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Interview with Vinai Kumar Saxena

Vinai Kumar Saxena
Vinai Kumar Saxena
Khadi and Village Industries Commission
Khadi and Village Industries Commission

Khadi isn't a coarse cloth in dull shades anymore
Khadi sales figures have jumped from ₹1,070 crore in 2014-15 to ₹3,215 crore in 2018-19-a jump of over 200 per cent. Vinai Kumar Saxena, Chairman of the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC), talks about the transformation in the khadi ecosystem.

Can the government move on mandatory handloom purchases help the KVIC?

Initiatives like these assert the good intentions of the government to boost the sales of khadi and village industries products. In order to provide employment to the doorsteps of remote villages, it has to be ensured that it is equally backed up by a well thought out marketing strategy.

Innovation always does the miracle! Khadi has recorded a jump of 62 per cent in fabric production in the last five years, i.e. from 103.22 million sq m in 2014-15 to 170.80 million sq m in 2018-19. And, this increase of 65.42 million sq m happened once we encouraged the registration of new khadi institutions and stressed on artisan-centric programmes and aggressive marketing since 2015. During this time, there have been 376 new khadi institutions and over 40,000 new khadi artisans. 

With aggressive marketing we have enhanced the quality of products, introduced new product lines and innovative ideas like khadi gift coupons, etc. It is quite notable here that the coupons were introduced in September 2017 and till date coupons worth over 93 crore have been sold.

The new guidelines from the Government of India on 20 per cent compulsory purchase of KVIC products will give a big boost to the khadi sector and I anticipate it will create at least 1 lakh additional jobs and in the coming years the turnover will also see a quantum jump.

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.
How do you plan to build on this momentum?

Is KVIC planning to sign deals with foreign brands for the supply of khadi?

In the last two years, the KVIC has held exhibitions and participated in trade fairs in more than 60 countries. Recently, we participated at the Feria India International Trade Exhibition in Peru between March 11 and 15, 2020. While we are trying to increase our presence, we are also exploring opportunities for tie-ups with retail partners and e-commerce portals, as well as ways to increase the exports of khadi and village industries products. 

While we are continuously getting offers for partnerships with foreign brands, we do not want the authenticity of khadi to be played with or its purpose to be compromised at any cost. However, any such proposal which satisfies the purpose of the KVIC is definitely welcome. 

Interestingly, the KVIC is going to set up its first international retail store in Bhutan very soon. The proposal has already been approved for implementation. Our objective is to unleash the potential of the fabric of Indian heritage. The KVIC will not leave any stone unturned.
Is KVIC planning to sign deals with foreign brands for the supply of khadi?

Which are the other sectors that the KVIC would like to bring under its umbrella?

When Mahatma Gandhi and others floated the concept of khadi, around 40 training centres were opened across India to extend skill development training to develop khadi and village industries products. Senior experts from various industries joined the KVIC to impart the best training. These industries included rural engineering and bio-technology, bee-keeping, and various others. As years went by, the trainers retired and gradually the skills and products diminished. Unfortunately, this decline in the skills and production of village industry products was not recognised by the earlier governments and all such verticals were made defunct. We are continuously reviving all verticals and the success is there for everyone to see.

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.

Are you planning to tie up with big brands, like the Uttar Pradesh Khadi & Village Industries Board recently announced a tie-up with the Raymond Group?

At the KVIC, every state khadi board is an independent body and has the discretion to unleash its full potential. Personally, I would want every state khadi board to bag as many tie-ups as possible. At the central level, we have just created a centralised mechanism for procuring, distributing and managing orders. Large orders from the government, PSUs or corporates are managed at the central level. We are continuously guiding all state khadi boards to join us in the expansion and revival of the khadi outreach.
Are you planning to tie up with big brands, like the Uttar Pradesh Khadi & Village Industries Board recently announced a tie-up with the Raymond Group?
This article was first published in the July 2020 edition of the print magazine.
Published on: 16/07/2020

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.

This interview was first published in the Jul 2020 edition of the print magazine