As we keep getting closer to Fashion Colloquia 2020, we’re proud to present the #FashionColloquiaOnline series as a part of #FashionFriday!
This year’s theme for Fashion Colloquia is “Heritage… Stories of Change… Our Shared Future.”
For this Fashion Friday, Umang Shridhar joined Archana Surana, our founder for a live video chat. Umang Shridhar is the driving force behind KhaDigi, a brand that revises hand-spun hand-woven fabric making khadi more accessible to contemporary culture and the Zara-obsessed younger crowds.
She was famously named in the Forbes #30under30 on the topic: “Design Intervention & Its Impact on Craftsmen.”
Watch the full video here.
Some of the key talking points have been provided below.
The conversation started on the topic of working with big brands & how they are impacting the environment.
Archana: With KhaDigi you’re taking it to the corporate world. You’re working with big brands like Reliance and supplying them as well, when it comes to doing handcrafted products, definitely there’s a challenge because people want standardization, they want consistency. So do you face challenges when it comes to the business in terms of rejection, because of non uniformity or do they really appreciate that this is the way it is?
Umang: It was a long process making Reliance our client. There was a lot of back and forth that was happening, you know. We were sending a lot of samples, doing smaller quantities, and making them understand that all this can really happen in khadi and you will have to accept it.
As a corporate, there have been a lot of rejections we have faced but now even our artisans are trained and we have convinced the corporates that a certain level of a defect will always be there with khadi and that people need to appreciate those defects. We use the best quality of cotton, we use the best quality of the dye, and we try to give the best quality of fabrics.
Some certain level of defects will be there because it’s hand-made. But we try to avoid defects like cuts not being proper. Those are the things we take care of. Otherwise, weaving defects will obviously be a part of khadi.
Archana then talked a bit about the khadi influence on ARCH with students who have created more than 70 ensembles in khadi. She also brought focus to Jaipur’s famous textile industry and the role it plays in the city’s heritage.
On Khadi as the fashion fabric for the young
Archana: There are a lot of young people who go to Zara, H&M and find their fashion there, how do you convince them that khadi is the fashion fabric?
Umang: I was 22 when I started working on khadi. Initially, why we did digital printing on khadi was because I thought there were no colors, there were no prints. I think if I had to wear khadi, it has to be colorful and there should be a lot of quirky prints.
We have 150 kinds of new fabric that we have made in khadi and handloom that are for the young generation because its a 27-year-old who’s working on khadi, not like a 70-year-old.
If a 22-year-old girl starts designing khadi, she’s thinking about herself and what she wants to wear so we made t-shirts in khadi! We used bamboo, we used soybean waste yarn to make it soft and lustrous, to make it fall properly.
The designers we’re supplying to, they’re all young designers making beautiful jackets out of khadi using digital prints. There’s so much to look forward to in khadi now as a fabric. I am very grateful to the upcoming designers. They were always great with their designs but the textiles available were not that great… and it was not for their generation.
Now, we’re giving them that fabric and they can design whatever they want to. As a young khadi entrepreneur, I’m definitely seeking to work for my generation.
On the fast-fashion trend and khadi
Archana asked about how KhaDigi is managing to work with big brands in an industry that is conflicted between the rising consumption of fast fashion and also a rise in activism towards sustainability and conscious fashion.
Umang: As a sustainable textile company, we always tell our clients and we always suggest that since we’re moving towards sustainability in terms of textiles, you should stick to one textile for at least two seasons or three seasons so that the artesian doesn’t have to shift.
There’s definitely mass-production which means more weavers will be getting jobs but we won’t really change textiles every season… the brands are now very conscious about using the same textiles and coming up with new designs every season. Design-wise, they’re bringing a lot of new things but textile-wise, we’re sticking to the same textiles for, say, two seasons or three seasons.
I’ll take a few names, like Reliance, they ordered the same fabric for summers and winters also. This is good because it’s khadi which is cold in summer, hot in winter. So they understood the fact and they said we’ll change in design but the fabric remains the same. So that way, sustainability is there.
