Khadi after Gandhi

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

On October 1st we were at the Khadi Board office in Chennai and were greeted by the sight of all officials wearing a mask on their face and tearing up mountains of old , musty files. This was PM Narendra Modi’s Swach Bharat Campaign in action. As the PM mentioned, Mahatma’s Gandhi’s legacy is not just non violence as exemplified by our unique freedom struggle. It is also characterised by the spirit of self reliance which was famously symbolised by the charka, and a fastidious vision of keeping our country clean and green.

The sight of government officials working feverishly to clean their offices a day before Gandhi Jayanthi had us thinking about the long and many hued shadow of the Mahatma’s legacy. And the fabric that the Mahatma wore in his later years and urged the people, of India to adopt stayed in our minds. The Prime minister also chose to focus on Khadi in his first speech to the nation on October 3rd. He urged every single citizen of India to use atleast one article of Khadi, whether it was a handkerchief or a bedspread in their homes in order to benefit the poor.

Yes Khadi can benefit a whole set of handloom weavers, whom we have written about extensively in our blog earlier. The handloom weaving sector counts nearly 44 lakh families in its fold, all of whom today face utter penury and are contemplating a move to unskilled sectors as a result of consumer and political apathy.

However, supporting a section of society, no matter how strong their case may be, is not the only reason to embrace Khadi.

Today’s post will give you many more reasons to do so and explore the offerings by two players in the segment. And in doing so, we will attempt to address the questions: Is Khadi relevant after Gandhi? Is there a reason why we should continue to embrace Khadi as modern consumers today?

But before we begin, here are the basics.

The Basics: What is Khadi?

Khadi refers to cloth that is both hand-spun and hand-woven. Khadi is primarily made of cotton. The hand spinning of raw cotton into yarn uses implements like the Charkha. The yarn is then woven into final fabric with a loom, when done by hand, this is called a handloom.

In India, Khadi is more than a fabric; it is the symbol of the freedom movement. The Indian Khadi movement promoted total self reliance, to free Indians from the high priced fabric that was being dumped in India by the British factories. The British made fabric depended on Indian cotton which would be bought at cheap prices, sent to the textile factories, woven and then sold back to India at high prices.

The freedom struggle revolved around the use of indigenous products like Khadi and boycotting the use of non Indian made products. Khadi is a magic fabric, keeping the wearer cool in summer and warm in winter.

Khadi today

Khadi today is facing an acute identity crisis. Even cloth sold at government authorized Khadi Shops are not strictly khadi. Hand spinning is not the norm anymore and often mill-made power loom cloth can be sold as Khadi.

Unfortunately, there are two more pieces to the Khadi process, which was earlier taken for granted, but today are presenting environmental and human crises. From antiquity till the freedom movement, the cotton for the khadi was only of an Indian variety, grown organically. Today more than 90% of cotton grown in India is genetically modified variety (GM) and grown with pesticides & fertilizers.

Secondly, dyeing of the Khadi fabric is today primarily done with chemical dyes and not natural dyes. In a previous article we have covered in great depth about the environmental and therefore human hazards of chemical dyeing.

Khadi by Tula

As we have written several times on the Krya blog, cotton in India today is a “dirty” fabric, right from rampant misuse of genetically modified seeds to pesticide overuse and pollution of water through chemical dyes. This is the state of more than 90% of all finished cotton fabric in India today. But all is not lost.

Like the little Gaulish village that holds against the might of the evil Roman Empire, there is a small collective called Tula that works with the magic potion called ethics to revive cotton. Their “Getafix “is also bearded, but he wears one of the lightest and cleanest cotton garments you could find anywhere in India, and also leads marches against BT farming and to help protect seed sovereignty.

5. Ananthoo & getafix

Tula is a co-operative that works directly with farmers, dyers, weavers and tailors and uses rain fed, organic, desi cotton which is hand spun, naturally dyed and hand woven and manually stitched. The buttons used in Tula’s garments are made of coconut shells and not plastic.

