Building House of Khadi - An Ethical Fashion Label
Settling back at home after wintering in Goa, India, where I launched the House of Khadi beach boutique in Ashwem. Spring has sprung and Londoners have got a jolly little skip in their step! I’m stocked up to the eyeballs in House of Khadi lightweight UNISEX summer shirts and the future is looking good.
It has been nearly a year since I received the first swatches of the most divinely soft and lightweight cotton Khadi I had ever experienced. With my background in organic and sustainable businesses combined with my horror at disposable ‘fast fashion’ and its shockingly high levels of pollution (second only to the oil industry), prompted me to investigate the source of the Khadi further. Literally days later, my son - Mars - and I boarded a plane for Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal and my favourite Indian city with its intense full sensory overload. Often dubbed the intellectual capital, it’s also the birthplace of Indian modern literary and artistic thought and aptly dubbed ‘Mumbai on steroids!’
After several days of acclimatising and mooching about Sudder Street in New Market, eating many large meals... many times a day... relishing each and every perfectly spiced Biriani, our Khadi connection arranged to meet us at the Howrah Junction Railway (only 23 platforms). At every stop, along the three hour train journey, sellers would board our carriage selling from home made tin can containers everything from delicious muri (puffed rice), peanuts, chana (chickpea flower noodles), cucumber, onion, oil and sundry masalas to fluorescent plastic selfie sticks. Each seller singing a cute and often high-pitched little jingle in Hindi relating to their wares/product.
Following the rhythmic swaying at 60km/h and the jostling crowds coming on and off the train, we arrived deep into rural Murshidabad. We were then taken to a hotel where we slept like logs, in preparation for our 5am start.
At dawn with our quirky Khadi supplier and his audacious driver Rajan we drove at break neck speed for what seemed like an eternity. We passed ox carts, paper factories (with thin layers of wood drying on the fields), fruit, vegetable and grain farmers selling from hand woven baskets on the side of the road... and numerous other signs of small scale, sustainable industry. In fact, a most relaxing and beautiful sight, a far cry from the supermarket/shopping centre culture, that makes me so anxious. Those supermarkets the size of airports are the worst: “there’s a lady having a panic attack in aisle one! “
We had much ground to cover. We walked around the cotton fields, met the growers, spinners and weavers in the small villages. What a treat it was to see first hand a natural and harmonious community, the love and pride they all felt about their sacred cloth was truly heartwarming. Seeing families all living together, rather than separated because the parents have to leave their villages to go and work in big factories in and around the cities in order to support their children. What we witnessed really was Gandhi’s dream in action.
The fabric source given the full thumbs up, the next step was to find a Fairtrade factory with stringent quality control. A friend from Pants to Poverty put us in touch with a great Fairtrade factory that already produce shirts for some very big European names. With special Japanese ‘state of the art’ equipment - they are costlier than your average factory in India but we have peace of mind in knowing they only employ adults, the factory’s building and machinery are safe and they pay a decent and fair wage. All important foundations for an ethical business.
Back in London, my partner in developing the collection, Lily Gutierrez, was busy at home in Hackney designing our handwritten logo.
We modelled the shirt design on a classic western cut with a few essential tweaks and alterations. Essentially, we wanted to keep it classic, uncomplicated and most importantly, unisex.
My sister-outlaw Tania Smith designed us a simple and easy to use website www.houseofkhadi.co.uk and following our first production run, delivered September 2016, we launched a Kickstarter to raise money and awareness. We were successful and went over our target and Kickstarter gave us a ‘Campaigns We Love’ status, which was very gratifying. Our Kickstarter rewards included nightshirts, duvet sets, scarves and tote bags. The shirts and then duvet sets being the most popular. Check out the Kickstarter video:
House of Khadi crowd funder film by Chris Scott
Yesterday I went to London’s ‘March Against Monsanto’ in honour of the biggest wave of suicides among cotton farmers in India, strongly linked to the introduction of costly genetically modified seeds, fertilisers and insecticides. I was saddened to see such a low turn out, possibly due to everyones attention focused on our imminent upcoming General Election.
I am very open to sharing information and knowledge with other ethical and sustainable fashion designers and bloggers to strengthen the message of high standards of environmental awareness and eco-consciousness in our industry. Together we are stronger!
Love Rima x