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.
They 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.