Given the unsustainable nature of cotton farming and the value chain of producing garments is so inherently unfair, unsustainable and polluting that no part of making a Tula garment can be taken for granted (which is why we mentioned the detailing of the buttons in their garments).

Our personal sustainable fabric journey

Our personal journey with replacing our unsustainable garments with Khadi and Tula in our wardrobes has been equally satisfying. In a different time and era, our wardrobe would be added to and not replenished. Our shopping was done in a noisy and crowded Mall where purchases would be done fast and followed by eating a lot of sweetened junk food. The garments we bought would be designed to last only a few months when washed with our unsustainable toxic detergent. The fabric which we then bought was usually woven on a powerloom and was carefully designed to keep air out and sweat in, which suited our corporate, ac always on unsustainable lifestyle.

Today our wardrobes are different. For one, they have fewer garments, and we think several times before buying something and try to ensure that we replenish and not add to our wardrobe. Where we buy from is considered with a lot of thought – we think about what we want to support, how we want to encourage fair trade, and how we want to support the crafts of India before we buy. And most importantly, we want to now wear a garment that works with us: breathes, keeps us comfortable, does not harm our body and is designed to be long lasting.

And we staunchly, happily and openly, recommend, gift and support Tula.

2. Tula garments

Ananthoo on Tula

In a sustainable wardrobe checklist like the one I’ve outlined above, Tula is a high scorer. It is a truly sustainable fabric / garment, designed thoughtfully, with great detail, and carries reverence for the soil and depth in its ideation and execution.

We are proud to share this video with Anantha Sayanan, Co-Founder of Tula, as a part of our sustainable fabric series.

1. ananthoo tula

In this video, Ananthoo shares with us Tula’s journey and also some of the many details that go into making it a truly green and fair fabric.

Tara Aslam & Nature Alley

My fascination with Tula should be obvious. Whenever I spoke to Ananthoo who is the face of Tula, I would often hear him referring to Tara Aslam. I then heard of Tara Aslam though my friend Vishala, who runs Buffalo Back, a fine organic store in Bangalore. Vishala has been invited by Tara to start an outlet of Buffalo Back at Langford town, as a part of Tara’s Khadi and fabric store called Nature Alley.

A Khadi revivalist who is a part of the Tula project, who used to work at Fab India and supports all things organic, was someone I could not afford to miss in the Krya fabric series. Here is Tara sharing her fascination with Khadi, and her journey with Nature Alley.

I am a socialist who dreams of an egalitarian society.

3. Tara Aslam Nature alley

I was born and raised in Chennai and my favorite line is “Satyameva Jayate”. I have a master’s degree in Business Economics and worked as the head of a sourcing company for Fab India in the Karnataka region. In 2012 I launched my own fashion label called “Nature Alley” which is based in Bangalore. Nature Alley is a unique label that works only with Khadi fabric.

Nature Alley is a small business enterprise involved in the promotion of Khadi and Organic clothing.  I wanted to popularize Khadi – make it a stylish product at affordable prices.  Also, with Nature Alley I want to work on sustainability and fair practices while providing a market for our artisans.

I have been involved in the craft sector for the last few years and I was heading a sourcing company for Fab India for Karnataka region.  Design always fascinated me and I have been involved with design intervention in the traditional crafts for some years now. Specifically, I took to Khadi because I believe in the Gandhian philosophy of self- reliance and community sustenance.

Khadi is so much more than just cloth.

To me, Khadi always meant more than cloth. Its coarse texture is so beautiful. It is super absorbent and is cool in summer and keeps us warm in winter.  Khadi is for all seasons!  It is the most appropriate fabric for a tropical weather like ours.

