BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE
Photos by Arvind Shukla
Atlanta, GA, November 17, 2023: “What are the Asuras (evils) of today?,” asked Pratibha “Patti” Tripathi, the Founder of Saris To Suits® as she welcomed a ballroom filled with celebrants at Sankranti Restaurant’s Abhira Ballroom on Navratri, October 15. She was referencing the start of the nine-day festival devoted to various incarnations of Goddess Durga and her victories over demons such as Mahish-asura, and ultimately, the victory of good over evil.
“Greed, poverty, treatment of women, and disrespect for this beautiful earth that we need to do more to protect for the future generations,” responded a few members of the audience.
“Waste, in its many forms, has long been a global challenge. From plastic pollution choking our oceans to overflowing landfills emitting harmful greenhouse gasses, our throwaway culture has taken a toll on the planet. However, the journey towards waste transformation begins with a simple yet profound shift in perspective. Rather than seeing waste as a problem to be managed, visionaries see it as an opportunity for innovation.” Tripathi stated, adding, “The emphasis of this Navratri is SUSTAINABILITY…. We fashion sustainability and a circular economy to uplift women out of poverty while respecting our planet!”
Sustainability was undeniably the star of the Saris to Suits® 2nd Annual Fashioning Sustainability Catwalk & Trunk Show, featuring community role models who rocked the runway with a green backdrop to showcase pre-loved saris re-purposed by Gucci-trained Indian artisans into chic clothing and accessories.
Eighteen women – physicians, authors, entrepreneurs, activists, attorneys and business owners – modeled the sustainable and ethical merchandise, which were repurposed from used sari fabric and dead stocks of Mumbai. As a strong player in the circular economy since 2013, I Was a Sari brand that enjoys the support of the luxury label Gucci. More importantly, the social enterprise is fueled by impoverished women, mostly uneducated and or unskilled, who were trained to realize their potential, to earn a dignified livelihood, and perhaps move on to become entrepreneurs themselves. Outside work, they receive medical and financial support, and attend classes in English and soft skills. Since 2013, the brand has given” second lives” to 1,400,000 square meters of fabric and 650 artisans, which has more than doubled since last year.
The grand ballroom filled to capacity pulsated with energy as guests mingled, shopped, and conversed over appetizers and drinks as light classical fusion tabla music filled the air. The exclusive one-of-a-kind merchandise fashioned with a purpose – blouses, bombers, stoles, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, shoes, clutches, and Sari cards drew the attention of the crowd not only on the catwalk but also in the trunk room, where items such as Sari cards and pleated and beaded sari jewelry were snapped up.
Volunteers, celebrants, participants, partners, and organizers were pleased by the unique, purposeful event to fashion sustainability and circular economy.
“The evening was amazing. Patti and the visionary SaristoSuit’s board continue to make a meaningful impact on women’s safety, security, empowerment and justice through their magnificent, stunning events. Renuka and I are honored to support the organization’s mission for many years through the support of our relationships and financial contributions,” Thakur said.
Several months in the making, the sold-out show was hosted by Marshalla Yadav, President, BOD, Saris to Suits, and Bhavya Chaudhary, Founder and Managing Attorney at Bhavya Chaudhary and Associates Law Firm.
“We worked around the clock to create a unique experience to help many who are less fortunate. It proved to be fantastic, and it will allow SarisToSuits ® to scale up its efforts,” Yadav remarked.
“I was asked to host 2023’s Saris to Suits annual event. I thought – how can I spread the word about Saris to Suits and raise funds. I got this idea that if we could bring in role models from the entire South Asian community who in turn got to learn about Saris to Suits’ mission and showcased products made by its social enterprise partner I Was a Sari, it would be a win-win for everyone. They in turn would bring in their friends and families. This is exactly what happened! There was a ripple effect that worked wonderfully, and the word spread! We had a very successful annual event,” Chaudhary said.
