Khadi is a hand spun and hand woven fabric. Made and worn in rural homes, khadi became the symbol of India’s freedom struggle; and in Gandhi’s own words, “the spirit” of Swadeshi, a movement promoting Indian goods he started in 1918.
When Bess Nielsen founded Khadi & Co in 2004, the Danish designer wished to convey the true spirit of khadi, and promote the remarkable skills of Indian weavers. She first traveled to India in 1976, when she was working as a freelance stylist in the fashion industry. She felt at home immediately, fascinated by a culture where textiles played a vital role in everyday life. She met with textile artisans, weavers and embroiderers, and discovered khadi.
Khadi and Co is Bess’s personal project. “I’m deeply moved by Gandhi’s message. Hand spinning has become such a rare thing. The philosophy of khadi is still on people’s minds, but more like a sporadic need to go back to the basics of the Freedom Movement.”
With Khadi &Co, Bess ventures towards classic yet highly practical colours and fibres, a stark contrast to the contrasting prints seen previously from her fashion forward label, Epice (see image below). In reaction to the commercial market, this range evokes a strong ethical awareness, as the production of these fabrics supports families across India, helping them on the road to self -employment.
The designer has settled down in Paris but often travels to India to meet with workers. She buys the yearly production of two different villages. Cotton and silk fabrics are made in West Bengal and pashmina is produced in Northern India. The techniques used in handcrafted textiles have barely changed in the past five thousand years. The cotton is locally grown and the silk is locally harvested. A weaver, Bess has immense respect for the skills of the artisans. Handmade textiles are a slow, labour intensive process, so production costs are high. She runs a sustainable company and knows buying khadi at a fair price is the right thing to do, so “little girls can be sent to school. I need to know the spinners and weavers live and work in good conditions.”
Bess’s colour range includes white, red, black, indigo blue and occasionally, green and yellow. The yarn is dyed prior to weaving, using natural dyes or few chemical pigments to ensure colour fastness. She loves to use Indian textile techniques such as block printing, ikat weaving and tie dye, but her simple, modern style comes from her Scandinavian background. A former Fine Arts student in Copenhagen and Stockholm, she’s created a subtle mix that blends her Nordic heritage with her passion for India. White cotton with red stripes, a black pashmina with an edge suggesting a saree border, are a few examples of her pure, elegant designs.
Selvedge stocks a range of Khadi & Co goods, which you can see here.