Vinai Kumar Saxena
Chairman Khadi and Village Industries Commission
Many believe that khadi is redefining fashion in many ways. Would you agree?
Khadi is not just a hand-made, hand-woven fabric that is carbon neutral and humble. Khadi is an expression of a way of life, an environmental friendship, an artisanal creativity, a rural corporate movement of profit equality, an instrument of social justice and it is perhaps the most efficient grassroots model of timeless sustainability and industriousness.
There must have been a reason why Mahatma Gandhi always professed the need for khadi. Was it merely to encourage rural livelihoods? I believe it was much more. Gandhi travelled through London and South Africa and spent ample time in India to understand its ecosystems before he introduced khadi as a tool for Non-Cooperation in India. He knew that khadi and the rural products of India had far-reaching benefits than any other contemporary mill-made fabric or industry manufactured product. He envisioned that khadi and khadi products would not only be able to compete, but also prove to be more eco-friendly, health friendly and self-sustainable in the long term. I am amazed that since so many years, no one thought of tapping into this hidden treasure of India.
For modern consumers, the attractions of sustainable and ecofriendly products outweigh extra costs or research. High-quality naturally produced products provide effective results without putting the consumer or mother nature at any form of risks.
This glamorous fabric is the choice of several top fashion designers today. Khadi isn't about a coarse cloth in dull shades anymore; it has become a timeless beauty portraying the statement of style and elegance. Khadi products like Modi jackets, shawls, scarves, kurtas and trousers are being sold in the international markets. The unique thing about khadi is that each piece of cloth has a different look due to hand weaving, which is most loved by the young urban professionals. The new age fashion designers have brilliantly merged khadi fabric with phulkari, chikankari and kalamkari, etc, while beautifully managing to pull off the contemporary line of fashionable products.
The khadi fabric is comfortable, eco-friendly, elegant, versatile and easily adaptable among the fashion designers. The cloth is stylish, crisp and can be used in any form. It has now become a canvas for imaginative creations in the fashion industry. It has evolved with time; the vibrant colour palette it offers makes it the favourite fabric of the running generation.
How do you plan to build on this momentum?
Khadi has always been related to Indian history and rural livelihoods. The focus of khadi has always been on generating livelihoods for the poor. The minister for MSMEs thinks a little different and I completely agree with that. He says, "Don't buy a khadi product only because of its heritage value or for a social cause. Buy it only if you feel the product is competent enough against the other options available in the market, and if the product appeals to you and has a good quality."
While generating rural livelihoods is our prime objective, this regime intends to do it differently. In the current regime we have hired industry experts, high-end fashion designers to recreate the brand image and position it as a leader in the market. We intend to create a product line which can compete with current market trends, which would perhaps increase the saleability of khadi products and in turn churn out multiple times the livelihoods created currently.
To achieve this, the prime focus now are the young urban professionals who are the trendsetters of India. This target group outweighs the cost over quality and eco-friendly character of the products.
For the first time in the history of khadi, the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) has introduced a westernwear collection and denim which specifically targets the millennials.
I am happy to share that in last five years due to the change in the marketing strategy, khadi sales figures have jumped from ₹1,070 crore in 2014-15 to ₹3,215 crore in 2018-19-a quantum jump of over 200 per cent. Similarly, in the village industries sector the sales has increased from ₹31,965 crore in 2014-15 to ₹71,100 crore-a growth of over 122 per cent in the last five years. The total turnover of khadi and village industries products last yearwas ₹74,315 crore.
So, how are you looking at the next five years?
Khadi is the undying spirit of transformation. We are determined to end poverty and hunger among all the people of India and to ensure that every individual can fulfil his / her potential in a dignified and equitable manner in a healthy and competitive environment. When I say 'people', I mean all those militancy affected women of J&K, or forest poaching displaced tribals of Assam, or tiger attacked mauled families of Sundarbans, or remotely located families of Leh and Ladakh or for that matter all those rural artisans who have always been traditionally downtrodden and weak, but who have been able to earn their dignity, pride and respect owing to the employment generated by khadi and village industries associated schemes. In the last five years, the KVIC has been able to create around 25 lakh jobs through various schemes and activities.
We cannot generate sustainable living just by creating eco-friendly products. So what if we are providing employment at the doorsteps for remote villages of India? The supply has to be met by increased demand, or otherwise the growth will stagnate. Here is where thought leadership comes in. We are looking out for opportunities and innovative ideas to expand the product range, and simultaneously the livelihoods. In the next five years we intend to double employment by providing at least 40 lakh jobs to the needy and deserving through various schemes of the KVIC.
This article was first published in the July 2020 edition of the print magazine.
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