Where is Brand Khadi?

Picture Courtesy - Bishnu Sarangi

Let’s talk about Khadi – on a day that’s most uneventful and banal.

Because we tend to remember Khadi on exaclty 3 days of the year. – Republic Day, Independence Day, Gandhi Jayanti and Gandhi’s assassination ( if at all!)

Have you ever worn a Khadi kurta? As a man, woman or a youngster?

When was the last time you got one? If you wanted to buy one today, do you know where to get it?

Most people will say, of course – there are tons of Instagram boutiques selling Ponduru Khadi.

You are absolutely right. But Khadi existed before Instagram ever did. And created more impact in the lives of the people of India.

My journey with Khadi started somewhere in the 90s, when I was in college and I used to wear these bright shapeless kurtas to college. Going to Khadi Bhandar used to be fun then.

Where is Brand Khadi?

If you want to buy any kind of Khadi fabric, the obvious place is Khadi Gram Udyog Bhavan. In a city like Mumbai, there are 18 Khadi Bhavans. But I still prefer to go to the Flagship store in Fort, South Mumbai.

Last month was Gandhi Jayanti and Khadi Gram Udyog comes up with a month-long Sale of Khadi and other products.

A little anecdote of my experience there a few years ago :

I wanted to go for the Khadi sale. I managed to cajole my husband to accompany me.

A weird thought crosses my mind as I write this – I wonder how many youngsters would want a Khadi fabric today – what with its plain, muted and probably perceived as unglamourous texture.

Anywho, coing back to the anecdote, I am glad that I can revisit the flagship store, this time with the husband – who apparently had never gone to one. Whaaatt?

He is impressed that the showroom is sprawling. Duh? I start gloating with a sense of familiarity and pride – in a way…

We enquire about the kurtas at the counter. There is not a soul to ask around. The shelves are a bit dusty. But the signages are perfect. There is organization in the retail display. The retail staff floating around look a bit bored. We scan through the women’s kurtas. I love the array of beiges and creams and white kurtas.

We browse a bit and I ask for a different size. It’s not available. We decide to look at fabrics.

There is a customer service executive there. He stands to speak but only when spoken to.

A good logic as I would hate an over-eager obtrusive salesman ruining my buying experience.

The man only watches. Only to answer to price enquiries.

When we ask for someone to remove a certain ‘thaan’ from the shelves, he removes it. While we are inspecting the fabric, he goes elsewhere. We want another ‘thaan’ to be removed, but there’s no one in sight. We see someone, ask him to show us these fabrics – by now we are a tad exasperated.

There is a person in the men’s section almost 2 meters away. We ask him to show us the fabrics, he says he will send someone.

Nobody arrives.

By now, we are feeling hopeless. My husband wanders into the FMCG section. Fortunately, he finds some handkerchiefs, a gamcha towel, a bottle of honey and a few incense sticks interesting and picks them up.

Just for eye-candy I take a stroll in the furniture section – knowing that they would be prohibitively expensive.

The billing process is smooth, and we feel mighty chuffed that our commute to DN Road from Mumbai suburbs was not entirely futile.

The products are great, but the marketing is abysmally poor.

Given this scenario, the Marketeer in me is seeing an enormous opportunity.

Khadi needs to be marketed. It is a legacy we have earned and received as an inheritance.

Picture Source – In.fashionnetwork.coM

Why on earth should we let it go to waste? Who, in their right mind, dwindles an inheritance?!

Upon conducting a secondary research on the Internet, I now know that the word ‘Khadi’ is copyrighted.

And immediately I felt a bit disheartened, but I dug deeper.

Somewhere in 2016, the Khadi and Village Industries commission was given an MSME status.

It was declared so, with the blessings of the Ministry of Textiles, that the term Khadi is not to be made ubiquitous because of thieving private players. (Hmm…gets me thinking why private players are considered thieving and one person comes to mind)

People who want their products to be called Khadi, must first install 25 charkhas, and 5 looms to start with. Subsequently must have the wherewithal to hire 25 spinners, 5 weavers and 2 supervisors, not to mention, a shopfloor to house this large team.

Only those people can call their product Khadi, if they have 10,000 rupees to apply for the license of the term Khadi for one year.

