Two years ago, when Anita Lal, 68, and her creative team of 20 at Good Earth went to Varanasi on a research trip, they were looking forward to buying intricately woven saris for themselves. So they were dismayed to find designs very different from the ones Varanasi is famous for.

“In the traditional Banarasi, the patterns are delicate and fine, whereas here the motifs were huge and the complexity of the weave on the edges of the pallu wasn’t there," recalls Lal, the founder of the lifestyle brand. The Good Earth team eventually realized that the karigars (craftsmen) were catering to the demand for fast-moving items and, to do so, were using Chinese filament high-twist yarn, which is easier to weave but results in a flatter texture. Lal and her team began researching past weaving forms to see if they could be resuscitated.

The result is saris made using low- twist spun yarn from Ahimsa silk (when the moth escapes, it leaves a hole in the cocoon, resulting in broken fibres that need to be spun like cotton), a fine Khadi-like fabric with uneven texture that drapes fluidly. These are on display till 19 February at the Good Earth store at Lower Parel, Mumbai, under their brand Sustain. The exhibition Forever Sari also features seven other design labels known for their singular, innovative workmanship with the garment: Akaaro, Anavila, Anjul Bhandari, Ashdeen, Eka, péro by Aneeth Arora and Raw Mango.

“We may all be parts of different brands, but what is needed is to work together and strengthen the sari’s positioning," says Malika Verma Kashyap, founder of the blog Border&Fall, who moderated a panel discussion on Friday. Kashyap, who is working on a film series on different ways to drape a sari, adds, “It’s important to spark a perception shift for people who are either indifferent, on-the-fence, or hesitant about wearing the sari. The day we stop asking ‘why are you wearing a sari?’, we would have secured its future as a utilitarian, functional garment in urban India."

Having helped up the sari’s cool quotient while reviving laborious dyeing and weaving techniques, each of the participating designers hopes to achieve just that. Akaaro’s handwoven saris are unusually evocative of the future, especially given their unique metallic textures. Anavila, famous for its linen saris, is showing multiple other forms, including patchwork saris crafted in Jharkhand. Anjul Bhandari features handcrafted Chikankari pastels, including painstaking single-thread or ek taar embroidery. Ashdeen Lilaowala’s refreshing refashioning of hand-embroidered Parsi Gara is deliciously feminine. Eka’s natural-dyed wool silk, linen silk, linen Khadi with Jamdani inlay and pure linen are worthy of any eco-warrior. Péro promotes everyday comfort by mixing textiles from different regions, like floral-printed Chanderis with Ikat and Bandhini mixed with Bengali checks, while playfully incorporating details like buttons and tassels. The Delhi-based label Raw Mango puts forth what it does best: Severe lines and simplicity of design in a sea of deep colours that gives handwoven its sexy back. And Good Earth’s Sustain uses pure silver zari and mines traditional colours—phalsa, neel, baingani, dhaani, pyazi, aasmani—to create heirloom saris.

“In today’s context, the sari needs to evolve to suit each individual, it can’t be static," says Sanjay Garg of Raw Mango. “In the past, the sari was based on various different forms and textiles and worn in myriad ways. People need to recognize its versatility."

With 370 saris on display at price points ranging from Rs10,500 to Rs3 lakh, the exhibition endeavours to showcase a garment that hasn’t lost its relevance, though it has lost some of its rich design and artisanal production heritage. If this initiative can regain that lost ground by elevating interest, Make In India can truly percolate down to the craftspeople whose skills need sustaining.

The exhibition, Forever Sari, will be on till 19 February, 11am-8pm, at Good Earth, Raghuvanshi Mills, Lower Parel, Mumbai.

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