Priya Yadav bedazzled in a sequin blouse paired with vegan black leather pants, that she contrasted with a flowy beach robe-kaftan made from preloved sari fabric. Yadav introduced guests to the entertainment piece of the evening – a dance performance by Kruti Dance Academy, a group that has been recognized on the popular TV series, America’s Got Talent. Priya received her training in classical dance forms from Kruti. The audience watched in rapt attention as the impeccably synchronized and amazingly graceful group of performers swayed their way into the hearts of the audience bedecked in vibrant cobalt blue Bharatanatyam attire and turned into Bollywood beats.
The lights dimmed, and it was showtime! What you saw were stylish Bombay jackets, vibrant tunics, flowy kaftans, snazzy pleated and A-line skirts, trendy kimonos as techno fusion music played in the background. Every detail was taken into account – the cosmetic ensemble of most models included a smokey eye and subtle glam featuring brighter shades for the lips. Hairstyles done up in a chic middle part and pulled back, added slick sophistication. Wearing ethically- conscious handcrafted earrings, beaded necklaces and pendants, the models radiated grace, beauty, and confidence as they posed for a purpose to the cheering crowd.
Fashion show choreographer Sumana Goswami was all praise for her “model squad” – Anu Rao, Archana Desh, Bhoomi Purohit, Kavitha Tellakula, Laskshmi (Lucky) Mandavilli, Malvika Chaudhary, Monika Mittal, Namita Sudan, Nisha Kapil, Preeti Howlett, Priya Yadav, Rosaline Sukumar, Sadhana Gupta, Shinjini Das, Sultana Madhubi, Usha Prasad, Veena Rao, and Zamena. “From role models to models, the journey was beautiful. I had a great time working with some of the successful women of our Atlanta community. As a choreographer, I worked with runway walk postures, body language etc. I choreographed and directed the fashion show and it was an honor to do it for Saris to Suits,” Goswami said.
A medical billing company entrepreneur, Mandavilli walked the ramp in a repurposed electric blue ensemble, complete with matching pleated fan earrings and pendant. The shimmering blue eye shadow completed her glitzy look. “It was a beautiful magical evening with a great purpose. The vision saris2suits has for the future is commendable and a sight to behold. Can’t wait for what comes next,” Mandavilli, said.
“I loved learning about the work that Saris to Suits does and their emphasis on sustainable fashion. The event was so much fun, and it was so cool to see my mom Anu Rao modeling on stage!” Deepti Rao expressed. Her Mother styled in a Bombay Bomber jacket, coordinated jewelry, paired with slim black pants.
Another Rao in the show – Veena, who’s an author and the founder of NRI Pulse – paired her pretty magenta and blue blouse with black pants, and complimentary pleated preloved sari fan earrings creating an elegant and impactful look. “I am not a fan of mindless consumerism. So, I am glad my first experience walking the ramp was to model Saris to Suits’ sustainable merchandise upcycled from discarded sarees. In the bargain, I got to hang out with the other accomplished role models and event organizers during rehearsals. I caught up with friends and made new ones. I even learned to walk and pose like a model, thanks to our brilliant choreographer/coach Sumana Goswami. It was an event for the memory books!”
Nisha Kapil donned a classy look pairing her long black sleeveless dress with a long flowy peacock green Kaftan made from upcycled fabric. “Really appreciate Saris to Suits bringing awareness… a positive initiative in the circular economy space while also providing people new skills to support themselves!,” she said.
Tripathi launched Saris to Suits nearly 12 years ago in Sarasota, FL before returning to Atlanta, where she was a network news anchor. “It has been a journey of forming alliances and partnerships to empower women.”
After her mother’s untimely passing at age 56, Tripathi wondered how best she could utilize the vintage seven yards of ornate silk she had left behind to keep their essence and memories intact. That’s when she thought of transforming her traditional wear into exclusive Western designer wear. Already worn down by a personal loss, Tripathi was also affected by the news of ‘Nirbhaya’ that made headlines across the globe. Determined to make a difference, the trailblazing journalist, and entrepreneur launched her charitable organization with a calendar campaign of exemplary South Asian role models who “pose for a purpose” which were donated to nonprofit organizations nationwide to use as a fundraising tool for cultural competency or to give as a gift to empower women and girls with role models, such as Pakistani activist Malala..
