First appeared as “The Sari‑torialists” in the December 2015 issue of Air Canada enRoute.
Navigating the narrow laneways of Shahpur Jat, I have to resist the urge to dive into every little boutique and jewellery shop tucked into its crumbling bungalows. The storefronts, alternating between ruinous and brand‑spanking‑new, house thriving businesses that make everything from tea to the embroidery that will appear on next season’s Prada. I’m following Rashmi Varma – a young designer who splits her time between Delhi and Toronto – through this urban village to her workshop to see her take on the modern sari, adapted from ancient techniques (manual looms and indigo dyes) and the best of Indian handicraft (hand weaving, dyeing and embroidery). Boys selling brooms off the back of their bikes cruise past us, their wares fanning out behind them like peacock tails. We head up some dusty steps and into her studio, then tiptoe quietly past the hum of sewing machines and into the back office. The room, wallpapered with a woodland scene, feels immediately and strangely familiar. “I blew up a photograph of my favourite trees,” she smiles. “They’re Quebec birch!” And so here I am, halfway across the world, standing in the middle of a Canadian forest, getting ready to try on my first sari.