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Khadi, love at first sight

My love and connection to khadi cloth started back in the late 80’s on my first trip to India, an amazing journey by train that took us round much of the country on a 21 day rail pass. It was on a visit to the Gandhi museum in Delhi I learnt of the extraordinary political power of a simple Charkha. Learning to spin in my mid teens, a fascination with natural fibres I can’t fully explain but something I had even as a young child when I begged for a sheep skin rug for my birthday. Maybe it was because we were brought up on Brentford nylon sheets, I rebellion in only the way I could!

Back then in the 1980s before Coke Cola and Cadburys chocolate was allowed to trade in India, and ready made clothing not even a thing, Khadi was still worn as an every day garment on the streets, this beautiful hand spun & hand woven cloth had a history to celebrate. It was a status symbol of the humble. As India joined forces with modern consumerism, and the power loom churned out synthetics, khadi lost its way, no longer available in the market place; it lurked in the shadows, worn by those fiercely loyal. Just like Harris Tweed it was waiting quietly for the world to re-discover is beauty. To become a status symbol once more but this time used by the rich and wealthy as a political stick of nationalism.

Khadi was in essence a resistance movement against the ruling English in a bid for independence. A political movement known as Swadeshi (homeland) campaigned since 1850s in support of India’s traditional industries, by boycotting foreign goods. In 1920 Mohandras Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948) saw the humble hand spun, hand woven cloth as a political symbol for social & economic freedom from British rule as Lancashire cloth was imported to India with a heavy tax levy. Gandhi was a believer in village led economy rather than the industrialisation of the west. He called to the people to burn Lancashire cotton and take up spinning and weaving, creating a cloth to be worn with pride.

Today Khadi still remains a political symbol but the relationship with khadi is not always easy, it has become a luxury cloth, sort after by the international fashion houses, while the Indian government can only see it is a low paid skill by commissioning mass production bed sheets for the Indian railways. Fortunately the fashion houses have seen the beauty of this humble cloth and its re-emergence as a cloth of resistance continues in a new fight against fast fashion, promoting a sustainable process providing employment while limiting the impact on our planet.

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