2. Gandhi spinning the Charkha

Plus, it is a cloth that links an entire community. I love the ideals behind Khadi.  I have been a socialist for long and dreamt of an egalitarian society.  So Khadi was a true symbol of equality.  As Khadi is of national importance and comes under the Central Government Ministry, this has been a very subsidized industry, but is unfortunately prone to internal issues.  I work with a Private Khadi Institution giving fair wages to the weaver. A hand woven cloth needs no subsidy but awareness of the uniqueness of the cloth.  Customers need to appreciate the work that go into making Khadi the cloth it is. I see our journey with Nature Alley as a celebration of what is considered the ordinary – and to inspire people see what is precious in the ordinary.

Further, Khadi is a handspun, hand-woven process; we may not get great volumes.  Also, as with other things made by hand, we need adequate time.  Variations are part of the allure of Khadi.

Khadi has been unfairly termed as dowdy.

This is unfortunately because of the way it is currently being sold. I decided to give Khadi a look and feel it deserves. We need to wear it with more style than it has been accorded. Along the way, I realized that many of us are looking for wearable Khadi!

4. Khadi walks the ramp

My designs are also largely for the youth – they have liked the styling.  Leading fashion Choreographer Prasad Bidappa has taken some of my garments for a Youth Fashion Show on 14 Aug 2014 at Bangalore

Look for irregularities to spot real Khadi

Khadi is a coarse cloth generally.  They are coming out with a Khadi Mark in the near future.  But Polyvastra is not Khadi!  Nowadays with the powerloom sector bringing out Khadi look fabric, it is increasingly difficult to tell.  I would say, look out for the irregularities.

Unlike popular myths, Khadi is very easy to maintain, and if maintained well can outlast any mill made cloth. If we use a mild detergent and hand-wash, a Khadi garment will outlast any of the mill made cloth!  In fact our natural dyed Khadi clothing leaves the lightest carbon footprint.

I’m committed to leaving our children with a better tomorrow.

I want to work with the organic movement.  I am learning about desi cotton varieties.  If we have to give our children a better tomorrow we have to do something today to stop this excessive consumption and lead a gentler life.

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Krya Supports Tula & Nature Alley – and we ask you to too..

Tula and Nature Alley’s garments are a great way to start building your very own sustainable wardrobe. Do explore their offerings for your and your family this festive season.

Tula:

Tula can be found in Chennai at the OFM Store and in Bangalore at Nature Alley’s store. For more details please connect with Tula on their facebook page.

reStore is organising an exhibition of Tula’s garments on October 10th, 2014 with a special presentation by Ananthoo on fabric sustainability. For more details please visit their event page.

Nature Alley:

Tara’s beautiful, intimate store is at Langford Town in Bangalore. Besides their well designed Khadi garments, Nature Alley also stocks Tula’s fabric and garments and organic food products. For more information please visit Nature Alley’s facebook page.

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This post is a part of our continuing series on Sustainable fabric and India’s textile traditions. The rest of our series can be read here: 

  1. Our introductory post on the sustainable fabric series
  2. On the One Person Satyagraha and why you should start one
  3. On the environmental and human health hazards of chemical dyes
  4. The primer to sustainable Indian fabric is here
  5. The first part of the textile traditions of India that suit Spring and Summer is here
  6. The second part of the textile traditions of India that suit Monsoons and Winter is here.
  7. Our post interviewing Lata Ganapathy-Ravikiran on Handloom love and why she chooses to support this industry is here.
  8. Our post on the warped state of Handlooms in India and what ails the sector is here.
  9. Our post on the dangers and all pervasiveness of Bt Cotton is here .
  10. Our post on Onam, the Mundum neriyathum and wearing your culture is here.
  11. Our post on the Sustainable Fabric Workshop conducted at the Green Bazaar exploring natural dyes is here.
  12. Our post with notes on Kalakshetra’s Natural dyeing workshop and a guest post by Kavita Rayirath of Indian by design on inspiring Handloom appreciation is here.
  13. Rashmi Vittal of Little Green Kid’s guest post on why organic cotton is so essential for everyone can be found here.
  14. Our visit to Vivek and Juli Cariappa and our interview of this Krish pandit couple and their experiments with Khadi can be found here.

