Stiff competition in its own yard

Pradipti Jayaram | Updated on March 10, 2018 Published on February 19, 2015

Measure for measure The jury is still out on whether the sari will ever lose its sheen   -  The Hindu

Indian women are fast adopting Western wear as a matter of convenience. Can the sari hold its own?

In 2011, major French luxury fashion house Hermès decided to launch a collection of saris to cater to its Indian clientele. According to an ICRA report quoting statistics from the Ministry of Textiles, cited in media reports, the sari, as a category, clocked an 8.8 per cent annual growth in value terms between 1998 and 2006 in India and expanded into a ₹53,459-crore market in 2006. And all other textile categories, such as shirting, suiting, dress material and ready-made garments reported a decline in value terms. And as of 2008 it grew to become an approximately ₹70,000-crore market, which accounted for more than one-third of the total consumption of apparel and household textiles in India. Growth rate in volume terms, which was stagnant at 1.1 per cent during 1993-98, accelerated to 8.4 per cent over the next six years. These were stellar credentials and worth placing one’s bet on. Pegging its saris in the $6,000-9,000 range, Hermès was convinced that the teeming millionaires of this Third World market would take to them like metal to magnet.

Four years on, it’s unclear how many saris Hermès has sold, but the brand’s move is extremely telling on a few counts : It’s not just the world’s economic balance that’s tilting East, fashion too is treading the same path. And the humble sari, which we all thought had been relegated to the top shelves of Indian women’s closets to make way for the more comfortable salwar kameez or/and trousers, is alive and well. A global fashion brand seeking it out to make inroads into the country is surely a sign that the sari is here to stay. But is it?

The way ahead

“The sari is facing a dead end,” emphatically states fashion columnist Asmita Aggarwal. It is caught in a limbo between the more modern and ‘current’ gown, stealthily making its way into Indian women’s trousseaus, a place previously earmarked for saris, and the new-age women’s innate desire to hold on to traditional values, she feels.

Having said that, it’s also being resurrected in the form of variants, such as sari-gowns, sari-skirts and pre-stitched saris entering the market, she adds. The metros are largely taken with these new avatars, says fashion designer Ritu Kumar. The tier-2 and -3 cities and smaller towns still don it in its original form. “The appeal of the sari lies in its formal and traditional usage,” she adds. New Delhi-based up-and-coming fashion designer Bhaavya Bhatnagar echoes similar sentiments. But she disagrees that its appeal is fading.

“The sari is timeless. It is the most flattering silhouette for the Indian woman,” she says. “Women of every age fancy the sari, whether it is the beautiful Kanchipuram sari or more modern ones in sheer fabric. I feel its appeal is only going to increase, making way for many more concepts in its drape, construction and aesthetic perception,” Bhatnagar adds.

For a modern aesthetic

While the sari will survive as occasional wear, such as for weddings, it needs to move away from the heavy, ornate, handloom form and adopt a more “pliable” aesthetic, retaining its classic silhouette, if it wants to compete in the everyday-wear category. “To attract modern women it needs to undergo a revival of sorts,” says Ritu Kumar. Lavanya Nalli, President, Nalli Trust, according to news reports in 2008, had said that while saris accounted for 50 per cent of the womenswear market in India and silk saris account for a sizeable percentage of it, the younger generation preferred lightweight saris, a market it was looking to tap. That said, sari sales, she said, had not come down despite the increase in the population of working women, who would normally gravitate more towards comfort and functional wear, such as western formals or salwar kameezes. Today, Nalli is bustling with customers. But this is perhaps only the case with the South, a market that has traditionally been wearing more saris than the North.

New Delhi-based Ankita Sarine, a 28-year-old working professional, says she only wears saris for the odd wedding or classical concert. To add variety, she sometimes wears half saris, lehnga saris and other such versions, but she doesn’t foresee herself completely giving up on them. “I don’t know how to tie it, if I did, I would wear it more often, I suppose,” Sarine says. “But again, I feel I can always wear a sari once I’m much older, right now I feel it ages me. So, I wear more Western wear which makes me look younger, or even more my age,” she adds. However, Chennai-based Vaishali Murugan, a 24-year-old college student, is an ardent fan of saris. Not only because it is graceful, but because it will fit you whatever shape you are in, it is thus more cost-effective. She wears a sari everyday to class and will continue to once she starts working. It adds an aura of professionalism, if worn in the right fabric, she feels.

Then there are those such as Annapoorni, a Chennai-based domestic help, and Kerala-based Manjiri Raman, a middle-aged working professional, who cannot think of wearing anything but a sari irrespective of the occasion. However, when it comes to their daughters they are okay with them wearing Western outfits or salwar kameez.

A matter of convenience

According to Nidhi Agarwal, founder, CEO, of, a brand of western non-casual wear, a survey of over 250 women across metros and tier I cities revealed a preference for westernwear at least 4-5 times a week for its convenience. She adds: “Fifty per cent of our sales are made to non-metros and over 30 per cent of it is to non office-going women.”

One of the reasons she feels western wear is likely to dent the sari market is because there is no standardised code of dressing for women in India or globally, and so Indian women, owing to increased globalisation and the MNC culture, are opting for it.

The jury is still out on whether the sari will ever lose its sheen, given that it forms an integral part of most Indian celebrations and is the choice of many middle-class women in much of India as daily wear.

Having said that, it may need ardent loyalists to survive the onslaught of Westernisation and the move towards more utilitarian sartorial choices, believes columnist Asmita Aggarwal.

Published on February 19, 2015
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