One of the main Gandhian principles was of self-sustenance. The yarn is inherent to our culture, and, derives historical connotations to our struggle for freedom. This Gandhi Jayanti we explore an institution called Khamir, who is helping local weavers of Kachchh revive the production of organic home grown Kala Cotton, and, assisting them to develop value for their work, on a national and international scale, creating a core partnership when it comes to tying up sustainability to fashion.
Shaina Shealy a researcher for Khamir talks about the uniqueness of the plant. She says, “The farming community in Adessar is one of few that cultivate Kachchh’s indigenous variety of cotton, Kala Cotton – a hardy breed yielding a coarse, stretchable fiber often used in denim. Kala Cotton is short-staple cotton with a twist per inch of 22-23mm. Having the deepest roots of all cultivated cotton, it is resilient in the midst of drought, wind, bacteria, pests and high levels of soil salinity. Kala Cotton is rain-fed and by default organic – it is farmed organically only because its farmers do not have access to irrigation technology nor can they afford synthetic chemicals.” Hence, the production of Kala Cotton is environmentally sound and cost effective, providing sustainable livelihoods for marginal farmers.
This organic fiber has flagged itself across the globe. Karen Sear Shimali of Stitch by Stitch, a textile design studio based in London, uses Kala Cotton for their interior textile collections. She states, “We prefer to use Kala Cotton, firstly, because it is grown sustainably and organically and is also highly resistant to disease and pests. Secondly, because it has a unique quality and texture, which is also due to the fact that it is hand spun and hand woven. We then use the fabrics in our designs for cushions, quilts and bed throws for the western interiors market. Some are used for quilting, and some are hand embroidered by Kachchh artisans to create cushions. “It is important to communicate to our customers the qualities of organic and sustainable production and the traditional handicraft techniques used to produce the cloth,” she added.
Our Indian designers are nowhere behind when it comes to stepping forward in helping Indian textiles reach a global platform. Mia Morikawa, Creative Director, 11.11 / eleven eleven, who uses Kala Cotton in their signature couture says, “We love the look and feel of this fabric. Our 100% handmade pieces are signed, numbered and dated by the artisan, giving their work recognition along with the brand’s name, in turn connecting customer to the artisan and giving them the status they deserve as individuals that achieve high degree of craftsmanship in their work. We keep our link engaged with weaver’s season after season, these relationships continue as we respect what they do and want to continue sharing their tradition, this economic and cultural transmission is the ideological keystone of the brand.”
When asked how designers can help in bringing Kala Cotton in the spotlight, Mia states, “Customers need to have access to it, for that to happen, which will encourage more farmers to work on it as the demands will grow, that’s the way that we can shift the balance between pesticide cotton and organic cotton. This can happen when consumers question, what goes into the items they buy and creators understand the effects of the materials they use.”
Also in line is Anavila Misra who is known for her beautiful hand woven linen saris, which aim to emphasize organic material. With her current work circling around Kala Cotton, she says, “We are currently working on blending Kala Cotton with linen. I like the yarn; it has a beautiful texture and hand feel. It’s also a sustainable textile as it links the entire chain from cotton production to final fabric manufacture in the same vicinity. It has a beautiful grainy texture, however, it can’t be made into very fine yarn due to its inherent quality.”