The last thing the Sagar sisters had imagined for their careers was reviving an ancient weave. The management post-graduates found their way from Europe to the bylanes of Varanasi, where they now work with weavers to help revitalize the heritage craft that had been dying out. And they can’t imagine doing anything else.
Born and brought up in Ambala, Haryana, Aanchal, the older of the duo, studied economics at Lady Shri Ram College in Delhi before heading to France to do her MSc in management. She then joined global luxury giant Louis Vuitton. Her younger sister Akshita completed her engineering and then her Master’s in business management from London.
While Aanchal moved to San Francisco to study art and styling, Akshita returned to India and joined Osawagro Industries, their father’s scientific apparatus business.
Travelling across India and exploring older cultures exposed the sisters to the rich – but increasingly rare – weaves of yore, especially Benarasi. “Those saris just don’t exist anymore,” says 32-year-old Aanchal, who moved to Bengaluru after her wedding and is a trained Kathak dancer like her sister Akshita.
On a trip to Varanasi, the duo came across an old weaver who was working as a manual labourer. “The weaver community has long been neglected and weavers haven’t been given their due. So they are now moving to other professions,” regrets Aanchal. Aggrieved to see the old man’s plight, the sisters talked to him about his background and his grandfather’s sari factory. Taking it as a challenge, the sisters decided to fund the weaver’s looms.
After intense study of weave structure, yarn and the mechanics of looms, the sisters set out to re-create old Benarasi weaves and reinvent traditional saris, not just for their sheer beauty but also to keep the craft alive. They worked with about 100 weavers, and finally launched their label Ohfab in 2016.
They retail through private trunk shows around India (Chandigarh, Delhi, Jaipur, Bengaluru, Gurugram and so on), showcasing about 150 saris, with a few dozen dupattas and stoles each time. Most pieces are extravagant jaals on silks and tissues, with or without zari.
They also undertake customized orders, which take about two to four months, and can re-create even hundred-year-old designs if you give them six months. “These are heirloom pieces; it will be hard to find these 20 years down the line,” admits Aanchal, given the migration of traditional weavers to other professions.
Their buyers are mostly women who have an eye for finesse and have been wearing or seeking classical weaves. After all, owning a piece of history is priceless.
First published in the February issue of eShe magazine.