Educational | Fashion Updates

The Art Of Upcycling Sarees

Published: December 28, 2023
Author: Fashion Value Chain

By Tanvi Munjal

In the vibrant streets of India, a revolution is brewing. Four Indian brands have taken up the mission of transforming traditional sarees into unique and remarkable products. Limón, I was a Sari, Sari Bari, and Mishcat Co are at the forefront of the upcycling movement, breathing new life into the timeless and elegant garment. 

The four brands have gained recognition in India and worldwide as people seek unique and sustainable products. They have opened new upcycling paths and created a robust social impact. From the Sari Chairs of Limon, Accessories & Apparel by I Was a Sari to the Kantha Embroidered Blankets by Sari Bari, each product symbolises India’s resilience, creativity, and cultural heritage. Through their work, they have managed to upcycle more than just sarees; they have upcycled lives, communities, and perceptions. They are a testament to the inherent creativity and resourcefulness deeply embedded in the Indian people. 

These brands are making a profound impact, one saree at a time, transcending boundaries and proving that even discarded fabrics can find new life and purpose in the most remarkable ways. Let’s look at their philosophies to understand these brands and their goals. 

Sari Chairs by Limón

Limón’s journey began with Aradhana Anand, a woman with a deep passion for creativity and a love for transforming a space into a home. After spending nine years as an oil freight trader, Aradhana left the corporate world behind and pursued her long-awaited dream. Aradhana had always possessed a knack for adding ethnic charm, patterns, and colours to the generic expatriate apartments of her friends. Constantly staying ahead of design trends and exploring her aesthetic preferences, she cultivated her skills and ideas while conceptualising Limón in the summer of 2015.

The hallmark of Limón’s collection is the Sari Chairs, which truly embody Aradhana’s innovative vision. She upcycles carefully selected sarees, transforming them into unique, one-of-a-kind chairs. Limón’s Sari Chairs not only bring a touch of Indian culture and tradition to any space but also showcase the artistic brilliance of the sarees’ intricate designs and vibrant colours.

In a world where mass production and uniformity often prevail, Limón is a shining example of how creativity, cultural heritage, and conscious practices could create something extraordinary. Limón’s saree chairs and other products are not just pieces of furniture; they are pieces of art, carrying with them the soul and spirit of India while shaping a more sustainable and beautiful future.

So, the next time you come across a Limón product, whether it’s a Sari Chair or any other upcycled creation, remember its incredible journey and exceptional creativity. Limón is not just a brand but a reflection of Aradhana Anand’s artistic brilliance and commitment to creating extraordinary pieces that add charm and character to any space.

Accessories & Apparel by I was a Sari

The Mumbai-meets-Milan label, founded by Stefano Funari, called I Was a Sari, comes with a strong belief in the power of upcycling. This brand is on a mission to make a bold statement through its range of accessories and apparel made from pre-loved Indian saris. Their team of local artisans, dedicated to preserving the rich heritage of Indian textiles, skillfully repurposes these saris into unique conversation pieces that can be worn to a meeting in Manhattan, a bash in Barcelona, or a Balinese retreat. 

‘I Was a Sari’ took its first breath in the bustling streets of Dhavari, Mumbai, in collaboration with the NGO Community Outreach Programme (CORP) in 2016. Inspired by the works of Professor Yunus, the Bangladeshi Nobel Laureate and founder of Grameen Bank, Stefano Funari founded ‘I was a Sari’ with the vision of creating sustainable products that make a positive impact on society, the environment, and the local community. The brand provides underprivileged women with new skills and financial independence by upcycling saris into contemporary apparel and fashion accessories.

The brand’s philosophy held steadfast to the belief that the most sustainable item already exists. With this ethos, ‘I Was A Sari’ scoured the colourful markets of Mumbai, sourcing raw materials from used saris and dead stocks. These vibrant textiles have become the foundation for their array of products, which soon found themselves in the hands of fashion enthusiasts worldwide.

Travelling from Mumbai to the world’s fashion capitals, ‘I Was a Sari’ showcased its bold accessories and fashion-forward apparel at prestigious events like the Lakme Fashion Week. Through these global exposures, the brand is shining a spotlight on the underdog garment of India, the docile sari, and redefining it as a symbol of style and sustainability.