After fulfilling these two sets of criteria, a successful verification of the unit as well a product test undertaken by KVIC would ensure a grant of the license. Arduous I thought.

This essentially means that only companies can apply for the certificate.

In this day and age, if a young entrepreneur wants to start an apparel enterprise, he/she would be denied from using the Khadi narrative.

Artisans and individual weavers are also left behind, for whom both the charkha and the loom are available, but not in the scale as per KVIC’s ask.

In 2017, KVIC clocked in a turnover of INR 50k crores. (Source- Brand Equity article) and in 2020, its production was to the tune of INR 74 k crores. (Source – Fibre2fashion.com). The figure is 90k crores according to another source.

In 1956, when the KVIC Act was passed, the definition of Khadi was this: “any cloth woven on handlooms in India from cotton, silk or woolen yarn handspun in India or from a mixture of any two or all of such yarns”. (Source – Indian Express)

What followed is that manufacturers started calling their products Khadi even if they weren’t handspun or handwoven. (hmm…thieving private players)

The evolution of Khaddar, from which the word Khadi is derived is rooted and deeply embedded in our Independence Struggle and championed by none other than Father of Our Nation, Mahatma Gandhi.

He wanted to democratize the Charkha and the handspun yarn in a way that would make every household self-reliant when it came to making their own clothes and not purchase imported textiles from Great Britain.

During the rainless periods of the year, he encouraged every man and woman to take up spinning yarn – a skill that is easy to learn and hardly required any capital outlay. (Source – mkgandhi.org)

When he started this movement in 1918, he looked at spinning the charkha as the duty of every individual towards his own country in making its villages and the country self-reliant and in its truest sense, independent.

But as we achieved Independence and thereafter in 1957, the KVIC was established, handspun and handwoven was the only definition of Khadi.

But like in any industry, counterfeiters do exist. And they have conned the public for years under the garb of Khadi, pushing the authorities to take the step that it did.

But in doing this, I believe that we have also denied a generation of sincere and genuine entrepreneurs from using this brand and taking it forward in their own way.

Khadi was a movement in 1918. In 2020, it needs to be a brand.

Sustainable fashion is the future and Khadi is sitting right at the sweet spot of Made in India and Sustainable fashion.

By making this a property of the Government of India alone, the basic democratic approach and its legacy has been denied to the larger populace.

I believe we have gone way beyond the point of getting every household to spin the charkha. I think that would be quite impossible in 2021 (come to think of it, nothing is impossible, what is difficult to achieve is change in mindset, the intent!), not to mention impractical.

We are in the age of branding and marketing. And so long as the youth don’t buy into it, the story will remain untold.

The sustainability narrative that was started by Gandhi will remain only in the history text books.

Khadi needs contemporisation. It needs an image makeover.

Khadi needs contemporisation

Sixyardsoffinery.com

The Chairman of KVIC has been credited for the exponential growth of the Khadi fabric – that in 4 years the organization has increased Khadi fabric production by approximately 64 million meters. It’s been claimed that 32,000 new charkhas have been given to weavers and efforts are being taken in uplifting them.

Yet, in the same breath the Handloom census talks about abysmally low earnings of weavers – of less than 5000 rupees as monthly earnings.

He has got the numbers by getting public sector units buy from them mandatorily. Like Air India and ITDC. Sure, institutional sales are a great way to get numbers and volumes.

But the Khadi brand can get a facelift only when the youth of India show the love.

When enterprises are given the funds to fulfil the difficult criteria.

Most small enterprises start by bootstrapping their company in the first year.

Installing 25 charkhas and 25 spinners is capital and labour intensive.

Only an established business house will be able to get that license. And if they are established, then why do they need to market Khadi – they would much rather manufacture a host of other fabrics known to Indians which have more sex appeal.

And then Brand khadi stays in the wings.

I wouldn’t really want this to be the story of Brand Khadi.

I would urge all you young mothers to get one Khadi outfit for your teenager/ bachcha. Original Khadi – probably from a Khadi Bhandar. May be take a trip to Khadi Bhandar.

Watch this space on my take on this until further notice.

What’s your view? Leave a comment below…

Image by Bishnu Sarangi from Pixabay