Let me begin by wishing you a happy Gandhi Jayanti. Yes it’s a dry day, but that doesn’t stop you from having a swell time at home curling up with a book and watching Lage Raho Munnabhai today. And while you are at it, don’t forget to give bapu’s fabric a chance. Give the humble khadi a thumbs up and ace the desi chic look in this gorgeous luxury of a fabric. On Bapu’s birthday, we thought of paying a tribute to Khadi. And what better way to do that than sharing with you guys an engaging conversation with celebrated designer Krishna Mehta who has been a Khadi revivalist for the last two decades. Krishna spoke to me about standing by Khadi all these years when she came to Bangalore to launch her collection at Hue, Indiranagar.
With his minimalist approach to fashion, Gandhi is considered the ultimate style icon by many designers in India. Do you agree?
Well, in all honesty, I will not say that I have been inspired by Gandhi for fashion. The movement that he started was wonderful because he gave us something that’s very unique. When I started 21 years ago, fabrics like polyester was rampant. But I made Batik shirts from hand spun cotton from Khadi Bhandar. I started using it because I liked the characteristics of the fabric. It’s not like I think of Gandhi and do that, but I salute the man for giving us something so unique. Today whenever you wear something hand spun and hand woven, it’s a luxury more than anything else you can think of because it’s the finest of fabrics. You can pass a beautiful fabric through a ring. Our muslin is something the world craves for. It’s a pity that we have started opting for Chinese silk which has no character.
What’s so fascinating about Khadi?
I don’t like anything that’s just like something else. Why do you like to see the sun set by the ocean? Because it’s never the same two days in a row. Anything stagnant bores me. Khadi is so versatile. You can do so much with it because it’s got its own characteristics. It can be smooth, coarse. The weavers sittings at the loop can create different kinds of texture from the same warp. It’s very interesting. You can’t get that in anything else, that’s why I find it so special.
But most of us end up talking about Khadi only on Gandhi Jayanti. Isn’t that dismaying?
I won’t say that’s sad. But today’s young lot and designers should be able to take the fabric further. It shouldn’t just be something only politicians wear. There’s so much more that can be done and if they show you how the fabric can be used in different ways, clients would pick it up. They have only seen one white form of it. There are so many more colours and textures once can play with. There are hundreds of permutations and combinations. So I guess, if we do it right, people will buy more. Else, this will die soon and so will the weavers. So many of their children don’t want to take up weaving any more because they don’t see too much income coming in from there. It’s unfortunate. So many mills have shut down because it’s difficult to do it. Fortunately the ones in Benaras are doing it because some of them have learnt fashion and joined their father’s business, bringing a new life to the fabric. But in places like Coimbatore or Pochampally, the tradition is totally dying. Also, they are not coming out of what they have been doing over the years, which nobody likes to wear. People don’t like to wear sarees any more. So the fabric has to be reinvented. We are sitting on a gold mine and not recognising its value. That is the sad part.
How can one make the youth turn to Khadi?
You can’t convince anyone to give anything a chance. They need to be convinced on their own. It should come from within. We are in the age of machine washes. Khadi is a fragile fabric and can’t take that. So it’s a luxury and you need to understand, appreciate and live by it to be able to take it to the next level.
Every garment of mine has two versions: a Khadi version and one a non Khadi one. What is khadi? Just something that is hand spun and hand woven. Anything that you can make in a georgette can ben made in khadi. It’s so elegant. I can make a men’s shirt out of it or even a Western attire and a lehenga. There’s nothing that cannot be made with Khadi.
At any point, did you want to give up on Khadi because of the struggle it brings with it?
I am a weaver by profession. I sit on the looms and weave fabrics. For me, the struggle is when I see karigars shutting down their looms. It’s a struggle to be able to make garments and then sell it, because eventually the garments become more expensive. Those are small little things. To be honest, it doesn’t seem like a struggle to me. It comes as second nature to me. I have always been doing it. I convince the karigars and I have been lucky because they do it for me. I pay them their wages and believe in fair trade. They work so hard and have to be given their dues. If you don’t give it to them, we will lose something valuable. The world is now seeing the wonders of Khadi and paying the price for it. Indians have just sort of taken it for granted. When we come across one obstacle, we will have to solve it and go further in life. That’s what life is all about.
So what’s the future of Khadi?
I want more and more people like me to take it up and I’m sure it will be great. It’s a very tough call. It will be tough if the youth doesn’t accept it, if the buyers don’t want it. You can’t look for perfection in Khadi. And there lies its beauty. Look for style and not just fashion. You can’t make a very fashionable saree that looks like georgette out of Khadi. You need to have your own intrinsic style to be able to carry Khadi forward. You can be stylish in Khadi and try and make it a part of your life because it’s beautiful.
Will you make Khadi a part of your life? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.