Leveraging the Rich Textile Heritage in India to Improve Livelihoods

Abhishek Pathak, CEO of Greenwear

Abhishek Pathak, CEO of Greenwear

Khadi is a term used in India to describe hand-spun and handwoven cotton fabrics. The word has long been synonymous with tradition and self-sufficiency. The craft of spinning and weaving khadi fabrics is ingrained in India’s history and culture, but some worry it is becoming a dying art, with more efficient production methods taking its place.

But for Abhishek Pathak, the CEO of Greenwear, khadi means sustainability, opportunity, and empowerment.

With a degree in Textile Design from the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Abhishek aims to bring design, innovation and technology to underprivileged and unorganized artisan communities. In 2018, Abhishek started Greenwear, a sustainable fashion company that uses renewable energy resources to create high-quality affordable textiles and garments.

Greenwear aims to benefit the livelihoods of their employees through increased financial security and stability. The company purchases yarn from a network of women using solar charkas – domestic spinning wheels used primarily for spinning cotton into yarn. The yarn is then woven into fabric by Greenwear’s ecosystem of 400 weavers.


Abhishek is a participant in Upaya’s 2019 Livelihoods Accelerator Program. Several weeks ago, Upaya’s team in India visited Greenwear to meet some of their jobholders and learn more about the company’s social impact.

Q: What key issues in India does Greenwear address?

A: “Greenwear addresses three issues simultaneously. The first is pollution. The fashion industry is the second-largest polluter industry in the world being responsible for 10% of its carbon footprint. Synthetic fibers (non-biodegradable) and chemicals used in textile processing are leading into micro-pollution in waterways including oceans.

“Second is poverty in rural India. 69% of the population lives in rural India and the majority (58%) is dependent upon agriculture. However, agriculture contributes only 24% to the rural GDP. Non-agricultural activities generate more than two-thirds of income in rural India. Textile manufacturing, which is a major contributor to the non-agro activities, contributes to only 18% of rural output but has been affected by safety and health issues of workers having unhealthy working conditions.

“Finally, women empowerment. Rural women make up 81.29% of the female workforce in India. Most of these women are agricultural laborers who work on someone else's land in return for wages. Also, close to 56% of the employed rural women are illiterate. It is very necessary to find a solution where a women-friendly work environment can be provided in non-farm sectors.”

Q. How did you become so passionate about this issue?

A: “While studying at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), New Delhi in 2009, I visited Maheshwar for a cluster development project to work with traditional weaving communities. It was an eye-opener to see the poor living conditions of weaver families while carrying a rich textile heritage. At that moment I decided to contribute to their livelihood in whatever possible way I could as a textile designer.”

Q. What was your inspiration for Greenwear?

A: I was inspired by the concept of ‘Khadi' and its potential towards improving the rural economy. While doing my research on ‘global issues in design', I came to know about Solar Charkha which was developed by MGIRI (Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Rural Industrialisation) and was convinced that this can become a tool for economic empowerment of marginalized women and artisan base.”

Q: How did your vision for Greenwear come to life?

A: “While leading textile and craft initiative of Drishtee Foundation, I was called upon by the then Minister of Micro Small and Medium Enterprises - Shri Giriraj Singh to share my thoughts on reforming Khadi and Village Industries through Solar Charkha with a focus on impacting rural women with increased livelihood opportunities and better working conditions. The idea that we could directly impact rural livelihoods, the environment, and conscious consumer base if we follow the concept of khadi, fused with technology to cater to the mainstream fashion industry came to life.

“The next step was to name this revolution, and I coined the term “Greenwear” – a brand/platform promoting textile value chain running on renewable energy resources. Later on, I was given the opportunity to lead ‘Bhartiya Harit Khadi Gramodaya Sansthan' under which the pilot of ‘Mission Solar Charkha' was done. To address the challenge of forwarding linkages to the solar charkha project, Greenwear was given a formal company structure and its first retail store was opened in Lucknow on 31st Jan 2018. The inspiration for Greenwear comes from the world's traditional textiles and crafts heritage and indigenous way of living.”

Q. What is your vision for your company?

A: “Our vision is to empower artisans with sustainable livelihood opportunities through global market exposure and reduce carbon footprints from the fashion industry.”

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Greenwear presents a new age of sustainable fashion which follows the concept of Khadi (household-based production), which is powered by renewable energy resources to create high-quality affordable textiles and garments. The goal is zero defects in products and zero emissions required in the production process. By being present throughout the supply chain of their offered products to ensure the highest quality to their customers, while at the same time directly benefiting the livelihood of their employees through increased financial security and stability.

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