Modi Sets his Eyes on Getting the Cloth International

India is hoping that Khadi becomes its biggest export to the world. And there are signs that it will be.

High streets of Dubai, Chicago, Mauritius and Johannesburg may soon showcase khadi as the next big fashion find. And its endorsement as an environment-friendly fabric may come from no less than the United Nations.

In short, the humble handspun fabric is set to get a global makeover, similar to a dramatic rise in India over the last three years.

Endorsed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, sales of khadi have rocketed by 34 percent in the last three years, the fastest it has grown since 1947 when Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) first started selling the desi khaddar.

The government sees an opportunity in the proposition to go global. “Khadi has phenomenal potential to do well in the global market. It is a topic of discussion in all our bilateral meetings in chambers of commerce. We are putting in our best to take the Khadi legacy ahead,” said AK Panda, secretary in the MSME Ministry.

The global pitch

According to a survey by Synergy Foundations-Impact Beyond Border, khadi is an indigenous Indian product after yoga, as also it is an item second most associated to India by non-Indians. The Narendra Modi government is trying to cash in on this craze and take the humble khadi across borders as India tries to sell its soft power on the international stage.

To start with, the ministry is meeting representatives from across the world in an exhibition at the capital this month end. The agenda is not just to pitch khadi to them as a business proposition, but to sell the idea of khadi as the cloth of India.

“We are planning to open khadi outlets outside the country to promote products made using the indigenous handspun fabric in the global markets as we have received interests from Dubai, Chicago, Mauritius and South Africa. People in these places are interested in opening khadi outlets under the franchisee model,” said Vinai Kumar Saxena, chairman at KVIC.

The KVIC has also approached the United Nations to promote khadi in their various rehabilitation programmes as the most environment-friendly fabric that provides sustenance to millions of people. “Ministry of External Affairs is also pursuing the matter and positive results are expected,” added Saxena.

The Government is also making the most of the fabric by linking it with India’s Independence movement.

As a part of Centenary Year celebrations of Gandhiji’s Swadeshi Movement, the High Commission of India in Uganda, in association with the Republic of Uganda, unveiled the Gandhi Charkha gifted by KVIC at the Gandhi Heritage Site at Jinja in Uganda on October 2, 2017. The 25-kg Charkha was the first testimony that a Charkha had gone to the foreign soil.

Later this year, South Africa will be celebrating 125 years of the Pietermaritzburg train incident on April 30, 2018 at Johannesburg. In 1893, a white man objected to Mahatma Gandhi travelling in the first class coach.

Gandhi had a valid ticket and he refused to leave just because he was brown. He was eventually thrown out of the train. That very day Gandhi decided to stay back in South Africa and fight against the racial discrimination meted out at the Indian community there.

The event will showcase khadi in a modern and trendy way, in a 20-minute textile event, choreographed by noted fashion designer Gavin Rajah. The KVIC has also gifted nearly 200 meters of high-quality khadi fabric for this event.

Growth trajectory back home

The global push comes even as khadi’s popularity soars in India.

From not figuring on the fashion footprint of the country, khadi has come a long way to call itself what the present generation tags as ‘cool’. This new-found cool quotient of the fabric has also become a profitable institution.

“Constant push by the government of India and the increasing trend of using organic products worldwide saw khadi sales going upwards. It was only last year, the low-profile khadi and products from village industries touched the Rs 50,000 crore mark for the first time in India in the last 65 years. KVIC clocked sales worth Rs 52,000 crore in 2016-17,” said Saxena.

However, it is not just the sale of Khadi that grew in the last three years. With an increase in demand, Khadi production also grew by 32% in the last fiscal year 2016-17.

After Prime Minister’s mission to promote Yoga as an international event, KVIC launched an exclusive ‘khadi yoga kit’ for the first time in May 2016. “We did a business of nearly Rs 76 lakh in less than one month’s time. In 2017, KVIC yoga kits truly became international when we got the orders from Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) to supply as many as 21,000 yoga kits worth Rs 2.63 crore.

As we successfully supplied the kits on time, the ICCR later supplied it to as many as 100 Indian Missions abroad. Apart from that, more than 4,000 yoga kits were sold to NDMC, NTPC, Powergrid Corporation, Ministry of Ayush, etc. last year,” Saxena said.

The kit included nine items comprising tops and lowers for men and women, khadi napkins, a yoga mat and a bag. The napkins in the kit were stitched by the women belonging to families which have been affected by militancy near the Nagrota area of Jammu and Kashmir. A unique tricolour khadi garland (sootmala) was also thrown into the kit.

Mainstream limelight

The growth has forced mainstream brands to take notice of khadi.

In his bid to push the fabric not only across borders but also invite investment on the home ground, Modi had once said “Before independence, khadi for nation; after independence, khadi for fashion”.

Riding on that impression KVIC has signed some agreements with the textile giants of the country. While Raymond has already purchased more than 2.5 lakh metres grey fabric from KVIC and their Khadi range is available in 150 stores across the country, Arvind mills Limited has planned to purchase approximately one million metres of Khadi Denim every year.

Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Limited (ABFRL) is tying up with KVIC to develop a product line which will be called ‘Khadi Peter England’.

If that’s not all, KVIC has also signed an MoU with National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) for better design development and training at different khadi institutions.

The institution is in constant dialogue with private players. A shop-in-shop format of khadi has been initiated with Globus, unit of Raheja Group, and Khadi Korners has been opened at Noida, Ahmedabad and Mumbai. In addition, debuting the same format in Chennai and Varanasi is already on cards.

KVIC has also inked MoUs with Cotton Bazaar and Big Bazaar in January where Big Bazaar has already started Khadi Korners at seven of their stores in Mumbai.

With Ritu Beri on board, the cloth of India is also getting a designer touch. The desi fabric is evolving as ‘Brand Khadi’. Beri is doing her bit to make the fabric a globetrotter.

“I carry only khadi clothes as gifts when I’m travelling. I have French friends who’ve stepped into Khadi Gram Udyog, and stepped out with khadi clothes,” she said.

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