Sewing dreams from saris

2012-09-10 00:00

WHEN Kanchana Moodliar went through her mother’s cupboard she found a huge number of beautiful saris that had only been worn once or twice.

These garments, which had been bought for a special occasion and then abandoned, gave Moodliar an idea to use them for a different purpose.

Her project Saris For Good Karma is now in its second year and aims to empower disadvantaged women with sewing and business skills, so that they can start their own home-based businesses.

Moodliar, who has been involved in the commercial clothing industry for eight years as a marketing consultant, said she knew that the donated saris would provide the women with the fabric to make beautiful things.

Saris are made from six-metre long lengths of beautifully patterned or beaded fabric that are draped in a certain way. This is the traditional dress of Indian women and although very popular, is usually only worn for formal occasions.

Moodliar says she has always loved saris and is proud of her Indian heritage.

“At formal functions, the sari is always brought out and worn with pride, and older women look just as beautiful as younger women, because the sari is all about elegance. The sari is bought as a single piece of cloth and the blouse is cut from a section at the top.”

Many saris are handed down from mothers to daughters, but, like Western clothes, the fashionable colours and patterns change from generation to generation. There may be some saris that stay in the cupboard unused and unwanted, and they end up in second-hand shops. Moodliar urges local women to open their hearts and support other women by donating their unwanted saris to the Saris For Good Karma project so that the students can use them to make a fresh start. Part of the sewing course is to understand the heritage of the sari.

“Saris are very personal and each sari was chosen for its colour, its pattern and possibly its beading. We ask our students to understand that each sari they have been given has been lovingly worn by a woman who chose it.”

Moodliar has received donations from Indian celebrities and actresses in Durban who have raided their wardrobes and donate­d their extra garments to the project,

With the first donated saris they used all the fabric to teach their students how to make elegant matric dance dresses.

Each student chose a design and they were taught over six months how to cut a pattern, use the fabric, learn how to use a sewing machine, measure a client and to understand the sari material. The women were also taught how to use the most elaborate saris for high-fashion accessories like handbags, cushions, wall hangings and kaftans. Moodliar says the sewing course has been adapted to become shorter and more intensive.

“We have also made the application criteria a lot harder because we want the women to have the right attitude. Some initially came on the course and wasted their time, so we are looking for candidates who are self-starters and who will make the most of the opportunities.”

The women are taught how to draw up a business plan and are encouraged to adapt their skills to suit the market in their communities.

Moodliar says they have secured sponsorship from a government Seta to train the participants. It costs R350 per person to get them through the four-week course.

“One Indian woman who was battling to survive managed to use the skills we taught her and now she has a thriving business selling beautiful accessories at a Durban flea market. Another success story is a woman who used the skills we taught her and now makes the school uniforms for her local school.”

Moodliar, who was awarded the 2011 Inyathelo Award for Youth in Philanthropy, says she would not have been able to get the idea off the ground had it not been for the generous contributions of others who have been involved in the mentoring and teaching.

Her business partner, Taz Pather, is a fashion designer and she has been key to teaching the students. Corporate sponsors funded the purchase of sewing machines and the ongoing donations of saris makes the project sustainable. Moodliar says her vision is about nurturing a culture of “paying it forward”.


History of the sari


IT is an old Hindu belief that stitched clothing is impure and the sari is therefore a single length of cloth that has no stitches. They also believed that the navel was the source of life and creativity which explains why the midriff is left bare when the sari is draped.

Although it is an untailored length of cloth, the fabric is highly structured and its design vocabulary very sophisticated. Pattern and content are often dictated by the traditions of the region where the sari is produced. (from



If you have any old or unwanted saris and you would like to donate them to Saris For Good Karma, please drop them off at The Witness reception, 45 Willowton Road Willowton, Pietermaritzburg. Please add your name and contact details. We will deliver them for you.

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