The Khadi Knot in Our Jeans

In the past 71 years, the highest, single-digit growth rate for this national fabric has been 8%

First the good news.
A clutch of international brands, namely Gap Inc, Levi’s and Patagonia in the USA; C&A and H&M from Europe; besides Japan in Asia have evinced interest in Arvind’s Khadi-Denims, a product it has been developing for the past five years, in association with the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC).

The 100% eco-friendly, hand-spun, bucket-dyed fabric sourced from artisanal communities in India’s villages, also won an award for the Best Fabric, at the Global Denim Awards held in Amsterdam, this year. But the good news ends here.
Now the bad news.

Technically, any hand-processed fabric is Khadi. But under the Khadi Mark Regulations Act, 2013, the KVIC, a statutory body formed by the Indian government in 1956 alone has the authority to verify the genuineness of a Khadi product.
This is a big dis-incentive for any brand, serious about working with Khadi. A walk into a KVIC outlet will reveal that the agency is stuck in a time-wrap, and ridden with abject bureaucratic hurdles. Any attempt at eliciting any information from KVIC proved futile for this correspondent for over one month, despite two physical visits to their Bombay office and several phone calls to the chairman’s office in Delhi.

Arvind has entered into a fixed-term, renewable contract with KVIC, and is permitted to use the Khadi mark on their Denim product, which, as an outcome of a completely hand-based work process is very premium and non-suitable for mass consumption.

“We are not focusing on high commercial leverage from this product category,” admits Aamir Akhtar, CEO, Denims, Arvind Ltd. Positioning it in the B2B space, Arvind is presently working with its global and domestic partners, who value sustainability in this premium fabric.

“Within its artisanal technical limitations, we are focussed on consistently expanding the product line across indigo and Ecru Shirt weights and Bottom Weights, says Akhtar.

Testifying to a slow resurgence of interest in Khadi –that presently contributes only 2% to textile sales in India – last year, Raymond also signed an MoU with KVIC to launch ‘Khadi by Raymond’ label that is presently being retailed at all Raymond stores and KVIC outlets.

“Raymond has purchased over 2.5 lakh grey fabric from us, and Arvind has plans to purchase another one million metres, every year,” Sanjeev K Jha, KVIC’s media handler’s note to this reporter revealed. Another release issued by KVIC mentions that Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Limited (ABFRL) is also developing a ‘Khadi Peter England’ collection, while Delhi-based National Institute of Fashion Design (NIFT) is giving design interventions and training to Khadi artisans.

Meanwhile, KVIC has also inked a few MoUs with retailers like Globus, a unit of the Raheja Group for opening a chain of Khadi Korners in Noida, Ahmedabad and Mumbai, and Future Group’s Big Bazaar for retailing KVIC-tagged products at Big Bazar stores in Mumbai.

Despite all these efforts, Khadi sales in FY 2017-2018, under KVIC are a shame — Rs 2,007 crore – compared to the size of the apparel market, estimated to be worth Rs 41,66,500 crore (US $641 billion) in 2016.

Nonetheless, given the right direction and push, Khadi-denims could easily be positioned as the most sustainable denim fabric on the planet, made the same way as it has been for centuries, with virtually no energy consumption at any stage of its production process.

Radhika Sachdev

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