Once upon a time, the ‘by default organic’ short-staple and indigenous variety of cotton, Wagad cotton, was the cotton of choice in the semi-arid region of Kutch. Its softness in contrast to its hardy nature — since it requires little to almost no water, no pesticides, and overall, very little care — made it perfect for the present-day situation of drought and water scarcity. However, Wagad lost its popularity, first to American cotton, and later to Bt Cotton, until the point that it was almost lost. To revive its demand, efforts by different organisations including that of Khamir were underway.
These efforts slowly started bearing fruit. In 2011-12, Wagad got an organic certification, which to some extent helped improve its stand in the market. Later on, it also went on be rebranded as Kala Cotton, where ‘kala’ means cotton pod — the core of the cotton.
While today, Kala cotton has made an appearance across a few designer collections, enough to provoke curiosity in its re-emergence, the journey to this point, was not easy. Kala cotton’s short staple length makes it difficult to spin and weave, which, by extension, is a tribute to the dexterity of the weavers. Its coarse texture against the skin is a reminder of the tenacity with which it survives in the arid landscape.
Acting as a common thread, Kutch’s Kala Cotton connects farmers, pickers, ginners, hand spinners, weavers, hand block printers, natural dyers, tailors, and consumers in a supply-and-distribution network that’s reminiscent of India’s legacy of weaving khadi reinterpreted for modern markets. This, in turn, helps promote an indigenous species of cotton for textile production in tandem with the local ecology of Kutch and also facilitates forward linkages that provide sustainable livelihoods.
The different stages of this textile value chain include: harvesting of Kala Cotton by farmers (the culmination of months of planting and tending, and the most important step before Kala Cotton begins its traceability journey), hand-picking of the cotton, ginning of the cotton (where the cotton is separated from the seed), hand spinning into yarn (usually done on amber charkhas: a four spindle, hand-operated wooden spinning wheel, ideal for spinning cotton and other fine, short-staple fibers), the preparation of warp and weft yarns, weaving of the yarn into cloth on handlooms (most often shuttle looms — Pit looms and frame looms), and the further processing into fabric, garments and other finished products.
Stepping away from the global environmental injustice of fast fashion, Khamir’s Kala Cotton Initiative envisions a world where ethical fashion becomes the norm and not just an alternative. Kala Cotton Initiative is an example of a holistic approach for marginalized farmers, spinners, ginners, and weavers. The cumulative result is that the value chain of Kala cotton that had deteriorated for decades is now exhibiting a resurgence.