Meet Paul Raj, the master weaver of the iconic Gandhi shirts

Paul Raj weaver
Paul Raj and family at their weaving unit

For Paul Raj and his family ‘khadi’ (hand-spun natural fibre cloth) is not just a means of livelihood but a unique dream and a special project. In fact, his wife Paneerselvi would say that the crisp and soft fabric is Paul Raj’s greatest passion. Paul Raj has been working in the khadi textile industry for 38 years, having spun and weaved thousands of meters of khadi cloth. Now, everyone in his family is a weaver of khadi. After completing their education, Paul’s son and daughter too have joined their father in his business. While his son Aravind is a fashion designer his daughter Archana is a weaver who has completed expert training in it.

Paul Raj was a 16-year-old boy when he migrated to Kerala from the border town of Marthandam in Tamil Nadu, in 1984. He began his career in the textile industry by working as a tailor in a few private firms in Ranni and Melukara. He continued here until 1989. Paul then boarded a train to Bombay to gain experience in the booming textile industry of the megacity. After six years he returned to Melukara. In 2001, Paul opened his own tailoring unit in Aranmula. Soon, Paul earned a name for himself as a master who could perfectly stitch the ‘Gandhi’ shirt which is a prominent brand of khadi. He prepared elegant Gandhi shirts for the brand until 2005.

Surviving the tough times

Paul’s Gandhi shirts soon became a hit and were a regular item in the wardrobes of the common man. However, the authorities transferred the quotation for this item to other companies. This was a blow to Paul and his stitching unit. Around twenty five employees were not only staring at uncertainty about their jobs but the loss of a steady income too. However, Paul was not ready to give up yet. To save his employees Paul purchased khadi clothes from other khadi firms and began stitching the shirts. He even introduced it as his own brand. However, the sales didn’t take off as his products didn’t have the official certification of the khadi. A Khadi certification is mandatory to produce and sell products that are made using the handspun khadi cloth. He contacted Prime Minister Narendra Modi, requesting him for a Khadi certification for his products. In 2016, Paul’s brand got the individual Khadi mark. This indeed is an amazing feat as his brand is the only one in Kerala that has an individual Khadi mark. But, Paul’s woes didn’t end there. He faced difficulties in doing wholesale business. To solve this, Paul approached the former industries minister Giriraj Singh. As per the latter’s instruction, Paul registered a Centre for Rural Employment and Economic Development Society (CREED) under the Khadi Village Industries Commission. It was Minister Smrithi Irani who inaugurated the society in a colorful ceremony.

The deluge

Paul’s society received 10 handloom machines and 10 charkas (traditional spinning instruments) under the self-employment scheme promoted by the district industries center. He decided to open a Khadi Bhavan or a store to sell his products. The gushing floodwaters washed away the weaving unit and the spinning unit of the Khadi Bhavan that was soon to be opened in Aranmula. This forced him to give up his dream, at least for a short period of time. But, the flood relief funds donated by the Cochin shipyard proved to be a ray of hope for Paul Raj and his employees. The fund had helped them recover from the losses to a certain extent.

The ‘Bodhi’ way

It was the shirt stitching unit called ‘Bodhi’ that he had started in 2019 that marked Paul Raj’s incredible success in the khadi textile industry. As the fabric is washed before stitching, the shirt doesn’t shrink and the color stays put. The online sale of these shirts would begin soon.

The dream

In the khadi industry, Karnataka khadi, Payyannur khadi, Kannur khadi, Asara khadi and Bengal khadi are some of the varieties that have the most number of takers. Paul Raj’s biggest dream is to make Aranmula khadi one of the prominent varieties. He wishes to turn Aranmula, a culturally bountiful city, into a haven of pure khadi apparel too. He also plans to open an exclusive khadi designer studio to attract youngsters to khadi products. Paul Raj and his family have dedicated their lives to khadi and to turn this indigenous industry into a world-class apparel destination. 

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