Tag Archives: #anitamohan

I Found Ethically Sourced Sarees: Tapestries of Resilience

The other day, while airing out and refolding my sarees, I realized I hadn’t bought a saree in many years! A few days before Deepawali and my birthday, I knew I had nowhere to go but that was no excuse –  after almost a year into the pandemic, I wanted to look and feel good. 

I am a bit wary when it comes to buying sarees. An experience I had a few years ago changed how I shopped for sarees. A smart and savvy salesperson at a store was pressuring me into buying a saree. Through casual conversation, she told me weavers spend 12-14 hours each day weaving the saree and dyeing it. Each saree, she said, takes 20-25 days to complete and many times weavers forgo their meals just to fulfill the suppliers’ demand, and they get paid Rs 100-150 ($1.50-2.00) a day depending on the type and design of the saree. The silk saree I had selected was priced at Rs 5,600 ($80) but the weavers had only gotten paid about Rs 2,000 ($30) for all the hard grueling work they put in. I walked out of the store feeling terribly sad for the weavers. I decided then, if ever I bought a saree from a store or online, it would be from someone who valued the hard work of the weavers and compensated them rightfully. 

Many of these weavers and artisans are daily wage workers who work in extremely poor conditions and are not treated well. Their hands and body take a beating because of the long hours they put in. Added to this are the corrupt middlemen who stand to make a profit by paying these workers just a measly amount. If this is their plight in ordinary days, one cannot begin to imagine what they must be going through during these times when Covid has literally snatched their livelihood away. Also, weavers don’t get their jobs back until the existing stocks are all sold. With business affected, weddings, and festive gatherings postponed, these artisans are literally left to fend for themselves! With nowhere to turn they are forced to look for an alternate livelihood. Though tremendously skilled in their art many of them lack the technological skills to sell their weaves directly and hence are exploited by the middlemen.

Sarees are a symbol of our culture and heritage, and they are associated not only with our stories and sentiments but every saree also has the weaver’s emotions, identity, and voice woven into it. We simply cannot let their looms go silent and their voices die. 

Hence, while shopping for sarees online, I look for organizations and vendors who work directly with the weavers and give them their rightful dues. That was when I stumbled upon Shobitam (meaning Grace in Sanskrit) started by two enterprising sisters Ambika and Aparna, right here in the US. What drew me to them was not just their beautiful, unique, and aesthetic sarees but their generous philanthropic work. 

The sisters are not just your regular entrepreneurs on a mission “to help women look good, feel good, and do good” but also believe in giving back to their weavers and artisans. They consider the weavers their backbone “and it is their work behind the beautiful sarees.”

Shobitam “wants to be evangelists for them and give back, their goal is to make a difference and popularise lesser-known weavers.” Seldom do we come across a small business that has incorporated this philosophy in its infancy. 

Shobitam launched a program Shobitam Cares at the onset of the Covid-19 lockdown in India. More than 50% of the proceeds from summer were used to provide grains and other edible essentials to 800+ families across our weaving communities in India. Shobitam Cares also empowers rural women, encourages kids in these families to go to school, and adopts ethical and sustainable environmental best practices. After the lockdown restrictions were eased, “we continued our efforts to give back to the community with our initiative called Shobitam GIVE”, which helps non-profit community organizations in the USA who are doing good work and helps with food and education for children.  

Shobitam’s other mission is to popularize lesser-known weaves, art, and educate customers about handlooms and the work that happens behind the scenes. They have been promoting Madurai Sungudi cotton sarees making customers and weavers happy. Similarly, due to the penetration of synthetics and unnatural methods of production, oftentimes, customers are unaware of what goes into the making of Handloom silk or a Kalamkari art or a Vegan silk saree, so Shobitam has taken upon this to give these artisans a much-deserved boost.

Ambika and Aparna are not only making women of the Indian subcontinent look and feel good but are also crusaders to the weavers and their families they work with. And yes, I ended up buying more than one saree from them! 


Anita R Mohan is a poet and a freelance contributor who loves to write on various themes. She mainly writes about women, India, Indian life, and culture. 

Six Yards of Draped Emotions

Until recently, traveling to India meant carrying a half-empty suitcase, so it could be packed with saris to be brought back to the US. But as the Indian immigrant population began to grow, the second suitcase was no longer necessary. We have gone global and so have our methods of expression. I can find any type of sari at a local shop near me, as I would in the sari shops lining the streets of Abids in Hyderabad.

