The History of the Sari
The Sari is a garment steeped in history. The traditional costume has been worn by women in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal for centuries, with historians tracing back the wearing of Saris to the Indus Valley Civilisation, 2800–1800 BC (Times of India). The etymology of the word Sari is also saturated in history; the term ‘Sattika’, which translates to women’s attire, was first mentioned in early Jain and Buddhist scripts (Times of India).
The first Saris were woven from cotton, with weavers using dyes such as indigo, lac, red madder and turmeric (Times of India) to inject colour into the seamless drapes of cloth. Later, with the evolution of fabrics, weavers began to explore different materials with which to make Saris. Working with “silk, ikkat, block-print, embroidery and tie-dye textiles” garment makers used regional handlooms: weaving devices operated wholly or partly by hand or foot power. As some artisans began to integrate the use of precious stones and gold thread into their designs adorned Saris became a signature of opulence for the upper echelons of society. Despite this, and arguably what makes the Sari so unique, the fundamental essence of the Sari has remained “unbiased as a garment” (Times of India), with each strata of society dressing in Saris regardless of status.
As the British influence tore through India, industrialisation impacted the manufacturing of garments. Through the introduction of chemical dyes and innovative printing techniques imported from other countries, Saris could now be manufactured in any fashion desired by the customer.
The Path to Founding A Responsible Brand
Asia Kvačova, based in Sri Lanka, first discovered her love for fashion and art through running her family art gallery and concept store. For over 15 years, Asia has been sourcing unique products from all over the world, particularly in Asia, a journey that has led her to develop a fundamental appreciation for beautiful objects. On a mission to motivate purpose-driven consumption, Asia founded L’ete Indien, an upcycling brand that celebrates the iconic history of the Sari, whilst exploring innovative techniques that embrace sustainable production practices. The name, which translates to Indian Summer, pays homage to Asia’s French heritage.
“L’ete Indien started in 2016 when I travelled to India for the 1st time. I met many creative families and was amazed by their craft”, Asia tells Aware. Working together with a family of tailors in Rajasthan, a state in Nothern India, the brand collaborates with the mother, father and their two daughters to breathe new life into preloved Saris.
The careful sourcing of each vintage Sari and the manufacture of the one-of-a-kind pieces is a time-consuming process. “We are pleased to have a small collection once every few months – we are not looking for mass production, we want to create unique sustainable pieces that women will love to wear”, Asia explains.
Working under a strict no waste policy L’ete Indien is determined to make use of every centimetre of its sourced material. One upcycled dress will use between five to seven metres of fabric, with any remaining material incorporated into the making of their signature Tulsi Kimonos. Asia is transparent about the unique aesthetic that comes hand in hand with upcycling production practices: “Unique imperfections make it beautiful… it celebrates the human hands that have made it”, the brand writes on its Instagram.
L’ete Indien’s determination to create responsibly is further demonstrated by its use of natural dyes. With the incorporation of natural pigments such as turmeric, indigo and safflower the brand is able to circumvent contributing to the severe levels of waste polluting India’s waterways.
A Stark Contrast to the Demands of the Fast Fashion Industry
The deliberate mission integrated into every stage of the unique design process exits as a startling contrast to the infamous production practices present in India due to overconsumption in the Global North. In a 2019 article by the Guardian, the newspaper highlights a study conducted by Berkeley University which claimed, “in northern India, one in 10 people were trapped in forced labour” (The Guardian). In particular, the study showed that “women and girls from the most marginalised communities toiled for as little as 15 cents (11p) an hour in homes across India. Child labour and forced labour were rife and wages regularly suppressed.” (The Guardian).
Through collaborating with a family of local tailors, L’ete Indien’s exquisite pieces bring a necessary transparency back to the supply chain. The brand brings a unique sense of autonomy to both maker and consumer.
by Eliza Edwards
Blog post by: www.aware-theplatform.com / @to.be.aware