Madhya Pradesh-based KhaDigi weaves success stories for women in rural areasRekha Balakrishnan
Founded by Umang Sridhar, KhaDigi is a handcrafted fabrics company that sources different types of khadi from a region that was once infamous for dacoits.
Khadi, once a symbol of Gandhian philosophy and later of India’s political class, is enjoying a revival on the fashion scene. The fabric is finding a place everywhere from the catwalk to high-end boutiques and high-street stores - not just in India but also abroad.
Spearheading the khadi revolution are a number of young women entrepreneurs. Among them is Bhopal-based Umang Sridhar of KhaDigi, who is going a step further by sourcing the fabric from the villages of Madhya Pradesh. Her enterprise is also financially empowering women in the region.
Fifty-four-year-old Dhanwanti bai is one such woman. She grew up in a region where women were not allowed to go out without men, unless it was to work in the fields. Sometime in 1995, she learned the art of spinning, which gave her an opportunity to earn a living thanks to khadi. There are hundreds more like her working with KhaDigi.
The big dreams of a small-town girl
The story of KhaDigi begins with Umang’s small-town roots and big dreams. Born into a conservative family in Kishunganj, a small village in the Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh, Umang says her parents always wanted their children to study and do well. After her schooling, she joined the University of Delhi, where she did very well.
“I always considered myself very fortunate to be born in a village as it made me experience things in a more real way and that’s what led me to take up this dream of becoming social entrepreneur and working specially for women in rural areas,” says Umang.
That burning desire resulted in KhaDigi, an innovative handcrafted fabrics company she started in 2013, that works from villages in Madhya Pradesh. Interestingly, the name KhaDigi fuses two elements – the most traditional fabric in India khadi with the digital revolution that was the way forward. It was at a competition organised by the Ministry of Textiles in 2015 that they came up with this concept by combining the two and using digital printing processes on khadi.
“Currently, we spin the yarn in Jaura, Morena (Madhya Pradesh) working with women in the famous dacoit region. We employ 70 women artistans, and weave the fabrics in Maheshwar, best known for its Maheshwari sarees. We are a B2B fabric company, which only supplies fabrics and corporate gifts for the industry. Our clients include (designers like) Gaurang Shah and Ayush Kasliwal, as well as Reliance,” says Umang.
KhaDigi goes a step further by training women in the region in weaving and spinning. “As the industry is shifting towards sustainable fashion, there is a high demand for khadi and natural handmade fabrics. But the industry is highly unorganised, and therefore the availability is limited. We sell directly to retailers and designers who work on sustainable fashion and this tends to amplify our work,” she adds.
Umang believes that starting up in a small town has its own advantages. “Growing up, I saw women and children struggling in my village and after my graduation, I thought about what I could do for them.”
She adds, “I believe it’s good to stay local as we know the people that work for us and in case of any issues, we have their full support to find solutions. Also, initially, no one has huge amounts of money to invest and it’s good to stay local.”
KhaDigi started off as a bootstrapped company but has now been incubated by Startup Oasis, an incubation centre in Jaipur. In addition, a few individual investors are also helping KhaDigi to set up production centres in various clusters.
Umang was often warned against travelling to and working in rural areas. “I was asked not to travel alone by train because railway stations are not safe. But I did, and found it absolutely safe, and people were ready to help me, even at odd hours,” she says.
The support she gets from her family is important to her. “My parents have always been supportive and that’s what matters. But yes, people look at me as an ambitious woman and wonder how far I will go with my passion. Their concern pushed me to work hard towards my dreams,” she adds.
The response to KhaDigi has been tremendous and the company has so far produced and sold around 15,000 metres of fabric and is consistently getting repeat orders. On an average, it makes Rs 7.5 lakh in a month.
As for KhaDigi’s future plans, Umang says they want to set up 10 centres across the state by the end of 2020 and reach out to thousands.
“With these new centres, we will be looking at producing around 15 lakh metres of fabric. We want to make the lives of these women far more economically independent and equal.”