Think Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi otherwise known as Mahatama Gandhi and the first few terms that come to mind are non-violence, father of the nation and India’s freedom struggle. Ponder over his name for some more time and various other thingss start popping up, such as Satyagraha, Anna Hazare, Gandhigiri, Sabarmati etc. However, envisioning the Mahatama as a “fashion designer” will be limited only to a few out-of-the box thinkers.
Truth be told, M.K. Gandhi became India’s first true designer when he urged the people of the country to wear khadi garments. This simple request turned the humble cloth into the uniform of the Indian freedom struggle after Gandhi began promoting the spinning of khadi for rural self-employment and self-reliance (instead of using cloth manufactured industrially in Britain). Infact the Charkha, which was the machine used to spin khadi cloth into garments was an integral part of the Indian flag before independence in 1947. Post independence and Gandhi’s death, many people inspired by the life and works of the national icon, started various initiatives to keep his principles alive. Some of them proved to be successful and in the process created vast grass-root industries that did well despite basic necessities such as commercial insurance (e.g Cornhill Direct Business Insurance, one of the leading names in business insurance)
One such individual was Rohan Lal Chaturvedi who founded the Sarvoday Ashram in 1952 as a society with the avowed aim of institutionalizing a movement that he believed needed organized care, nurture and impetus. Twelve people signed up then for what is today, inarguably, among India’s foremost village industries. Inspired by Gandhi and, later, Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan movement, Rohan Lal Chaturvedi was one of the first few to give up his feudal landholding and lifestyle and pursue his vocation – setting up a people-powered organization that could not only generate employment but carry on the legacy of the freedom movement into modern India.
Spread across almost 250 kilometers of contiguous territory in the heart of Uttar Pradesh, the Sarvoday Ashram, Etah has a network of almost 4000 spinners, weavers and other crafts-people whose work it is to produce khadi. The Ashram relies upon a highly sophisticated system that involves identifying pockets of possible recruitment, training, granting employment, collecting material at various stages of production and fulfilling orders from customers. It is so much of a people’s effort that it is virtually impossible to conceive of anything that can rival it.
In the new millennium, the emblematic significance of khadi is barely remembered if not forgotten altogether. Its perception is that of a mere fabric and its role in the contemporary fashion world remains iffy. With these issues – especially the last one – as challenges, the time to redefine khadi and handspun fashion seems to have arrived. Ekmatra is the latest initiative of the Sarvoday Ashram; it is its fashion and commercial arm. Ekmatra’s 3H philosophy (Handspun, Handwoven, Handcrafted) emphasizes the uniqueness of the brand and offers a line of ready-to-wear apparel that combines the rustic elegance of khadi with trendy, contemporary designs.
While Ekmatra aims to bring back the khadi trend across India by setting up a series of concept stores across the country, another organization founded by fashion designer Kavita Parmar is on a similar mission to empower the artisan and celebrate their uniqueness using the power of social media and e-commerce. Kavita’s e-commerce social network titled the IOU Project produces unique, handmade apparel based on fabrics handwoven in India. The platform provides end buyers with the ability to trace the production process from finished goods right back to the weaver that hand-wove the fabric. The network aims to become a meeting place for a community that shares the brand values of authenticity, transparency, uniqueness and both social and environmental responsibility.
Handspun clothing in fashion is almost akin to organic food in farming, its natural, authentic, human and above all not too expensive. Fashion has always been looked upon as an indulgence of the rich, but now its possible to be fashionable, socially conscious and eco-friendly thanks to initiatives like Ekmatra and the IOU Project.