When you hear the word ‘khadi’, the first image that pops up in your mind is possibly of kurtas, and then you’re thinking of kurta-clad, salt-and-pepper-haired men and women, walking around with jholas. Or chances are, you think of the charkha and Mahatma Gandhi. But associations aside, let’s bring you back to the fabric itself. Have you ever wondered what exactly the fabric is made of, what makes it special, what makes it different and why it’s seeing a big revival lately?
Khadi or Khaddar refers to cloth made by a handloom, from yarn that is hand-spun, and the fibres used are always natural, and always either cotton, silk or wool. This means, for cotton khadi, you start off with a bundle of cotton straight from the farm, the seeds are removed manually and the cotton is spun into yarn with a hand-operated spinning wheel. This resultant yarn is then woven into fabric in a hand-operated loom. The word hand-made is over-used these days, but Khadi is truly hand-made, in every sense of the word.
If you’re a sustainability enthusiast, you’ve probably read about slow fashion. If not, here’s a quick primer – slow fashion calls for a move to more sustainable fabrics, a few long-lasting, classic pieces in your wardrobe rather than a wardrobe overflowing with mass-manufactured clothing that are terrible for the environment in several ways. This means fewer synthetic fabrics, shopping far less frequently, buying from businesses with fair-trade practices, and investing in quality, even if it means paying a bit more. Khadi ticks most boxes when it comes to sustainability, and one of the biggest points in favour of this fabric is Upstream waste.
Upstream waste refers to the amount of waste generated during the process of manufacture of things that we buy and use. Often, when we speak about zero-waste living, ‘upstream waste’ is something that gets buried in the noise. When it comes to clothing, the best way to not produce any upstream waste would be to refrain from buying entirely, or shop secondhand. The next best thing would be to buy fabrics such as Khadi where the amount of resources used and waste created during manufacture is minimal. Let’s look at how khadi scores on the energy and water front :
Energy: Because it is hand-spun, there is no electricity used in the making of the yarn. The yarn then woven into fabric in a hand-operated loom, means there is no electricity or fuel required to operate the loom. Essentially, there is virtually no fuel consumption in the whole process, except for transportation. Contrast this with the 3 billion tons of soot pumped into the air every year thanks to burning coal for energy in Chinese textile factories – all the more reason to adopt this fabric.
Water: Overall water consumption to make a metre of khadi fabric is three litres, while making the same length in a textile mill would consume 55 litres of water. But bear in mind that cotton is a water-thirsty crop. So it makes sense to use moderation and invest in good quality, durable fabrics and not go overboard. The textile industry is one of the world’s largest pollutants, and processes like chemical dyeing cause entire water bodies to be polluted with toxic chemicals. Synthetic fabrics like polyester release microscopic plastic fibers (aka microplastics) into our water bodies with every single wash, further adding to the problem of marine pollution. Natural fabrics such as khadi, cotton and silk do not have this issue because these fabrics are bio-degradable.
Is it any surprise then, that Khadi, lovingly handmade, worn unbleached, in its natural colour not only has a raw, earthy appeal, but is eco-friendly too? Whatever your reason to don khadi – be it sustainability, a love for all things desi, handmade and natural, be sure to wear it with a sense of pride. After all, our planet, the future inhabitants of our planet and the artisans who made your clothes are definitely going to be thanking you for this choice.