Aathira and Shama Nimkar
The sari is an integral presence in the Indian wardrobe; one which also involves immense labour. With a view to familiarizing consumers with the weaving community, Kausalya Satyakumar, Ally Matthan and Apoorva Sadanand founded the Registry of Sarees in April this year.
“It is a social project aimed at enabling engagements between buyers and weavers, bringing them out of the village for people like us to learn from. We conduct learning events and weaver engagement programmes,” said Matthan who was one of the brains behind the 100 saree pact which went viral last year. The Smart Village Project organized on November 18-19 was one such programme. The government of Andhra Pradesh collaborated with the University of California, Berkely which aims at enhancing and facilitating weaver engagement programmes and learning events, all over the country. Describing its intent, Satyakumar said, “What they are trying to do is make all these villages self-sustaining, in the sense that healthcare, generation of employment and the entire cycle is completely within the village; so that the migration of labour, from the village to the city seeking alternate jobs, does not happen.”
In matters of fashion, there exists a predisposition towards associating any outfit with the designer label or the store it was purchased from. Little thought is given to the vast process that takes place before the finish product can be marketed by big brands. And the ones who get their hands down and dirty in this process enjoy even lesser recall value. The Registry hopes to bridge this gap between weavers and buyers.
The focus region of this initiative was the Mori village of the East Godavari district, Andhra Pradesh. The cotton handloom sarees produced by the weavers in the village were brought to the city for the urban saree-wearing community. The 280 Mori sarees came down to 30 pieces in no time. “Many of them bought 5-7 sarees as they were extremely well-priced,” said Satyakumar who is the textile expert among the trio. The sarees cost anywhere between 650-3000 rupees.
The exhibition in Bengaluru was put up at Areev Store tucked away in the interiors of Domlur. In the core of the quiet lanes, the exhibition at this place managed to attract a crowd and attain a maximum sale of its beautiful handloom sarees. Located on the second floor, this place is a warmly-lit tiny boutique with wooden interiors and just enough space to display their limited but arresting piles of sarees. They were arranged in different sections in order of the varying price range. The right- end corner had a scanty but eye-catching number of sarees lined up on hangers. This was the exclusive party collection or the ones which could be worn for special occasions. The artistically designed sarees have been incorporated with various fusions in the country. An exquisitely rare set of sarees carried Rajasthani print on Kanjeevaram silk. It portrayed the wildlife in that particular area accompanied with a contrasting set of colours, thus making it an exclusive collection for their customers. Besides the sarees, the store offered organic products like shampoos, face washes, oils, body lotions etc which are paraben- free.
In the predominantly agrarian Mori, the weaving community is facing a survival crisis. “The weavers wake up at 3 in the morning and work till 10 PM. But this gets them only 150-200 rupees. But if they work for a lesser amount of time as labour, they get 300 rupees,” explained Haritha who belongs to a weaver family herself. Currently pursuing a course in civil engineering, she hopes to construct energy-efficient buildings in the village
The lack of marketing is another reason why the commitment to this art is on the wane. “In Bangalore, no one knows about Mori sarees. Everybody is only interested in machine-made sarees,” lamented Haritha who has personally experienced the efforts involved in weaving handloom sarees. She expressed optimism about the Registry being a good platform to showcase their work.
On realizing that the learning events could not be economically sustained on their own, the Registry of Sarees fused the social idea with a business one. “That is why we have an e-commerce portal. Whatever we generate from there can be routed to such projects. We didn’t want to go to corporates asking for donations,” Satyakumar said.
The encouraging response to the Smart Village project indicates that the successor to the 100 saree pact is set on a promising path. The Registry of Sarees compels one to view the nine yards as much more than just a choice of clothing.