What is a Sari?

What is a Sari?

We at I was a Sari are obsessed with the Saris, obviously! We have thousands of them and we work with them during the day and dream of them during the night…
Are you a Sari enthusiast? Or find Sari even remotely interesting? You are at the right place, our fellow Sari admirer! In this article, we will be highlighting the journey of Sari from being a traditional garment to a quintessential classic and it’s new second life with us.

Sari, in Sanskrit, translates as “strip of cloth”, and it usually measures six to eight metres in length, and is believed to have originated in the Indus Valley as early as 2800 BC. It is a South Asian heritage garment yet its fluidity, infinite design and fabric options make you think as if it was crafted with intentions of gracefully wrapping every fashion era.

The sari is one of the most versatile garments. Making its way through centuries, earlier what was perceived to be a traditional garment, has made a coveted place for itself in every quintessential contemporary wardrobe. This is not just limited to the East, Sari has travelled far and wide, and has a substantial fan base in the West as well. From the likes of Frieda Kahlo, Madonna, Oprah Winfrey, Meghan Markle, Scarlett Johansson, Naomi Campbell to Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian, Selena Gomez and many more have adorned themselves with Saris occasionally.

Traditionally, Sari is worn with a blouse, along with a petticoat, or a long underskirt. In recent times, it is also paired with shirts, crop tops, dresses, and even sneakers, boots, and many more such surprising options. It is truly up to the wearer’s imagination, Sari is a perfect medium to convey one’s style identity. Draping a Sari is an expression of art in itself and there is no defined right or wrong way. Don’t you agree? So, the next time you drape a Sari, feel free to experiment your artistic instincts.

“There are more than one hundred ways to drape a Sari depending on region, fabric, length and width of the garment, and what the wearer might be doing that day. The younger generation wants to be able to experiment with it, to wear it in various ways,” says Rta Kapur Chishti; author of Saris of India: Tradition and Beyond and co-founder of Taanbaan, a fabric company devoted to reviving and preserving traditional Indian spinning and weaving methods. She also co- created a series of videos showcasing dozens of ways to tie one on – The Sari Series.


For the Indian women and a few men, who have been wrapping themselves in silk, cotton, or linen for millennia, these swaths of fabric are more than just simple garments. They’re symbols of national pride, ambassadors for traditional (and cutting-edge) design and craftsmanship, and a prime example of the rich differences in India’s 29 states. As diverse as the country, every state has its own fabric, weave, design, and thus numerous types of very distinct Saris.

If you happen to be in India you must visit a Sari store and you’ll be flabbergasted with the myriad of weave options, colors, prints, designs! It’s like an explosion of colors and weaves in nine yards. We’re sure it will be a very difficult choice picking one! Whether you are buying your first ever Sari or hundredth, the Sari shopping experience doesn’t change a bit! The aura of a Sari store, the colorful exuberance can’t be found elsewhere.

Second life of Sari

The term upcycling may have been coined in the ’90s, but the practice of upcycling is very intrinsic to the Indian culture. Most Indians grew up watching their mothers and grandmothers turn old Saris into new outfits, children’s festive wear, baby swaddles, cushion covers and even curtains on occasion. Most residents of the country are masters of minimising waste, and reusing old Saris is as beneficial to the pocket as it is to the environment. 

The Waghrisa nomadic community of India and has been operating the informal old clothes recycling trade for a century-and-a-half now. They traditionally barter old clothes for new utensils from various households of almost all cities across India. These clothes are sold every day at various flea markets like Chor Bazaar in Mumbai. While some middlemen specialise in T-shirts, some specialise in Saris of different kinds—cotton, silk, embroidered, vintage—and they take these Saris to Sari traders.
That’s where we source our pre-loved Saris from and we begin our transformation by giving a new lease of life to them as sustainable statement pieces travelling the world as a part of your wardrobe.
At Chor Bazaar, Mumbai, our team selects bundles of pre-loved Saris and brings them back to our production unit. These are then washed, quality checked, and sorted depending on usability and handcrafted into various product ranges across womenswear, menswear, footwear, home, and accessories. Each product is unique in terms of colors and prints. All our products are handcrafted by talented female artisans, who have not let their origins stop them. They are trained to make our beautiful products and also learn a skill for life with support from our NGO partners: Karmana Trust and Animedh Charitable Trust. We believe in second chances, for the Sari and artisans making them – both embarking on their new life with us!

Transition from a Sari to I was a Sari.

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