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'Promoting khadi is the mission of my life'

Last updated on: September 08, 2016 10:32 IST

The Desitude label

IMAGE: The Desitude label.

'Khadi is my passion. The only idea behind this start up is to promote and popularise khadi.'

He is a 25-year-old engineer who worships Mahatma Gandhi and C Rajagopalachari.

He walks around in a khadi kurta and mundu (dhoti), and not in a jeans and T-shirt.

His passion is not to be a financially successful entrepreneur but one who can promote and popularise khadi. He wants to do so by selling khadi jeans online to youngsters like him who otherwise are reluctant to buy khadi.

Siddharth Mohan Nair, bottom, left, from Palakad, Kerala, is an engineer who is studying to be a lawyer and preparing to be an IAS officer. He is also the accidental founder of Desitude, an online platform that sells khadi jeans.

Here is his interesting and unusual story as told to's Shobha Warrier.

Though my father was a businessman, I had absolutely no interest in becoming one. My ambition as a small child was to be an IAS officer. But when I secured poor marks in the 10th standard, I was sure that I would not become an IAS officer, rather I felt I didn't have the ability in me to pass the exam.

So I decided to be an engineer and joined the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University in Coimbatore. I chose energy and environment because of my ardent interest in nature and agriculture.

Unlike other kids of my generation, I was never into video games or television. I grew up playing in the mud, amidst trees, paddy fields and nature.

Even as a school student, I had this desire to preserve energy and not abuse the environment. So obsessed was I about saving energy that even when Palakkad burnt in summer, I refused to switch on the fans. Another obsession of mine was going around switching off lights and fans when nobody was in the room.

So, in a way it was but a natural progression for me to study energy and environment. I am also against heating up water and also cooling it; only natural water for me. Again my small way of saving energy.

The lecture that made him a vegetarian

When I was a student in Coimbatore, I happened to listen to a lecture by Dr Rajendra Prasad of The Energy and Resources Institute and it had such an impact on me that I turned a vegetarian from that day.

He said the carbon footprint left by meat eaters was very high compared to vegetarians, and that we had to spend 15 litres of water to get a kilogramme of meat on our plate.

He said if we wanted to be more environment friendly, it was better to have vegetarian food. As a lover of nature and environment, the information was an eye opener for me, and I decided to turn vegetarian that day.

Internship at TERI, volunteering at the Anna Hazare movement and working for Kiran Bedi

My plan was to study further on the environment and do something more in that field. But it was not to be. When I was in my final year of engineering, the Anna Hazare movement started in Delhi.

I decided to go to Delhi and be a part of the movement, and also do my final year internship at TERI in Delhi.

Rolls of denim khadi, that will be hand-stiched into jeans

IMAGE: Rolls of denim khadi, that will be hand-stiched into jeans.

I also wrote a mail to Kiran Bedi that I was an intern at TERI and would like to be a volunteer. To my surprise, within two minutes, I got a reply from her asking me to meet her. Instead of becoming a volunteer at the movement, I started working at her office.

As I helped her collect information for the book she was writing on the Lokpal bill, I learnt a lot about the bill. As I sat next to her, watching her do every work with so much energy, dedication, sincerity and enthusiasm, she became a very influencing and inspiring factor in my life.

I never saw her made anyone wait for her. As much as she valued her time, she gave extreme importance to the time of others too.

Another major change that happened in my life because of my proximity to her was I started reading books. She had a huge library in her office and she identified many books for me and encouraged me to read them. If I am a voracious reader today, it was all because of Kiran Bedi.

She also encouraged me to attend the coaching class for the civil service examination.

During that period, I also met Arvind Kejriwal with the intention of joining the Aam Aadmi Party, but he discouraged me, saying it was the time for me to study and not join politics.

When I didn't clear the civil service prelims, I decided to come back to Palakkad. My parents were happy that Kejriwal echoed what they had been telling me all along.

All the research I had done for Kiran Bedi had made me interested in law and I joined the Madras Law College in 2014.

The influence of Gandhiji and Rajaji and getting interested in khadi

Four years ago I converted myself to a swadeshi, wearing only khadi. The reason, of course was the Anna Hazare movement.

I had also participated in a few fasts with them and before every fast, they would go to Rajghat to pray. Soon, I started going there every Sunday to pray.

Certain principles of Mahatma Gandhi influenced me so much that I became a swadeshi and started wearing only khadi kurta pyjama. I also took a vow that I would only tell the truth.

When I got a chance to read about Rajaji, I became so fascinated by the man that I decided to change my attire to kurta and mundu. If he could go everywhere wearing the traditional south Indian attire with dignity, why not also follow him, I felt.

