Khadi, which was once cared just by elderly and politicians, is witnessing the good times. Keeping the momentum going, the sale of khadi products touched Rs 2006 crore in 2016-17.

The handspun fabric that witnessed a slow growth of 6 percent all through the UPA-II regime, grew by a whopping 33 percent in the last financial year 2016-17, says the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise. Khadi sales were up by 29 percent in 2015-16.

This change, however,  has come following the proactive push by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the past three years. Let me tell you how.

On October 3, 2014, Modi began by encouraging people to buy at least one khadi product as a homage to Mahatma Gandhi. “If you buy khadi, you light the lamp of prosperity in the house of a poor person,” the PM had said.

As a result, the sale of khadi clothes, surprisingly, went up exponentially following Modi’s appeal. India today report informs that the sale figures in first two-quarters of 2014 (Apr-Sept)  were Rs 417 crore as compared to the sale of Rs 500 crore registered in first two-quarters of 2013. However, in the second half, the figure went up from Rs 581 crore to Rs 753 crore.

Since then, the NDA-II government has launched initiatives such as National Handloom Day, Khadi for fashion and Textiles India to develop a market around khadi products.

To boost the sales, Modi got the crew of Air India 1, Prime Minister’s official air carrier, to wear khadi-made dress. He soon ordered 377 khadi woollen coats, jerseys and socks for its staff. In Feb 2016, Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) placed an order for 10,000 khadi-made paper file covers.

Realising the potential, soon the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC), a government body responsible for khadi promotion, began encouraging government departments, corporates and PSUs to use khadi merchandise instead of other fabrics.

In response, health, railways and civil aviation ministries placed orders worth crores to buy khadi products from KVIC. Orders poured in from private players too. Now the talks are on to consider khadi uniforms in government schools and defence forces.

“Khadi fabric production is mostly labour intensive and human input is the prime factor. More production will boost rural economy… and create a wider platform for employment generation,” said Arun Kumar Jha, CEO, KVIC.

As per the government estimates, the new orders from the health ministry alone would generate around 120 lakh man-hours of work. This would generate employment options in villages and would raise the income levels of khadi workers. The figures provided by the Ministry reveals that khadi production has shot up by 72 percent in the past three years.

Khadi becomes fashion, sales cross Rs 2000 crore mark

Besides bulk order, the government also began working on other aspects. For example, KVIC has collaborated with the premier textile educational institute, the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), to make Khadi artisans prepare better quality and better marketable products. An online system has already been set up to make payments to organisations and artisans directly to their bank accounts.

Reputed fashion designers such as Ritu Beri were roped in to develop khadi-made denims in order to make khadi more appealing to the youth.

A common signage “Khadi  India” has been adopted to build a strong brand identity and khadi outlets have begun to showcase this signage. KVIC has opened khadi lounges in Delhi, Jaipur and Mumbai to sell premier khadi products including designer products.

KVIC has also put in place the franchise system for opening up new outlets, in addition to modernizing the existing khadi institutions. MoUs have been signed with private players to create a bigger market for khadi products, both offline and online.

The uniqueness of khadi is that it is ethnic, hand-made, natural and bio-degradable. And these elements, experts say, could catch the attention of the rising consumer-segment that seeks “feel-good” factor by buying products which are eco-friendly or improves the living conditions of workers.

Experts believe that the fabric has a high porosity that helps absorb perspiration better, making it one of the best fabrics to wear in humid conditions like that of India’s.

Media and fashion experts believe that Khadi is on its way to becoming the next fashion statement. What lends support to this belief is that the turnover of Khadi institutions (under KVIC) is already at par with major retail firms in the country. KVIC has set a target of Rs 2700 cr for the current year and a third of this has already been achieved in three months.

Both from design and business points of view, what could be seen at best today is that khadi is poised to make its mark in India again. It’s all about how long would it take!