Before I even get into khadi and why it is much more than just a silky soft, hand spun, hand woven fabric made in India, some background is in order.
I was born and raised in Canada, but my roots are part Bengali on my father's side. Bengali people hail from Bangladesh or West Bengal, the northeast Indian state adjacent to Bangladesh. In 1947, India achieved its independence after 200 years of British colonialism and oppression. Independence came at a divisive price as India was partitioned into the dominions of India and Pakistan following violent conflict between Hindu and Muslim extremists. At that time, what is now Bangladesh became East Pakistan. This is where my father grew up until adolescence and where our family had lived for ages. Overnight there was a mass migration of Muslims out of India into Pakistan, and of Hindus out of Pakistan into India. Our family was part of that teeming human flow moving from East Pakistan into West Bengal. Generations of family heritage were left behind overnight in exchange for survival. (Map Image: ©National Maritime Museum, London)
My father was studying at Calcutta (Kolkata) University in 1947 and was a leader in the student government. In Kolkata, violent fighting was going on between extremist Hindus and Muslims. Students - Hindu and Muslim together - had barricaded parts of the University to seek refuge and prevent the bloodthirsty rioters from getting in and spreading the killing, which had become intense, random and completely irrational. One man - revered by both Hindus and Muslims - was able to stop these senseless terrorizing riots: Mahatma Gandhi, the key architect behind India's freedom from the British. He ended the fighting by going on a hunger strike, refusing to consume anything more than a little water each day until all the fighting stopped. It must have torn his heart in two to witness such violence between Indian people after having achieved Indian independence through non-violent means.
I remember seeing Richard Attenborough's excellent film Gandhi with my father when it was first released in 1982. As the vivid riot scenes came to life on the screen I saw my father put his head down and breath deeply. He left the cinema and paced out in the lobby. Later he explained that he was having flashbacks of those awful riots that had brought him and his classmates so close to death. He described how the students had boiled water to pour over the barricades because they knew of no other way to prevent the mob of killers from coming at them.
I mention all this context to give you an idea of what Mahatma Gandhi was capable of - through wholly non-violent means. Khadi comes into this picture because it was one of the most powerful and symbolic tools Gandhi used in galvanizing the Indian people against British political and economic supremacy to achieve Swadeshi (self-sufficiency) and Swaraj (self-rule). Gandhi encouraged all Indian citizens to make their own khadi using a traditional spinning wheel, called a charka, and thus decrease Indian dependence on British-made imported textiles. Gandhi wore only khadi and encouraged all Indians to do the same. To this day, many Indian politicians continue to wear only khadi. (Image: Gandhi spinning on a charka at Sabarmati Ashram, 1925 --- ©Vithalbhai Jhaveri/GandhiServe Foundation (Image from Wikimedia Commons))
So now the link to living without plastic. As you can already tell, khadi is so far from plastic in so many ways. We found a wonderful Indian company that makes traditional organic cotton khadi and colours it with rich natural dyes derived from plants, fruit, and seeds. We worked with them to obtain some gorgeous bolts of super soft, earth tone khadi. We then passed this lush fabric over to our local master seamstress friend Tracy from Eco-Tav, and she has created three practical works of khadi art for us to offer to our customers for everyday use in decreasing their reliance on plastic. The two-tone blossom bag (shown at right), the portable placemat and cutlery holder (in gold or green), and the spork pouch (in gold or green).
We think it's important to know where the things that populate one's life come from, what they are made of, and who made them. It's not always possible to know this. And even with this khadi we don't know the name of the particular rural Indian weaver who made it - though we could probably find out. But we know this is a fabric that creates freedom. And that's pretty darn cool.
Jay Sinha, Co-Founder