The devil is in the marketing.
The Khadi & Village Industries Commission (KVIC), which runs Khadi Bhandars (KBs), knows this well. Despite khadi’s historic connection with India’s political movement, price advantage and suitability to India’s weather, the fabric has, unfortunately, lost its sheen.
A few years ago the KVIC roped in well-known designers to raise the profile of khadi garments but the effort failed to deliver the results. Other than the KVIC’s weak marketing muscle, competition from new products and probably the fabric’s popularity among politicians — and India’s love-hate relationship with them — could have been responsible for the dip in the brand’s popularity.
But it is a politician again who might revive khadi’s fortunes. In the first episode (October 3, 2014) of his Mann Ki Baat radio series, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed for the increased use of khadi. Riding on the success of the ‘Modi kurta’, the NDA government plans a big push to the KVIC and is considering a plea from the organisation to appeal to employees to wear khadi once a week to boost its production and benefit small weavers. It also plans to renovate outlets and modernise the production infrastructure.
Over 100 million square metres of khadi are produced in India, with over 700,000 artisans registered with the commission. It also has a strong network of stores, though they are not always found in the shopping areas which the young frequent.
The KVIC has 7,050 outlets, seven Khadi Gramodyog Bhavans and one Gramshilpa and in 2014-15, they sold products worth `12,513.72 crore. The government’s push is a commendable idea, and it is reassuring that the KVIC does not want government handouts as many State-run enterprises often do.
Its chairman, VK Saxena, said the organisation is eager to compete with other products on the basis of “quality and price”. The organisation recently got a `40 crore order from the Railways and is pushing for khadi uniforms in government schools, defence forces and Air India. Along with India the KVIC must also tap foreign markets. The world over — be it the German-handcrafted wooden dolls to lace-making in Belgium — there is a great demand for handcrafted products. Khadi products should do well outside India, especially with their eco-friendly tag.
The government, however, must not make wearing khadi in offices compulsory and equate it with the limited definition of patriotism that is gaining currency. It must remember that it is a fabric that belongs to all Indians and not one political ideology. If there is an ideology that khadi can be equated with, it is sustainability.