The streets are quiet. The soft morning sunlight streams through the constant haze. Tea is brewing and lines of customers are only just beginning to form.
It’s only when Kolkata is still in its rare slumber state that the Old Girish Park Sari Market is open for trading. This is where Sari Bari sources its pre-loved saris that make our one-of-a-kind products.
The market stretches for a kilometre down the side of a busy road. And it’s not just saris for sale. Many vendors sell second-hand items like t-shirts, jeans, jackets, bed sheets, baby clothes and curtains. The market provides self-employment for people who otherwise couldn’t find work.
In Kolkata, the sellers collect saris from homes in exchange for household items, like new plastic buckets, bags or steel plates. They go from house to house, from 10am to 5pm daily, in search of their prized saris.
Sari Bari has a sari vendor who collects saris from the market for us – we’ve used him for the last three years, so he knows the quality and colors we need to make our products.
Once the saris find their way to Sari Bari, they get sorted by color and are selected for products. When we match saris for a blanket, we look for coordinating patterns. We generally put geometrics with geometrics, and florals with florals. But some of the best matches break the rules of matching – they go together, but they shouldn’t!
For years, Sarah our product designer has been doing all the matching, but in the last year, the women themselves have taken on this responsibility.
We primarily get red and green saris, which is why you see those colors mostly on the website. The remaining saris are blues, pinks and purples, which everyone wants! We very rarely select orange or yellow saris because of customer preference for other colors.
We purchase two different qualities of saris – ‘inner saris’ and ‘outer saris’. The outer saris, which are in the best condition, form the visible parts of blankets and bags. They are the most important part! The inner saris, which usually have a bit of wear and tear, are used to form the ‘inside’ layers of our products necessary to create our layered Kantha design, but are not visible.
After being matched, the saris go to cutting. The ladies in cutting are the final quality control check in deciding whether it’s a good sari or a bad sari.
Then the ladies work their magic to transform the saris into beautiful product creations!
Photography and writing by Nicole Peck