What attracted me about Rajaji's personality was, of course, his intellect and his strength of character. He could stand like a rock in front of a towering personality like the Mahatma.

My family and friends were aghast to see me in mundu. Many ridiculed me, many teased me, but nothing and nobody could change my decision.

In fact, my attire created a variety of reactions wherever I travelled. Once on the Delhi metro, some kids started singing Lungi Dance... then I had to explain to them that what I wore was not a lungi, but a mundu or dhoti in their language.

So enthralled was I of Rajaji's life that on my 23rd birthday, I gave myself the present of visiting the Tiruchengodu Gandhi Ashram he established. He had stayed there in a hut for 4 or 5 years.

Though I had been using khadi for a couple of years, for the first time in my life, there I got the opportunity to see khadi being produced.

It was a village starved of water, and if the villagers needed work, they had to go out. Those who were old and weak to travel, worked in the ashram. I saw a very old man who could hardly see even with thick glasses, bringing cotton fibre to the ashram and on seeing him, I felt if people like him worked hard to make khadi, it was our duty to promote it.

I tried influencing people of my generation to use khadi, but they were not impressed or influenced by my talk. And I had no idea how I would promote khadi.

Till I made a trip to Mumbai.

As I wore only khadi, in one of my travels to Mumbai, I went to the Khadi Bhandar to buy kurtas and to my surprise, I saw rolls of denim material made from khadi. When I found out that it was made only in Rajkot by the Sarvodaya Sangh, I made a trip to Siddharth Mohan Nair Rajkot to see how weavers worked.

What attracted me to khadi denim was the possibility of making khadi popular among the young generation, thus making them move towards swadeshi.

And an entrepreneur is born

I decided to be an entrepreneur and have a start up of my own, to popularise khadi among those in my generation.

I asked some of my friends to design a logo and create a Facebook page but I needed money to buy material initially. Luckily, a fixed deposit in my name matured at that time, so I took a loan of Rs 30,000 from my mother.

On March 22, with the Rs 30,000 loan, I started my venture by buying material from Ahmedabad for Rs 20,000 and kept aside Rs 10,000 for stitching them.

Later when I needed money to register the company and order labels, two of my friends came forward to invest Rs 10,000 each in the venture and they did it purely as friends and not as business partners.

I named my venture Desitude. From April, I have supplied 12 jeans and the initial orders came from my friends and cousins. But articles in the Kochi Post and Manorama Online after Independence Day gave us a big boost and it was only after that, strangers started enquiring and some, ordering too.

Though some people are put off by us asking for measurements, I insist on that. As I have seen how people toil hard to make khadi material, I want as much human involvement while stitching the jeans too. That’s why I insist on personal measurement so that the person who wears it, gets the feeling that it was made for him and not factory made.

My plan is to expand the number of khadi items under the name Desitude and not limit myself to denim jeans alone. Only then, I will be doing real khadi promotion.

Though two designers are selling khadi jeans for Rs 25,000 and Rs 10,000, I knew that any of the people I know can afford such high priced jeans.

If I want to promote and popularise khadi among ordinary young Indians, it has to be within their reach. That's why I decided to price it at Rs 3,500.

People ask me, is khadi not expensive?

As I have only three sets of clothes, I don't find it as expensive as people think.

The number again is because of the influence Mother Teresa had on me. I had read in her biography that she had only three sets of clothes. I then decided to limit my number of clothes also to three. If she used white with a blue border, my mundu is white with a black border. Now, nobody would ask me, did you not wear this yesterday?

Maybe I look odd selling denim khadi jeans wearing a mundu, but my argument is, my intention is to popularise khadi and not jeans.

I could make khadi popular among those of my generation only by giving them what they want, and that is jeans.

My dressing is a part of the swadeshi idealism I believe in. I believe in khadi. I also believe in our traditional attire, the mundu which is vanishing completely from society. I don't believe that we will not be modern if we wear a mundu.

Life as an entrepreneur

Creating a Facebook page for Desitude was easy, but I had no idea how to promote my venture. Even now, I do not know how to go about it in a professional manner.

The truth is, though it's a start up, I do not look at Desitude as a business venture.

This will never be my profession, my livelihood or a commercial venture because I plan to be a lawyer if I do not clear the civil service examination.

Through this venture, if I can help at least 2 to 3 villages, I will be extremely satisfied and happy.

Khadi is my passion. The only idea behind this start up is to promote and popularise khadi. It is a mission in my life, my passion and a part of my idealism.

Shobha Warrier /