Vivacity

Sabya challenges sari-wearing myths

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Sabya challenges  sari-wearing myths

Designer writes an open letter explaining his side of the story and questioning why the drape is seen as ageist  

Designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee never intended to shame Indian women or critique their fashion choices. What he meant was the sari would not be sustainable if the current generation did not know how to drape it. For we cannot expect others to learn it or acquire a skill. In that case, it would just be reduced to a costume. So he took to his instagram account yesterday to clarify his stance and apologise for words that had an unintended effect.

“To begin, allow me to sincerely apologise for the words that I used while answering impromptu questions at a conference at Harvard. I am sorry that I used the word ‘shame’ in reference to some women’s inability to wear a sari. I truly regret the way in which I tried to make a point about the sari that enabled it to be interpreted as misogynistic, patriarchal and non-inclusive — this was certainly not my intention. Let me provide some context for those of you who may not have listened to the speech I gave at Harvard. A woman had asked me to comment on the cultural taboo of young women wearing saris because, as she said, society tells them that it makes them look older. ‘What is your suggestion’, she asked, ‘for those young generations, to break that taboo and embrace the sari…’ Unbeknownst to many, this is a question I field often with friends and customers. The ubiquity of such sentiments in our culture, evidenced by the fact that this question was posed to me at Harvard, of all places, was hard-hitting and triggered an unfortunate series of reactions on my part. Sometimes, when you are that invested in your craft, you become hypersensitive to the negativity surrounding things you love.”

Explaining that “snap” moment, he continued, “Yet another question of ageism and the sari at Harvard triggered a lot of pent-up frustration that I have accrued for that segment of our society which constantly expresses disdain for this piece of Indian heritage. It is this frustration that I unfortunately generalised to Indian women in response to the question... I should have framed it as a call to stop shaming the sari and whomever chooses to wear it. I am passionate about textiles and our heritage and I am sorry that in the heat of that moment, I allowed this passion to be misplaced. I take full responsibility for this.”

He further challenged the mindset around wearing the sari: “Body shaming, attaching connotations of Auntie Ji, calling them sloppy; these are all ways that some men and women alike belittle the sari (and, more accurately, the wearer of the sari). These comments are laced with sarcasm and connotations of cultural repression and backwardness. Many women, young and old, are scared to have an outing in a sari because it is shrouded in so many layers of taboo and controversy, often citing inability to correctly drape a sari as an exit point.”

“We are a celebrity-obsessed country, and yes, it does affect consumption patterns and social behaviour at large. Some consumers are being conditioned to believe that the sari ages women, and you will see the evidence of that clearly documented by so many social media trolls targetting celebrities online. Isn’t that shaming, or shall we call it cyber-bullying? Yet we are often complicit in this, which may even be welcomed by some to encourage more traffic to a website/blog.”

Then he raised another issue other than gender inequality and the patriarchy that he had been accused of online — the pay gap. “I would like to bring to your notice that the majority of my staff at Sabyasachi Couture are women. From pattern-makers, to seamstresses, to designers, to publicists, to IT consultants, department heads, store managers, and core of management; women comprise the top earners on my payroll – and it is not because they are women, but because they’ve earned it by their merit. And every Friday, men and women alike at Sabyasachi wear Indian clothing to celebrate our love for textiles, with zero enforcement.”

Admitting that his is a women-oriented brand and he owes his complete success to them, the designer concluded, “I have always, and will continue to love and respect women irrespective of the labels recently assigned to me. It was in this spirit that I started my brand, and that is how it shall remain till the day we decide to shut its doors...My intent was to call out those women who proudly proclaim that they don’t wear saris and simultaneously shame others who wear saris by saying it makes them look older, backward, or culturally repressed.”

 
 
 
 
 

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