Sari Bari

Sari Bari, an NGO in Kolkata, India, founded by American Sarah Lance, supports women who have been trafficked or held in the sex trade by poverty and lack of empowerment by training them to become skilled artisans. (Sari Bari/Facebook photo)

How many handmade products can be born out of recycled cotton saris? Ask Adhuri, or Asha, or Bharati, who are among dozens of women working at Sari Bari to create beautiful products, which range from sari blankets to bed covers to bags to baby items. But these women are not just weaving these items together, they are also creating a new life for themselves, and their families.

Since 2006, Sari Bari, a Kolkata, India-based NGO – which now employs close to 120 women in four locations –  has been manufacturing handmade products out of recycled cotton saris while providing employment as a tool for freedom for women trapped in the sex trade and a means of prevention for those who are vulnerable to trafficking.

Founded by American citizen Sarah Lance, Sari Bari not only helps these vulnerable women seek a livelihood, but also gives them the confidence to restart their lives.

These women are trained in sophisticated sewing techniques used to recycle old saris into blankets, purses, bags and scarves that are sold online, primarily to customers in the U.S. The women are paid a living wage and given healthcare benefits, a pension, tuition assistance for their children, and opportunities for advancement.

The product story: After the second-hand saris are to delivered to the company’s production unit in Kolkata, the saris are divided into product ranges, and matching colors and designs are grouped together.

The saris are then laid out, and women use patterns to trace and cut the saris in the various product parts following which they sew the sari pieces into products using the traditional Kantha stitch. The products are first checked by managers after which they go through the company’s quality control department. In the final step, the women stitch their name tags onto the finished products.

Each Sari Bari product is unique, and there are no two pieces exactly alike.  

The NGO claims that all the profits from the business benefit the women of Sari Bari and their families and are used to create opportunities for freedom for more women.

The entire process left two American photographers, Frank and Sarah Schweikhardt, very impressed. The two documented their trip to Kolkata, and subsequent visit and work with Sari Bari, and displayed those photographs at Gather, a Bloomington, Indiana-based art gallery and gift shop, until Jan. 31.

The photographs showcase the details of the heart and soul of Sari Bari: the fabrics, the stitches, and the beautiful hands of the women.

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