The Woman with the Charkha
Dim and dusty lights over her head faded into the realm of peace. Gently spinning the wheel, she summoned the yarn. Threads spun into existence with the courage of a woman who barely went out, but had the power to bring the world to her feet. She hummed to herself and answered every question they had. Just when the room got silent, she asked them to look over, and tell what’s on the wall. They were surprised to find a National Award (to an artisan) hanging on the old wall of a small, dingy room which was fixated into the past.
“Agar main Kisi ka Taj Mahal bhi banati na, toh mujhe National Award na milta.” She said gracefully and resumed spinning the Charkha.
(Translation: Even if I would have made Taj Mahal for someone, I wouldn’t have received a National Award.)
They could only wonder how auspicious her craft and powerful Charkha was. How elevating the small room felt, and how such beautiful dreams were transcending the place, making it infinite!
Umang saw that woman’s pride realising a power in disguise and the concept of reviving an aesthetic Indian craft led her on. After securing the second position in Design Sutra, a competition organised by the Ministry of textiles & NIFT in 2015, she began extensive R&D. And two years later, she founded KhaDigi along with Tanya.
Umang always wanted to do something for the villages. Khadi was the glory that she wanted to breathe back to life. Technology proved to be an asset and became a bridge from the history of Khadi to the age of fashion way ahead into the future.
KhaDigi envisions to change the poor working conditions of local weavers, craftsmen and artisans, and facilitate fruitful dialogues with the buyers. They are working to bring back sustainable fashion to the mainstream.
The revival of Indian handicrafts
Khadi is often seen as an emotion, way more than just a piece of cloth. Since the Swadeshi movement, Khadi has always been an instigator of self-respect and empowerment for the nation. The Bhopal based social startup wants to take this empowerment to the rural women, artisans, weavers and craftsmen. KhaDigi identifies the geographical clusters of local weavers and traditional artisans who are on the verge of losing their art and livelihood because of low income. They then upskill them with advanced machinery, enabling them to earn a good living while maintaining the legacy. KhaDigi is currently working with 1000+ artisans across skills like hand-spinning, handloom weaving, hand-stitching, hand-block printing, hand-dyeing and more. Also, 300 women artisans are working with them from the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC). Together with the young designers, they’ve created around 150 kinds of beautiful fabrics in sync with the modern-day market.
KhaDigi has a core team of 10 people who oversee the entire process from procurement of fibres and setting up of looms to timely delivery of the unique fabric. They look into the product-demand, thoroughly verify and document the artisans, sellers and consumers, thus creating a wholesome ecosystem. They’ve seen a 300% rise in the monthly income of the artisans and weavers by providing them with a constant workflow of at least 10 months. This has reduced the labour migration from the countryside as the opportunities are built in the villages themselves. Currently, they’re working with weavers and artisans in the rural areas of M.P., Maharashtra, U.P. and West Bengal. And they aim to connect with 1 million artisans by 2025.
‘Chanderiki saree’: The modern trend
Ever seen your mother reminiscing over her Chanderi Saree and wondering only if the design had been a little trendy, you could’ve worn it to slay?
KhaDigi did. Their unique designs are ahead of time which sets them apart. 50 years old fabric with the touch of youth!
They’re constantly innovating with Bamboo cotton, Chanderi, Jamdani, Silk cotton and Khadi (Handspun and handwoven). They’re also creating yarn from bamboo, soybean waste, mulberry silk and banana. KhaDigi claims that their products are 100% sustainable and have very low carbon footprints. Furthermore, they use azo-free hand-dyeing methods.
Authenticity is of prime to KhaDigi. So, they’re planning to put QR codes on every piece of fabric they sell. The block-chain model that they’re integrating would enable the consumer to know the fabric’s origin and artisans.
The creative approaches have made them reliant in the market across the country. KhaDigi has forged market relations with giants such as Reliance and Aditya Birla Group and has sold 50,000 m fabric in just 2 years with a turnover of INR 50 lakh. They aim to collaborate with H&M and Zara who are working towards sustainable fashion goals under UN SDGs 2030.
Owing to this desire to do something for the people, Umang made it to the Forbes’ 30 under 30 in 2019 for her commendable efforts.
Demand never dies
The clothing market is evergreen. However, identifying the right team and finding people in rural areas when the youth are rushing to the cities has been a significant challenge. During the pandemic, the demand for fabric exists but that needs optimization and management. KhaDigi’s sales have also been affected and they have a lot of work while ironing out the supply chain bottlenecks.
Umang told team ulaunch, “It’s a challenge. Like we were working in an area. Due to some Corona cases, it turned into a containment zone and we had to close our units. So, we’ve to effectively manage the uncertainty of the time.”
Nonetheless, KhaDigi is expanding. They’re planning to export to European markets as Tanya has shifted to London to synchronize the expansion strategy. They’ll be exporting to 7 countries in the next 3 months.
KhaDigi is primarily B2B but they’re also dealing B2C now. Due to the Corona crisis, some artisans are in dire need. KhaDigi has started a campaign called “Artisan’s Originals” where products like bags, clutches, masks, Jamdani sarees are made available online. People can send their friends and family the gift cards to buy these items, and they’d be helping the artisans straight away.
Nourishing the roots
Every year, millions of rural people migrate to cities in search of work and livelihood. When the pandemic struck us, the situation was heartbreaking. Migrant workers were rendered homeless and jobless, walking on double-edged swords. And all of us were questioning why it happened. We need to rethink our development strategies. Growing shoots and overlooking roots don’t really work! KhaDigi is leaving a trail which provides a holistic solution.
Sustainable production, skilling and rural employment generation address a plethora of problems that India faces. Moreover, we need to pay back to our villages by infusing the enabling potential of digital technology with the untapped talent of the countryside.
With the right balance, choices and vision, self-reliant India can be realised that will show the way for other nations.
Article by Prachi Chauhan, Team ulaunch