We want to familiarize you with our starting-off products for Summer 2011. Though they have been called by many different names, we have chosen to call them Silk Flex-Wraps, as we think this is a little more accurate for what they truly are~ flexible wraps, that can be used as skirts or dresses, and are tailored from recycled silk sari cloth. So, where exactly do these skirts come from? The answer is laden with meaning and complexity, and we, at f.a.c.t.s, would like to tell you their story, their background, their various potential meanings, in an effort that the flex-wraps, transformed in the hands of our customers continue to bear with them their purest essence. We shall start this extended journey with a post on the origins of the flex-wrap.
To begin unraveling the background of these beautiful re-purposed garments, we must begin with a quick look at the Indian economy. In 1991, the Indian economy was deregulated. By 1999, the beginning of the current consumption boom trend had begun. With the expanding of the middle class came a move away from extended families to nuclear families, relocation to bigger cities, and of course, more disposable income. While in the past, old saris were typically worn till they were hardly wearable and then given to servants (at least, non-silk ones) or younger or poorer relatives, purchasing items more and more according to fashion rather than need brought with it fewer personal avenues for their disposal. This led to the selling and buying and bartering of used clothes.
Used saris are generally considered by the higher classes (as I think can be stated as a pattern for many other societies) as “polluted” and therefore unfit to wear. Giving away clothes furthers already established hierarchies in the Indian culture, as the giver has the higher status and the receiver has the lower status. However, there is still an increasingly large market for recycled saris in the local Indian economies, which leaves room for new families to enter the bartering business. The turnover is relatively small for everyday saris (usually made from cotton), but the more the entrepreneurs can buy, wash, and mend, the more profits they can gain. One form of acquiring saris for re-selling purposes also happens in the form of bartering. Peddlers with stainless steel pots and other similar products can go house to house, offering their wares in exchange for used clothing. Once traders can afford to buy the higher-quality silk saris (used for more formal occasions or by higher classes), they can make a higher margin of profit, as these skirts can be sold at higher prices and are usually snatched up quickly by early 3:00 A.M. shoppers at the local weekly markets.
This brings the conversation over to the silk flex-wraps. The reason we have not chosen to call them by silk sari skirts, or sarong wraps is that they are neither saris nor sarongs. They are re-tailored clothing made from re-purposed silk sari cloth. Some traders set up shops, where these silk saris are expertly tailored around major blemishes and tears, using the best parts of the yards-long high-quality sari cloth to be re-fashioned into Western style halter-top garments, sundresses, drawstring trousers, and the skirt flex-wraps that f.a.c.t.s. will be selling. The myth of how this got started is as follows:
“A young Western woman took her dress to a Pushkar tailor, together with an old sari she had got hold of, and asked him to stitch a copy for her. The tailor picked up the idea and ran up a whole batch that sold immediately; he then opened up a shop. Some tailors were used to making up kurtas (traditional loose shirts) out of saris and understood how the formal properties of the sari’s components could be adapted and reused. With this knowledge added to their well-established copying skills, it was relatively easy to make the new garments. The number of shops selling them proliferated and manufacturing units in nearby houses were set up” (P. 157, Recycling Indian Clothing: Global Contexts of Reuse and Value by Lucy Norris).
Of course, these items are tourist-objects. In other words, they are not traditionally worn by locals and they pose questions of cultural appropriation for the potential buyer. However, by providing you with an honest glance at their origin and a continued search into the cultural meanings behind use and disposal of the sari and other Indian clothing, we, at f.a.c.t.s. are doing our very best to emphasize the diversity of Indian clothing culture and attempting to not make inappropriate generalizations or misrepresentations about the cultural group. In future posts, we will cover more information on the culture of the sari, the West and its effects on Indian culture, the impact of fashion trends, and the implications of recycled clothing. We will also be talking about the Indian non-profit we will be donating 10% of our profits to.** For now, we leave you with a brief glance into the origin of the recycled Indian silk flex-wrap, and hope you will check back with us again over the week-end for a window into the culture of the sari. Thanks again for your support!***
**Remember, this is just our starting point, we strive to reach a point where half of our profits will be given to the local economy of focus for the season.
***References for the post content are:
1) Recycled Indian Clothing: Global Contexts of Reuse and Value by Lucy Norris, 2010 Indiana University Press.
2) The Sari by Mukluika Banerjee & Daniel Miller, 2003 Berg.