 

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Dye another day

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Reading Time: 7 minutes

It almost always comes back to water. On the Krya blog we focus on sustainable urban living. We explore the many different ways in which urban living is stressing the environment and equally the many interesting ways in which we can return to a holistic, sustainable way of living.

 

And we are constantly amazed by the myriad ways in which water gets polluted. Ground water and water on the surface of the earth (both fresh and saline). While 70% of the planet is water, there is no good reason to go around trashing this precious resource. This is simply because it takes only a moment to pollute water but an eternity (and a ton of money) to clean it again and make it fit for consumption – by humans, plants and animals. This seems obvious yet the daily massacre of water that takes place compels me to point it out here.

 

The textile industry is a leading source of water pollution. World Bank estimates that 20% of all industrial water pollution comes from the dyeing of textiles. The textile mills release millions of gallons of wastewater containing pollutants like chlorine, formaldehyde, lead & mercury into our freshwater bodies. Some 72 toxic chemicals had been have linked to textile dyeing. A single T-shirt made from regular cotton requires 2700 litres of water and uses 150 grams of chemicals in the production process.

How did the textile industry sink to this state of affairs?

Dye

Dyeing is an ancient art, as old as humanity.

6. cuneiform tablet

The original dyes were mostly plant derived, from roots, berries, fruits and bark. They used simple methods like crushing or boiling to dye fabric. Dyeing was in fact a secretive subject and only a select few could access it, wearing dyed clothes as status symbol.

5. charlemagne's coronation

The medieval depiction above of Emperor Charlemagne’s coronation by the Pope, shows the Emperor wearing am indigo robe and the Pope wearing a  white robe. Indigo and purple in ancient times were worn only by royals. Similarly, in Indonesia, the batik process of dyeing used several symbols and certain symbols could only be worn by royals. People could be placed in the pecking order just by looking at the symbols on their batik clothes.

Some of the most famous ancient dyes were red madder, extracted from the roots of the Rubia Tinctorum and the blue indigo from the leaves of the Indigofera tinctoria.

Indigo, the original king of dyes

Apart from the glorious deep blue colour that the Indigo plant delivers, it was the king of dyes from ancient times for a number of reasons. Most dyes require a mordant like alum, common salt or salts of aluminum, chromium etc, to fix the dye to the fabric and ensure colour fastness. Indigo is unique in that it uses a fermentation process to release the coloring molecules and fabric can be directly dipped into the indigo and dried to get the desired blue colour.

7. dyeing wool

In ancient times, many households would mix the ingredients required into a vat, let the mix ferment for a week to get the dye and then dip the fabric into the vat to colour it. This indigo vat then can be maintained for many years on a continuous basis, adding some indigo as and when the dye dilutes. Some Indigo vats have been known to be used for over a hundred years continuously. It was common for many households to have their own indigo vat. This was a very local, DIY, contained process and very environmentally friendly.

4.badshahmiyan indigo

The picture above, shows Master Dyer Badshah Miyan of Jaipur following this traditional Indigo dyeing process today in Jaipur. Of course we cannot all wear Indigo and other colours are needed. The fundamental unit of living has also changed and we cannot all have an ancestral indigo vat running to meet our clothing needs. Further with the growth in demand for the dye, indigo cultivation started replacing other food crops which made it a precious commodity.

Around 1850 several organic chemists began research into synthesis of indigo from chemical sources. By 1897, BASF had developed a commercially viable chemical synthesis that eliminated the need for the leaves of the Indigo plant. In due course in the 20th century all natural dyes were replaced by their synthetic equivalents. Unfortunately what started off as an innocent quest to replace natural indigo with a cheaper chemically synthesized alternative ended up in an global industry that freshwater with toxic chemicals inexorably.

The T-Shirt Town in Tatters

Tirupur in Tamil Nadu is a leading textile center accounting for 80% of India’s knitwear exports. Tirupur textiles accounted for over $ 4 billion in revenues per year in recent times. It provides employment to over 6 lakh people.

This is really commendable from the economic point of view.