It was serendipitous when in 2019 she heard of an Italian man in India, Stefano Funari, who was embarking on a parallel journey to give second chances to poor women in Mumbai and to vintage saris. The two unconventional minds got together and formed a mission-aligned partnership that links East to West through fabrics and textiles. Saris to Suits ® collaborates with I was a Sari for a bigger cause – gender equity, women’s empowerment, and preserving the planet.
Towards its vision to empower, inspire, educate and serve, Saris to Suits provides services for trafficking survivors, Training/employing women in Mumbai with partnerships in India, Fashioning reusability with merchandise made from upcycled saris, circularity for our planet, a campaign to run/walk in a sari for women’s health, and mentoring students to write bylined stories that are carried in newspapers in the US and abroad, amongst others. .
“Human trafficking is the business of stealing freedom for profit,” Chaudhary, who specializes in Immigration & Nationality Law, said. HT is a multi-billion-dollar criminal industry that denies freedom to 24.9 million people around the world. According to the National HT hotline, there were 50,123 signals received in 2021 alone, and often, grossly underreported.
Citing examples, Chaudhary explained different forms of HT, namely, Labor & Sex Trafficking. She appealed for the audience to visit and read myths and misconceptions re HT at DHS website at https://www.dhs.gov/blue-campaign/what-human-trafficking.
Silver sponsors for the event included Sankranti Restaurant, MiRus, Subra, Anu and Kiran Bhat Foundation, and Kanku’s Express.
Bronze sponsors of the event were Bhavya Chaudhary Associates, Kunnatha Injury Lawyers, Innova, 27th Cares, Sheth Foundation, Nadia Alibhai, Hinchey & Associates and Kashve. Supporters of the event included Global Mall, Sehgal Foundation, Chandra Smiles, Annuity Solutions and Insurancewala. Other notable contributors to the success of the event were makeup artist Shantanu Agarwal and Diwali sweets contributor BAPS Shayona.
Many generous community businesses contributed to LIVE and silent auctions. PurseN that features on the list of Oprah’s favorite things, inside SarisToSuits® tote bag garnered enthusiastic bids and eventually sold for a handsome amount, thanks to an ardent supporter Ashish Thakur, CEO, who won the bid for the purse organizers for his wife Renuka. PurseN Founder and CEO, Hardeep Melamed, who attended the Fashioning Sustainability show, joined Tripathi on the stage to help boost the bids. A newcomer to Atlanta from Los Angeles, Shahrukh Zahir, of Rightfit Advisors won the other live auction bid of cooking/meals for ten with Chef Dinesh, of Chef Dinesh Café. The silent auction items included a vibrant boho artwork specially created for the occasion by Kathy L. Murphy with all upcycled saris, ribbons and other materials; photography with famed Derek Wintermute, which fetched hundreds of dollars; silver tea set, upcycled girls’ clothing, A Sari with GIRL POWER insignias, the novel Purple Lotus by Veena Rao, and Van Michael Salon’s box full of Aveda products. .
Tripathi said she was elated and humbled by the outpouring of support. She was inspired by the work of Nobel Peace Prize-winning Bangladesh social entrepreneur. “In 2015, I met economist Dr. Mohmmed Yunus, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for founding the Grameen Bank and pioneering the concepts of microcredit and microfinance. These loans are given to entrepreneurs too poor to qualify for traditional bank loans. The Norwegian Nobel Committee said that “lasting peace cannot be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty.”
“You help combat modern-day Asuras (evils) by coming here on this Navratri to celebrate together, “said Tripathi, “By donating, supporting, and by purchasing items, you show that even the poorest of the poor can work to bring about their own development. We request you to help move the needle by partnering, donating, repurposing, and recycling,” Tripathi appealed.You may check www.SarisToSuits.org for details.