A Khadi Renaissance
The freedom fabric is on revival mode, with models and celebrities donning it on the ramp, and fashionistas overseas embracing it as the ‘fabric of the future’. As the brouhaha over khadi envelopes the world of fashion, two designers in the heart of Bengaluru are quietly labouring to galvanise weavers and spinners in Karnataka and to instate khadi as an easy-to-manage contemporary textile boasting multiple advantages. RITZ meets Ravikiran and Chandrashekar, who started Metaphor Racha to celebrate the spirit of khadi.
Metaphor Racha is an artistically chic studio cocooned in a leafy lane in the Jayanagar neighbourhood in Bengaluru, housing a range of women’s apparel and home furnishings. They make short kurtis with copper metal buttons, knee-length kurtas, striped jackets, and dresses in shades of grey, cobalt, spruce, lapis and navy blue. There’s also a collection of tie ‘n dye dupattas and tasselled stoles, hand-embroidered in the kasuti pattern.
“A collection of sarees woven by women from Shirahatti has just come in,” exclaim Ravi and Shekar excitedly, pointing towards a rack with sarees in grey, cerulean, vermilion, burnt orange, indigo and teal, some bearing fish and bird doodle prints that are juxtaposed with geometric block prints.
Not just sarees, but every other product that lines their store is handcrafted by weavers from villages in Karnataka, with whom Ravi and Shekar work closely through co-operative institutions. The entire process is done manually by the artisans, right from spinning, dyeing, warping, weaving and printing; with khadi being the fabric. “Karnataka khadi is far more authentic in terms of texture and quality. We want to provide a market for the khadi artisans of our state who toil to produce such fine products. Though Karnataka khadi is coarser as compared to the fabric produced in other states, we feel the beauty of khadi lies in its coarseness,” says Shekar.
The apparel at Racha (the word’s a combo of Ravi and Chandrashekar) flatters the wearer, with everything from the stoles to the sarees being fluid, free-flowing; and easy to drape, style and carry. Their typical customer is the working woman, “and also people who look for value-based and sustainable products. In that sense, people who buy our products could be of any age group,” states Ravi, going on to add that khadi not just looks and feels great, but provides comfort and doesn’t crumple easily.
Their collections are replenished every 45 days or so. “There’s no spring/summer or autumn/winter collection as such for us as our weavers weave every single day,’’ says Ravi. Their most recent collection had apparel in the subtle tones of grey, slate, ocean blue and denim. The next one will see cream and off-white providing a rich contrast against maroon. A quick look around the store would indicate that the two like to underplay their hues. Ask them why and pat comes the reply, “We have to use chemical dyes since natural dyes are not really made in Karnataka and also require a lot of water. Since we use chemical dyes, we like to keep colours to the minimum”, says Shekar.
Though the venture started in 2011 with Racha selling through pan-India exhibitions, the store opened only last year and witnesses a footfall to sales conversion rate of almost 100%. Ravi and Shekar like to be present in the store, “spend time with prospective customers, guide them through, explain the nuances of khadi and provide them with not just a purchase, but a holistic experience.”
The next step for Racha is to go online. “But we’re apprehensive as we’re not really clued into e-commerce and unlike e-retailers, we cannot afford to give discounts and freebies,” says Shekar, to which Ravi adds that the store provides a touch-and-feel experience which can get missed while making an e-purchase. But in this day-and-age, online is a channel that cannot be overlooked. An e-presence would also bring them closer to customers overseas, a segment which is highly lucrative, as they’ve been already receiving a healthy dose of enquiries from Japan, America and other countries. “We’re looking at starting a range of apparel for men, as we’ve been asked repeatedly about a men’s khadi collection,” says Ravi.
When will Racha designs been seen at fashion shows, we ask. “We don’t really need the ramp as we have social media and our exhibitions to see us through. We’re also not very fashion-driven per se. For us, fashion is to cut and stitch!” say the two friends and business partners.