved, weavers receive pittance. When hours of spinning and weaving pay little dividends, they migrate to other occupations. Some believe that the middlemen are to blame – they are the men between the weavers and the retailers or wholesalers – who claim most of the money.

■ High maintenance:
This is a significant though hotly debated issue. A typical middle class Indian would opt for synthetic materials over khadi since the latter requires careful laundering and looking after, say designers.

Fashion mantra:
Upmarket designers have discovered a new fashion trend in khadi. They along with numerous others have revived the popularity of the fabric in the form of haute couture. But sadly, this popularity is restricted only to the international markets for some reason. Fashion conscious young Indians still seem to be less inclined to buy a khadi shirt if they have
other options...

But khadi is GREEN: It has resurfaced thanks to the buzzword ‘eco-friendly’, however. Making khadi is a process that goes easy on the environment. It does not involve using electric
units and the manufacturing processes do not generate toxic waste products. In fact, in some states like Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, organic khadi is produced by avoiding all chemicals involved in the farming of cotton and during weaving and dyeing of fabric. Despite its popularity as a ‘green’ fabric, however, khadi is still waiting to catch the attention
of everyone.

So where does this leave the common man – the ordinary villager or a small town man who took to khadi because he took pride in wearing it? Can he afford the privilege anymore? The answer is no. For khadi, which began its journey as the weave of the Indian people is now ironically out of their reach!