Indian fashion labels’ use of homespun cloth Mahatma Gandhi championed shows commitment to sustainability and reducing waste

Khadi is a hand-spun, hand-woven cloth that Gandhi made into a symbol of India’s fight for independence. Today it has an equally important role: epitomising the country’s commitment to sustainability

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 August, 2018, 10:49am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 August, 2018, 2:38pm

We have reached the point where the amount of microplastics in the sea exceeds the number of stars in the galaxy. Everyone from school kids completing projects, to corporate honchos and ageing veterans, can offer their view on our polluted planet. Global warming is not just a buzzword.  

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The focus of the United Nations on World Environment Day 2018 – June 5 – was plastic pollution, and India is walking the talk. Soon afterwards Mumbai, the financial capital of India, woke up to a ban on single-use plastics – bags, cutlery, cups and bottles, all of it – imposed there and across the state of Maharashtra, the 18th Indian state to bring in such a ban. It’s clear the country is determined to work towards a more sustainable future.

Reducing the use of plastic is one part of improving the environment; another is sustainable fashion.


Khadi, an Indian homespun cotton cloth, has been around for centuries, but has recently come back into vogue.

Khadi is a hand-spun and hand-woven fabric. The fibres are spun into yarn using spinning wheels and the yarn is woven into textiles on hand looms. Khadi can take many forms – khadi silk, khadi cotton, even khadi wool.

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Likening the patience required to spin khadi to metaphorically spinning the thread of swaraj (self-governance or self-rule) into the fabric of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, the doyen of the Indian Independence Movement, defined “khadi spirit” as simplicity in every walk of life.

“The ‘khadi spirit’ means exhibiting fellow feeling with every human being on earth. It means a complete renunciation of everything that is likely to harm our fellow creatures, and if we but cultivate that spirit among the millions of our countrymen, what a land this India of ours would be,” said Gandhi.

Khadi became an instrument of change through Gandhi’s clarion call, but it had been around for centuries before that. Archaeological excavations have discovered looms and khadi dating to 2800BC on figurines of royalty from the Indus valley civilisation.


At Amazon India Fashion Week 2018, Indian fashion house ILK used khadi as the highlight of its autumn-winter collection in fuss-free separates, dresses and simple silhouettes showcasing vivid cord embroidery with exquisite weaves.

It is not just designer brands that are rooting for khadi. Mainstream brands are using sustainable fabrics too.   Raymond, a leading Indian textile conglomerate, introduced a khadi collection in line with the government’s ‘Make in India’ initiative, showing its commitment to indigenous fabrics.

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The real refresher is that the dialogue on sustainable fashion does not end at khadi. Kriti Tula  creates apparel out of scraps for her label Doodlage. Kriti works with discarded fabrics from large manufacturing units, making comfort clothing in classic cuts.

The availability of scraps in a country like India is massive, and the opportunities to recycle them are equally large. Instead of heaps of discarded scraps filling up landfills, Doodlage uses them to create new, durable garments. This helps reduce the pressure to create virgin fabrics. Scraps that cannot be used are shredded to make textures for bags and home collections. Whatever is left after that is used to make paper for garment tags.

Another Indian brand, Khaloom, explores the use of recycled yarns in hand looms; Anandi Enterprises uses banana fibre; Geetanjali Woolens uses recycled wool; and Brown Boy, a crowdfunded ethical clothing brand started by Prateek Kayan, uses only 100 per cent organic fair trade cotton.

Every fashion week in Milan, Paris or anywhere in the world puts up a fiery display of what’s in season. But any designer worth his salt would agree that the real magic happens when those intriguing aesthetics, colour charts and design boards trickle down from the catwalks to the corridors and streets of everyday life.

That’s why, when Kriti tells me that business at Doodlage is doubling on a year-on-year basis, it shows that sustainable fashion isn’t just a fleeting trend in Indian fashion, but a revolution that is here to stay.