First published in Huffington Post 23rd January 2017
It’s December 2016 and almost a month after our successful Kickstarter Campaign for House of Khadi.
I happily find myself in Goa, India, about to open a small House of Khadi shop in a section of Jade Jagger’s beach boutique, which she has kindly allowed us to inhabit for the season.
Insanely, it’s only three weeks after President Modi’s catastrophic decision to withdraw 500 and 1000 rupee notes from circulation, causing widespread panic, especially in the poorer rural communities where many do not have bank accounts. There simply wasn’t enough CASH to change for all those that flocked to the banks with their savings. The government had no idea how much money was in the black market. The current daily withdrawal limit is 2000 Rs (about £24) per day. The queues outside the banks are long. Average waiting time: three hours. Some tourists are deciding to fly to Sri Lanka and Thailand... it’s a total mess. I am a bit startled by the total lack of foresight and poor implementation on the part of the government - or am I? Uprising or revolution?
I first travelled to India in 1995. Took a taxi to Connaught Square, Delhi, as suggested by an old India head. The only shelter offered was a door-less room, housing a damp mattress (no sheet) proudly presented by a sweaty dude with gnarly Pan-stained, red and yellow, two-tone teeth. I spooned my lumpy backpack and tried hard to tune out the annoying dripping of a gloopy black liquid leaking from the ceiling into a bucket, several feet from my head. First thing in the morning, I left a crumpled handful of rupees on the front desk and hailed a cab to the domestic flight departures of Delhi Airport.
I decided to ease myself into India gently, using Goa as a stepping-stone. So, armed with an ‘old school’ fax from my Uncle showing a childlike pictorial map of how to find his beach house in Goa - a cluster of palm trees beyond a paddy field, a small church, pig toilet, track on the left, Arabian sea, house with a black door etc - I arrived in South Anjuna (the hot destination for those brave adventurers who travelled the ‘hippie trail’ overland to India in the 60s and 70s).
I spent several weeks of floating about the village, acquainting myself with its laidback residents, bumping into old friends and making new ones, drinking copious sweet chais, plain lemon sodas and lassis. I met a dishy young Sadhu who told me about a nearby town called Mapusa. I was feeling ready to venture out from this cosy bubble, so hired a TVS (known as a mobylette in Europe) and hit the road.
Since then I’ve dreamt of owning a Penthouse overlooking Mapusa, a vast open space, with hammocks, art and piles of fabric to muck about with. A fat fingered tailor on an old Singer, stitching my creations - Rima The Dreamer.
On my first day in Mapusa I purchased tons of fabric (including Khadi), ribbons, trimmings, embroidery, buttons, threads - fantasizing that I was a ‘real life’ fashion designer. I swanned around confidently for hours buying all this stuff . I felt awkward having three boys running behind me carrying bundles of fabric on their heads, but the material sellers insisted on it. So I plied them with extra refreshments and rupees at the end of the afternoon.
Back in Anjuna I sifted my way through the bundles wrapped in yesterday’s news. I matched fabrics and trimmings with my favourite items of clothing. Having grown up on Portobello Road, I had been collecting vintage clothes since I was thirteen. I hauled the huge bag to a local Nepali tailor and handed over my original pieces, explaining that I wanted them copied, but altered in quite radical ways.
I had never cut a pattern or stitched anything in my life. The day of reckoning arrived and 70% of the gear was colossally un-wearable, but the 30% that worked - really worked! I wore my wares for the next six months of travelling around India. I was thrilled, though not as much, I suppose, as someone with an MA in Fashion from St Martins. I hadn’t had a good start in schooling, so had found my own way.
I was fortunate to have had this experience in India, where it still is possible to be experimental through trial and error without being too out of pocket.
That was the beginning of a twenty-year addiction to making ‘collections’ in India, discovering more about Khadi, and of an auspicious romance which led to my only son, Mars, coming into the world a year later.
By Rima Sams