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Khadi cotton the fabric of freedom

Khadi is an Indian handwoven fabric which is usually manufactured from cotton, but sometimes also from wool and silk. But khadi is much more than a type of cloth: it is the spirit of India, it is a way of life: “If we have the ‘khadi spirit’ in us, we would surround ourselves with simplicity in every walk of life. The ‘khadi spirit’ means infinite patience.” These are words of Mahatma Ghandi, who transformed khadi into a philosophy and into a symbol of the Indian national identity struggling for independence.

Gandhi charka weel

Between matter and spirit there’s the human hand, which spins and weaves following ancient techniques dating back thousands of years: warp and weft are handspun using a spinning wheel called charka, then handwoven with the loom. The result is a simple, rugged cloth, which is extremely versatile: it is useful to keep cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It’s the human hand, with its imperfections, that gives life and unicity to khadi.

charka wheel

Ever since, khadi is a synonym of patience, of skilful work, of a man who lives a simple, self-sufficient life. It’s not by chance indeed that Ghandi chose charka and khadi as symbols to guide India towards independence. This fabric was caught in the middle of economic and political transformations consequent to the industrial revolution and colonialism. When the prized Indian fabrics became extremely demanded in Europe, European textile producers, especially French and English, asked their governments to ban imports of fabrics. In addition, they began to import raw material from India in order to weave it in the mother country and resell the final product on Indian markets. This, along with introduction of textile mills in India, resulted in disastrous consequences for the Indian weavers: like the English or French weavers, Indian cottage industries and village-producers could not compete with industrial capacity. Together with their livelihood, they lost the value of the art of spinning and weaving.

kadhi cotton fabric

That’s when Ghandi organised the Indian independence movement. Linking anti-colonialism and anti-industrialism, he exhorted the Indian people to boycott British imports and mill-made fabric, and to spin and weave their own khadi clothes, symbol of self-sufficiency and freedom. That’s how khadi led India to independence, and still today it continues to stand by the Indian people. Dyed, embroidered or printed with different patterns and motifs, it has become a key product in the Indian fashion industry, as it represents the beauty and variety of contemporary India and continues to inspire new collections, aesthetic and identity research and eco-friendly conscience.

mahatma gandhi


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