On circular fashion and khadi
Archana: In the Western world, when you look at the fast-fashion business, one-third of all garments go to the dumping grounds where do you seem the big brands taking one-third of their products in terms of khadi sustainability and circular fashion is something we all want to understand well within the whole value chain. Have you heard some conversation around stocks being left out and what are we going to do with it? How have you been able to deal with those kinds of conversations?
Umang: The designers or the brands we’re working with are not as big as what you’re talking about. They’re not as big as H&M, they’re not large-format retailers basically. They’re still small in quantity.
And because it’s khadi, people have not experimented with a lot of designs. Designs that you’ll find are pretty basic, most probably a basic top or palazzo or a jacket that moves season by season. That is what’s great about designing with khadi is that it’s very classic and it remains for every season.
In synthetics, you have to bring in new prints, colors, and cuts every time. When I started wearing khadi my design became very classic, my persona became very classic. I have tops that last three years or four years in my wardrobes, you might be having sarees or dupattas for so many years. That’s the habit that comes with using such textiles, you yourself become very responsible.
And I think that’s why brands like FabIndia don’t have many new designs every season. They have those same typical designs coming out for so many years and people go there to buy that only. So, I think, the designers we work with don’t really face that problem.
On khadi in the international market
Archana: While we’re talking about international markets open up to khadi, have you been able to figure out the positioning of khadi? Have you tried international brands as well?
Umang: We worked with some of the designer labels in London. What I understood from the international demands is that they don’t want any colors, especially in the European markets when we talk about sustainability, the colors also should be natural and subtle there should be no color rather. They say that, in any case, dyeing is adding a lot of waste to the environment so they want to wear the natural, the grey, the coarse and also, they’re using digital print because digital print doesn’t use any water.
So, they are shifting towards more sustainable ways of using sustainable fabrics, unlike the Indian market. The Indian market might just use one way of sustainability and call the whole collection sustainable. But when international brands go for sustainability, they want to know where the fabric was made, whether the wages were paid properly. The international market is very sensitive and they’re really looking forward to khadi.
On women working in khadi
Archana: What kind of numbers do you have onboard with you? The women and the men, the ratio that exists.
Umang: Right now, we’re working with 300 spinners and around 200 weavers, so the count is around 500. In the weavers also, we’ve around 50% of men and 50% women. We’re trying to develop more master weavers as women because women are only in the ancillary activities in weaving specifically.
In the clusters at Maheshwar, we have women weavers. In the clusters at Kasrawad, we have women weavers.
On the use of technology
Archana: Where have you used technology in your business? In terms of automation, AI, and IOT.
Umang: IOT is something we’re using in certain parts, for placing orders and inventory management we’re gathering craft data from artisans and creating a platform that will be live for others to use if there’s a new entrepreneur who wants to work in Madhya Pradesh, they can go on that platform and directly find artisans they would want to work with.
We’re trying to identify artisans and give them a proper on the basis of their skill, on the basis of their productivity, on the basis of the quality that they make. So, that kind of identification of an artesian.
Archana: So you’re looking at creating an online marketplace for people to find the service providers.
Umang: Yeah, kind of. Right now, what we are trying to do is actually to give identification to the artisans. That’s what we’re trying to do. The customer can be anyone; a person who wants to be a designer or a textile designer who wants to explore the Madhya Pradesh market, it can be the Government who wants to reward their artisans, anyone! It’s going to be a different customer segment but right now we’re focusing on our beneficiaries for technology.
Join us at the Fashion Colloquia 2020!
If you love fashion and want to keep up with the latest, join us at the Fashion Colloquia 2020, an international research colloquium. This year’s edition will be held in Jaipur from 26th to 30th January 2020.
Hosted over a period of 5 days, Fashion Colloquia 2020 will have tons of interesting speakers, events, installations, and research.
Don’t miss your chance to experience the global event and keep watching this space for more thoughts about everything fashion and stay tuned for the next #FashionFriday!