But the environmental costs of the past few decades have been terrible too.

According to one Tamil Nadu pollution control board report, each year the Tirupur textile industry generates 833,000 tonnes of toxic waste including bleach and sulfonic dyes, much of it directly dumped into the nearby Noyyal river. This untreated chemical effluent drains into the Kaveri river and then finally washes up in the Bay of Bengal. The textile industry in the past few decades has contaminated around 80,000 acres of cropland in this area ,mostly rice fields. The locals have in the past found that the red chemical dye from the Noyyal river water was absorbed by the coconut trees on the banks, dyeing the coconuts a deep red colour.

2.noyyal runs black

 

The Audubon magazine has this to say about the state of affairs in Tirupur

“The Noyyal is now essentially an open sewer. At Kasipalayam, where the river slows down and effluent accumulates, the water runs brown and smells unbearably of human waste. The banks are strewn with plastic bags, aluminum cans, and other garbage. Close inspection sometimes reveals a splash of unnatural green or purple from the upstream dye factories.”

The environmental risks are similarly severe at other Indian textile hubs like Tirupur.

The pollution is not new news

Since the 1990’s several groups have taken legal action against the polluting units near Noyyal  and a lot of legal back and forth has happened through supreme court orders. In the meantime effluent treatment technology has also improved. To manage the high costs of effluent treatment, common effluent treatment plants ( CETP) have been in vogue for some time now. In Tirupur some 18 CETPs handle the liquid waste of 350 dyeing units. However these CETPs still discharge varying levels of harmful matter into the rivers. With the further development of Zero liquid Discharge ( ZLD ) technology , it is possible to reuse all the waste water from the dyeing units.

Picture1

Treated  & Untreated Samples from Tirupur ZLD plant

 

This prompted the Supreme Court in January 2011 to order the Tamil Nadu government to close all polluting units that did not comply with zero liquid discharge norms. While the Tirupur exporters association claimed in December 2012 that they had achieved 100% ZLD levels, a February 2014 report in The Hindu states that pollution of the Noyyal river continues unabated.

 

What next?

At the start of this piece I noted that it takes only an instant to pollute water but an eternity ( and a ton of money) to undo the damage, which is why each act of pollution must be avoided.

So a number of questions arise.

Can the entire clothing of the planet be met through sustainable textiles, right now ? this year ? How do I know if my brand of clothing uses sustainable practices ?

I checked out the sustainability report of the first brand that popped into my head, Fabindia.

Now this is the information on the Fabindia website

“We use both vegetable dyes and commercial dyes with the goal of minimizing our impact on the environment while striving for the best color properties. For our bleaching process we use only hydrogen peroxide which is totally biodegradable.”

This information gives me 2 concerns straight away

  1. I am not comfortable with the vague term “commercial dyes”. So the next time we hit Fabindia , I need to ask the store staff for only the vegetable dyed items
  2. Hydrogen Peroxide is not inspiring me at all. I have many concerns about the biodegradability of hydrogen peroxide. My simple test is as follows : Can I pour a glass of peroxide into my plants ? I have serious doubts. While I still cannot rule out the safe use of hydrogen peroxide in bleaching textiles, I at least know that fabindia does not use Chlorine bleach in its process, which is considered to be far more toxic as an effluent.

However the more I try and find details about brands with global supply chains with extremely opaque information flows, I realize that it is easier to discover local brands that have clear picture of the entire process. It is my one person satyagraha.

For example, as I type this , I am wearing a shirt from Tula, a brand that creates clothes from rain fed organic cotton, which is hand dyed with vegetable dyes and hand woven.

3. Tula

The entire supply chain is contained within a 500 km radius of my home. It cannot not get more sustainable than this. I cannot get everything that I need from Tula, but I can certainly get a few fantastic shirts, which is a good start.

So how sustainable is the garment that you are wearing right now?

 

To read more about sustainable fabric start here:

  1. Our introductory post on the sustainable fabric series
  2. On the One Person Satyagraha

 

 

 

 

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