Retailing in India: Re’tale’ing the Art of Khadi

The story of Khadi, the traditional Indian art of hand spinning textiles, is being retold to draw the attention of new consumers
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Posted June 5, 2019

Khadi refers to cloth hand spun from cotton, silk or wool threads on a spinning wheel, called a charkha. Interestingly, archaeological discoveries of terracotta spinning spindles and weaving bone tools date the art of hand spinning and weaving in India back to the Indus Valley civilization. By the 17th century, Indian khadi muslin was in great demand among rulers and royalty across the world for its luxurious finesse. It gained world recognition when Mahatma Gandhi, the father of free India, launched khadi in 1920 as a political weapon in the Indian independence movement, calling it “the livery of India’s freedom.”

In 1956, the independent Indian government established the Khadi Village and Industries Commission (KVIC), which was entrusted with the development and promotion of khadi in India. The 2018 KVIC annual report estimates a total production of 469.53 million square meters of the fabric in 2017-18 retailed in 8056 KVIC outlets. According to a Times of India report, in 2017 a total of 460,000 craftsmen employed in the khadi industry helped deliver a revenue of U.S. $483.25 Million, a 33 percent increase compared to 2016 that is expected to continue at 28 percent in the next five years.

The Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) has endeavored to redefine khadi as an aspirational fashion medium by partnering with many globally acclaimed Indian designers, such as Ritu Beri, Sabyasachi, Wendell Rodricks, Rajesh Pratap Singh, Debarun Mukherjee, all of whom have experimented with this textile in their fashion creations. This has helped catch the attention of the millennials and Gen Z in India, opening up business opportunities in this segment. Large Indian corporate retail companies like Raymond, Arvind Fashion and Aditya Birla Fashion have collaborated with KVIC and included khadi fashion in their offerings, catalyzing the transformation of ‘the livery of freedom’ into ‘the livery of fashion.’

Though traditionally khadi is known to be sold in functional environments, experiential retail design, visual merchandising and customer-centric service are starting to redefine khadi shopping across all its retail formats – the corporate Store, the curated Boutique and the industry outlet.

The Corporate Store: RAYMONDS KHADI

Raymond Group, one of India’s largest fabric and garment retailer, recently partnered with KVIC to introduce a new line under the brand Khadi by Raymond. The agreenement signed, a first of its kind, states the khadi fabric is to be procured from about 2300 craftsmen clusters under KVIC and provides them technical support to create garments for Raymond’s popular fashion brands. This initiative, called “Story Re-spun,” is a pledge by Raymond to help rejuvenate traditional craft in collaboration with artisans and designers to create products that are relevant and compelling for consumers of today; the result of which is Raymond Khadi, an exclusive khadi store to offer its customers a complete khadi experience. Spread over more than 700 square feet on two levels, the store design is inspired from sustainable Indian village architecture and lifestyle in its forms and material palette. Store design and handcrafted visual merchandising help articulate the khadi story with great conviction and deliver an immersive khadi shopping experience. 

The Curated Boutique: MELANGE

Melange, the creation of designer Sangita Kathiwada, is an unassuming boutique popular among celebrity socialites for its chic fashion sensibilities. A repurposed wine cellar located in the basement of a 100-year-old heritage building houses its rich tradition of more than two decades of obsessively promoting natural hand-woven Indian textiles. The store has served as a creative hub and launch pad for many successful designers like Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Anuradha Vakil, Rahul Mishra and Kallol Dutta. The core offering of the store is the interpretation of luxury khadi textiles into cutting-edge Indian and Western designer wear coordinated with eclectic accessorizing. The store environment setting is very natural and varied with a touch of timeless vintage set in a palette of natural brick, wood and ‘discovered’ furniture. The intimate environment is an inspiring studio for the creators and the elite fashionistas who come to celebrate and wear a timeless mélange of hand-crafted styles. 

The Industry Outlet: KHADI GRAMODYA BHANDAR

Khadi Gramodya Bhavan, meaning ‘repository of khadi from villages’ are outlets owned or franchised by the KVIC to exclusively sell product categories like garments, beauty, wellness and packaged food in a convenience store format. Until 1969, the Bhavan was directly run by Khadi & Village Industries Commission, a statutory body of the government of India. The core objective of this organization is to provide employment to rural communities, relieving its residents of poverty. The stores are designed to be functional and basic with the clear objective of ‘stocking products’ that are sold to shoppers at affordable prices in a largely assisted service format. Today KVIC is testing new formats like experience centers and shop-in-shops in department stores, which will redefine the store experience in the near future.

It’s heartening to see how different stakeholders are coming together to sustain this industry. Product viability has been assured with the government’s support in offering tax rebates making it possible for khadi to be competitive in the market. Occupational viability has been ensured by KVIC with artisan-centric schemes that encourage the khadi craftsman community to grow. Finally, significant improvement in the shopping experience is evoking significantly higher preference for khadi fashion, which in turn is giving hope for the preservation of this traditional art forever.

Surender has more than two decades of experience in the Indian retail industry in retail strategy, store design, planning and development, retail marketing, visual merchandising, writing and academia. He’s held senior positions at leading retailers like Shoppers Stop, Reliance Retail, Mahindra Retail and as a senior retail consultant working with leading retailers and brands in India. Reach him at surenderg.retail@gmail.com.