The quintessential Indian drape, 6 yards of sheer fabric or the Sari, has been a trusted sakhi for all women of all ages and personalities. The word Sakhi comes from Sanskrit, meaning girlfriend – a friend with whom you shared your innermost secrets, a friend for life. South Asian women feel connected to their roots, in a foreign land, whenever we drape ourselves in a sari, our fond sakhi. We feel her embrace and forget our inhibitions. 

“Sari stores thrive in many Indian enclaves in America. Among the largest is India Sari Palace in New York, with a vast inventory from India, as well as Japan. Many in the Indian community wear mostly saris, and so there is a constant demand even in America. Just looking at the stores in ‘Little Indias’ across America indicates the sari market is thriving. In the 60s, many women were reluctant to wear saris in the US, afraid they would stand out. But in multicultural America…there seems to be a new pride in one’s roots.”, writes Lavina Melwani, “And why not? After all, there is quite as graceful as a sari.” 

The sari drape got revolutionized by Garden Vareli, a brand that used women who were modern, bold, and draped the sari in novel ways.

Garden Vareli’s marketing expert, Santosh Sood, emphasized, “We had a sari ad that celebrated the sexuality of women unabashedly, but without being vulgar. A woman does not always have to be somebody’s mother, daughter, wife or sister. She is she and that is her identity.” 

Thus began the sari revolution. It no longer was the attire of the homemaker or of the average middle class. It was a bold fashion statement. Navroze Dhondy of Garden Vareli, commented, “For the first time, it was a shift from the sari being perceived as boring, everyday wear without any sensuality to a smart, bold and sexy attire meant for the modern woman.”  

Princess Niloufer

But long before Garden Vareli, Princess Niloufer of Hyderabad and the daughters of Vijaylakshmi Pandit were refashioning the sari and making its presence known, globally. The sisters, Nayantara Sahgal and Rita Dar, after their graduation in the summer of 1947 from Wellesley College, went to Mexico on a visit and met the legendary painter and fashion icon, Frida Kahlo, and dressed her up in the traditional Indian attire.

Princess Niloufer, a Turkish princess, learnt to drape a sari when she got married to Prince Moazzam Jah, son of the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1931, and was always seen in a sari even when overseas. 

The sari today has become an expression of who the person is and of their style. Women are not draping them in just the traditional way but are experimenting with their drapes. Blouses are being replaced by Crop tops and fashionable blouses, t-shirts, and jackets. Belts are being worn to hold the pleats better and some saris also have a pocket for your cell phone. The sari, itself, is being draped over pants and skirts and isn’t necessarily worn with a matching blouse. 

The function of the sari has expanded beyond the function of the home. Women are not only walking and exercising in a sari but also running marathons.

But more importantly, there are Sari Sakhis all over the world – friends who share their love of saris and its utility. The sari connects, empowers, and gives voice to South Asian women, regardless of how far apart they may be.

Saree Speaks: A Revolution

Saree Speak Members: Yogita Pradip Hudekar (right), Sunayana Mundra (middle), Namita Arora (left)

Vini Tandon Keni, sari influencer and founder of the group, Saree Speak, has managed to start a sari revolution! Founded in April 2016, the group has 144,722 women of South Asian diaspora including many celebrities and movie stars like Kalpana Iyer, Anita Kanwal, Himani Shivpuri, Indira Krishnan, and the famous designer Anita Dongre. I spoke with Vini Tandon Keni to get more insight into the sari revolution:

AM: Other than your love for saris, what inspired you to start this group? 

VT: To encourage and make draping saris more acceptable and friendly to the younger sari wearer.

AM:  Being a member of this group, I know that you not only decide the theme of each month but also encourage members to share their personal stories and stories associated with each sari. Is this why the name Saree Speak was chosen or is there another reason as well? 

VT: Speak is the common name for all my groups. Another word for ‘voice’, another word for ‘share’. When you share you add to your joy or reduce your fear.

AM:  How do you inspire your members?

VT: We try to promote the unconventional styles that have come up, to add interest to the sari. Give it a variety, make it the fashion-forward.

Sari Stands

The sari has withstood the test of time, the pressures and struggles. It has fought to keep its place against the salwar kameez, trousers, jeans, capri, churidar, tights, and the palazzos, and became its own entity. And as Tandon says – every sari has a story. Just as we wear our scars, we women wear our saris, close to our hearts with pride and with joy. 

So we drape ourselves in six yards of fabric, layered with our emotions, identities, and voices. We remain wrapped in the warm embrace of our sakhi, our friend, our modern armor – our sari.

Anita R Mohan is a poet and writer based in Fairfax, Virginia.