Kantha Embroidered Blankets by Sari Bari

Sari Bari is a brand dedicated to empowering women through employment opportunities. Its mission is simple yet profound: to provide fair and fulfilling work to women who have faced the hardships of human trafficking. With every purchase from Sari Bari, customers are investing in a product and the life of a woman in need. 

Once victims of a cruel world, these women can channel their creativity and talents into creating exquisite handmade kantha products. The softness of the recycled saris is being transformed into beautifully stitched blankets. The artisan signs each product, a proud affirmation of their newfound independence. 

Kantha, derived from the Bengali word “old cloth,” is a traditional form of embroidery passed down through generations. It is a labour of love, where five layers of used sarees are carefully stitched together with a repeated running stitch. The result is a quilted masterpiece that marries functionality with beauty. Complimentary patches are used to mend tears and reinforce areas where the fabric has worn thin, adding a unique touch of artistry to each piece.

As the artisans pour their passion into each stitch, they find solace and empowerment within this ancient craft. In the words of Jasleen Dhamija from the Craft Council of India, “Kantha has traditionally provided women with space and time of their own with which they created this extraordinary art form. It is exclusively a woman’s activity where they can interact with other women and gain a sense of self.”

Sari Bari goes above and beyond to ensure the well-being of their artisans. Alongside paid training, the women receive regular well-woman check-ups, ensuring their health is a priority. School support for their children is also provided, as education is vital to brighter futures. As a testament to their commitment, Sari Bari offers health insurance and retirement benefits, setting a precedent for fair employment practices. 

As customers bring Sari Bari products into their homes, they become a part of the artisan’s story, connecting two worlds that were once worlds apart.

Once forgotten, the discarded sarees have found a new purpose – to bridge the gap between cultures, transcend borders, and remind us all that every small act of kindness can create a wave of change in the world.

Sari Silk Carpets by Mishcat Co

Ishrat Sahgal, the founder of Mishcat Co, was eager to challenge the traditional notion of sustainable luxury in the global design world. With a vision that aims to transform leftover sari scraps into exquisite carpets, Mishcat Co. embarks on a journey of upcycling and reimagining the beauty of Indian textiles.

Operating in the rural regions of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, Mishcat Co champions the cause of independent artisans and weavers who cannot relocate to urban areas or work in large-scale production houses due to various limitations. By collaborating with these talented individuals, the brand encourages the preservation of traditional crafts and empowers these artisans to showcase their skills and generate income within their communities.

One of the hallmarks of Mishcat Co’s carpets is their distinctiveness. Each carpet bore the unique signature of the artisan who painstakingly crafts it, resulting in a wide array of designs and textures. 

Creating these upcycled sari silk carpets is a labour of love. The finest leftover silk fibre, sourced from the sari industry, is carefully gathered, sorted, and hand-carded into spools of yarn. Each thread tells a story with vibrant colours, patterns, and textures. The artisans then skillfully hand-knotted these threads into exquisite carpets, celebrating the unique inconsistencies that can not be replicated by a machine or even by hand alone.

Mishcat Co. believes that a carpet should be more than just a decorative piece; it should be the cornerstone and foundation of a well-designed room. Each carpet is meticulously designed to evoke a sense of harmony and narrative within its adorned space. Ishrat Sahgal envisions these carpets as not merely functional objects but as works of art that transform any room into a masterpiece.

With every upcycled sari silk carpet, Mishcat Co empowers artisans, preserves traditional craft, and inspires others to make conscious choices regarding design.

Conclusion 

For those who wear and use these upcycled saree products, it is not just a fashion statement but a powerful representation of their support for women’s empowerment and a sustainable future. As these products find their way into the hands of fashion-forward individuals across the globe, the legacy of these Indian brands continues to grow, spreading the message that true beauty lies in giving a second life to what was once discarded.

In a world where fast fashion dominates, these Indian brands prove that style and substance can go hand in hand. Their commitment to upcycling saris, empowering women, and protecting the planet has not only created a market for sustainable fashion. Still, it has also challenged the narrative of traditional textiles as being docile and outdated. With each product sold, they are weaving together a brighter future for all – one thread at a time.

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