The Khadi and Village Industries Commission is the agency at the forefront of the manufacture, sales and promotion of khadi in India. Its chairman Vinai Kumar Saxena tells Ivinder Gill about the new initiatives that are giving a fillip to the production and image of khadi. Edited excerpts:
Khadi Udyog has always been seen as an agency with desi, uncool stuff. But that’s changing now. You are stocking jeans in your showrooms, have roped in Ritu Beri to design for you, have orders worth crores for your products. What is the thought behind this recent change?
If you really want to survive in the market, you have to be modern. You have to be competitive. We have to be right there with the others. Earlier, we were banking on the Khadi name, but now things have changed. The price competitiveness, the quality—these are the parameters we are accommodating. We are even participating in the tenders process, which was not done earlier, and are taking orders based on that.
Is there a specific plan to take Khadi as a brand or symbol to make it relevant in modern times?
Khadi can be called our national fabric. Unfortunately, the plus points of khadi have never been projected. For example, khadi has zero carbon footprint, which is very relevant in today’s time. It is the most environment-friendly fabric. There’s no need for electricity or any machines or fuel to make khadi. It is called an ‘air-conditioned’ material because in winters, it’s warm and in summers, it keeps you cool because it is porous, handspun and handwoven. These qualities were never projected. But we are trying to change that with our awareness campaigns.
We installed the world’s biggest charkha at Terminal 3 at the international airport in Delhi. It serves as a memorial for khadi artisans who have contributed to the nation, and not just in the freedom struggle.
People have also started supporting khadi not as part of charity, but as a fabric they want to wear, which is really important. Moreover, khadi has the power to provide employment in the remotest areas of the country. And we are doing our best to promote this. Gandhiji had said that the charkha will be useful even after independence. This is so true. With minimum expenditure, one can earn with respect. That is the power of the charkha. It requires no infrastructure, no formal qualification and there’s no age bar. I have seen an 82-year-old woman in Saharanpur earning R100-R150 a day weaving khadi. The charkha can be a tool for economic independence.
You have tied up with Air India and Indian Railways already. Any other agencies that have given you big orders?
From Railways, we got an order worth R40 crore and, from Air India, we got an order worth R11 crore to supply amenity kits for first-class and business-class passengers. NTPC has given an order to supply 23,000 silk jackets worth R5.5 crore. JK Cement has gone completely khadi. All employees at its plants, schools, colleges and hospitals wear khadi. We have opened outlets at the Income Tax Bhavan in Mumbai, where there are 5,000 employees just for khadi.
The Prime Minister’s Office buys file covers from us. The uniform of their staff is also supplied by us.
Is this plan to promote khadi a sustained, long-term model?
Definitely. The basic aim is to create employment, not generate profit. Our success lies in creating employment. And how will employment be created? When the sales will go up, naturally the production will go up. When the production is up, the artisans will get more work hours. So it’s a chain. That’s why we are focusing on marketing. Fortunately, the government is also very positive. The reason behind the Prime Minister’s vision is that we should generate employment in rural areas.
So if you were to define the KVIC’s goals, is it to promote and keep khadi relevant or generate employment. Or both?
It is both. Khadi has sentimental value also; it has participated in the freedom struggle. At the same time, it has the power to generate employment. That’s why it has a different value. I want to connect people from two angles. This is a fabric that has participated in the national freedom struggle and now, by buying this fabric, you are supporting the rural artisans.
We see big swanky Khadi showrooms in metros and big cities. But what about smaller cities where they still look very dull?
We have reserved R50 crore this year to modernise khadi outlets across the country. And we have seen that once the store is modernised and made air-conditioned, sales go up manifold. But we can’t modernise in a day. We have 7,060 outlets across the country. It is a huge organisation. It will take some time.
What about the franchise model?
We are launching franchises very soon. We advertised for it and have shortlisted 14 candidates and, I think, they will get franchises in a month or so.
You have roped in Ritu Beri to design for you. Are you planning to rope in more designers?
This is another way to popularise khadi. We have recently launched her collection, Vichar Vastra, and it’s selling like hotcakes. The fabric is provided by us, and the designing, dyeing, accessories, etc, are done by her.
We already have 45 designers on our panel. They are also designing and supplying to the KVIC. But when we rope in a person like Ritu Beri, things get a different fillip.
Are you also planning to rope in celebrity brand ambassadors?
Vichar Vastra has been worn by many prominent people. Film stars have also been requested and they have agreed. The process is going on.
Transcribed by Nitin Sreedhar