Stunning Banarasis, Exquisite Zari: These Sisters-in-Law Are Weaving Gold

By Shreya Mohan

What Indian woman can resist a fine silk sari with intricate gold thread work? For the past decade, the magnificent Banarasi sari has seen a revival on fashion runways and has been showcased in the collections of various designers, who have interpreted it in various ways.

After PM Narendra Modi commenced the ‘Make in India’ campaign, there has been an increased interest in traditional weaves and fibres that have promoted Indian craftsmanship and handlooms worldwide.

But the Banarasi sari still remains one of the most coveted Indian weaves amongst women. So much so that Swati Agarwal and Sunaina Jalan decided to make a career of it.

The talented 40-somethings were housewives married into the same family based in Kolkata. Ten years ago, their love for textile inspired them to start designing fine saris of silk and muslin together. They aspired to imbue value into the traditional woven textiles of India and to offer pure handmade silks and zari brocades to cultivated customers.

Gold the art of Zari by Swati and Sunaina exhibition opens at Bikaner House in septemberThey launched their own label Swati and Sunaina a few years later, and began specialising in pure zari weaves. As fate would have it, they shot to fame after they dressed Aishwarya Rai Bachchan for her meeting with François Hollande (then president of France) in a Banarasi sari made of pure zari.

Combining Swati’s business and research skills with Sunaina’s creativity, the duo has succeeded in reviving an art that has now become a lucrative career for the next generation of weavers too. Their looms are based in Varanasi in what is the last surviving artisanal workshop in the world for zari-making.

They use ancient techniques and are making a serious effort to recreate vintage designs. They have also raised the bar for sari designers in terms of transparency: each of their pieces is certified with the silk mark, handloom mark and details of the weight, percentage of gold zari purity, time taken for completion besides other details.

The designers have paid close attention to their flagship store in Kolkata that greets the visitor with notes of jasmine and light flowing music that transports one to the bylanes of Varanasi where this art originated.

Shikargaha-By-Swati-&-Sunaina-(Custom)
This luxurious sari depicts a hunting scene that is intricately woven across the entire sari.
Swati-&-Sunaina-17.07
Swati and Sunaina are also bringing back nearly extinct weaves such as the rangkaat, kheem khwab, jamdani as well as the Prabha sari.
Kaaynat - Gold the art of zari exhibition by Swati and Sunaina comes alive from September 22nd to 25th at The Bikaner House in New Delhi
Last month, Swati and Sunaina held an exhibition in Delhi curated by Mayank Mansingh Kaul to explain the process of real zari making and its importance in Banarasi textiles.
Swati And Sunaina Campaign Image 1
Craftsmen painstakingly spend anywhere between a month to nine months to complete one Swati & Sunaina sari. All are limited editions.

First published in the October 2017 issue of eShe magazine. Read it for free here. Or buy the print edition.