Khadi has a long history in Bangladesh. Fashion Design Council Bangladesh (FDCB) recently organised an event with selected best designers from India and Bangladesh to walk towards a 'Revival of Khadi' with innovative designs. Maheen Khan, President, FDCB is a social entrepreneur, working extensively with local fabrics - khadi, cotton, silk, muslin. She has 3000 rural artisans working with her, towards her goal of placing Bangladesh's rich heritage on the global fashion map. Anurima Das, in conversation with Maheen Khan.
Khadi has a long history in Bangladesh. What is the present status of the khadi industry in the country?
Khadi and Gangetica Muslins are linked and it is historically found to have existed even in the early middle ages. There are many Archaeological sites in Bangladesh. Mahastangargh (Old City) and Somapura Mahavihara (Buddhist Monument-University) are two such. Artefacts found visually shows drapes of fine textile on the figurines. In later periods Mughals have also patronised this craft. Today Khadi industry is small with only a few families involved, in Comilla and at Gandhi Ashram Trust, Noakhali.
The recent Khadi festival was a two day affair to revive the historic khadi. What made you plan such an event?
I have been working in the industry for the past 30 years. Since 1986, I worked for BRAC for over 12 years. It is the largest NGO in Bangladesh. 2001 onwards I have become a social entrepreneur and run my own show. My work has always been set around the development and revival of our design industry. This effort is the first small step to create a road map so that we can again find ways to patronise our hand spun hand woven textiles.
The event saw designers from both India and Bangladesh designing with Khadi to bring a revival. How do better designs help in the longer run to market Khadi?
18 Bangladeshi and 6 Indian designers participated at the festival. We have worked on producing fine quality Khadi weaves in Bangladesh as currently only heavy Khadi yarns in 20 and 40 counts are produced with Desi Charkha. 100 and 150 count yarns produced with Ambar Chakha were imported from India. All the designers in Bangladesh were supplied with many different varieties of dress goods and saris woven in Bangladesh. The designers were inspired to develop collections. The results were magnificent. We are confident, if better quality Khadi is produced we will definitely create a market for Khadi.
Whenever a designer tag gets attached to a piece of garment the prices shoot up. Do you think the revival will then suit the cause of the masses or will it again be a niche achievement?
In order to give Khadi a second coming we will have to bring awareness about the story behind the product. A mill finished product is mass produced through a mechanised process. It can therefore cater to the masses. But Khadi is no longer a budget fabric as it is hand processed fabric. If we value the labour then the cost must reflect the true value.
Khadi you say is the future. Slogans during the show where taken, to stop using foreign fabrics and switch to the desi Khadi. How do you plan to take this initiative forward post the event?
Yes it is the future fabric. It breathes well, comfortable. Can be produced in variable counts and weight. It has the lowest carbon foot print. Can become completely green in vegetable dyes. There is a great deal of interest in such fabric locally and internationally. People everywhere are concerned about their choices. We will need to have a planned activation. First step to ensure quality yarns and weaves.
Handloom in India and Bangladesh is a weak link within the textile chain. How far is this true in your purview?
In Bangladesh like in India the traditional textile belts are still producing Handloom textiles. But the interest in power loom is growing fast especially for dress goods but not saris.
Do you think initiatives like the Khadi festival can change the scene for the industry in the nearer future?
In Bangladesh this is the first time an initiative of this scale was taken to promote Khadi. It is a positive step to build awareness. It was extremely well received by the audience and media. We are very enthusiastic about the future.
Holding on to the roots and transferring back to hand-woven fabrics. How difficult or easy is it to sustain with this idea?
Bangladesh has tradition of handwoven saris. Jamdani are hand woven loom embroidered pieces. Tangail and Pabna Saris are also handwoven. We also produce beautiful hand woven checks as dress goods and lungis. But unfortunately most of these are woven with mill yarns. We can sustain this idea in the long run if it is properly manifested.
You mentioned about rural development and women employment. Tell us about the programmes undertaken by you so far.
In Bangladesh women are empowered in the rural areas through various income generating activities. The homegrown industry employs over 2 hundred and fifty thousand skilled artisans most women. More can be done to achieve our social and sustainable goals. I have about three thousand people working with me.
How are you eyeing at the Khadi exports in the near future?
Khadi is an extremely environment friendly product. It has great potential especially in countries where they take green fabrics very seriously.