Repurposed saris get fresh spin as one-of-a-kind dresses

Sari for Change embodies the spirit of sustainable fashion. Photo: Supplied

Sari for Change embodies the spirit of sustainable fashion. Photo: Supplied

Published Mar 25, 2024


Does your grandmother have saris stashed in a cupboard for the next generation?

Well, that could change. Pick n Pay Clothing has partnered with Sari for Change, a foundation dedicated to empowering unemployed women and promoting sustainability by upcycling gently worn saris into one-of-a-kind dresses.

For this collaboration with Pick n Pay, Sari For Change has designed modest wrap dresses ahead of the various religious celebrations overlapping this year.

Sari for Change embodies the spirit of sustainable fashion. Photo: Supplied

“Each dress is one-of-a-kind and embodies a story of renewal and uniqueness, as it is crafted from a single donated sari carrying its individual heritage,” Pick n Pay said in a statement.

The word "sari" derives from Sanskrit and means "a strip of cloth“, with an average measure of up to about 5.5 metres. With numerous possibilities, from traditional to modern wear, it has evolved over time.

And now, in South Africa with this partnership, it continues its fashion journey.

Pick n Pay Clothing in partnership with Sari for Change have unveiled an exclusive range of 200 versatile wrap dresses, which can be worn in three distinct ways. They are on sale currently at four Pick n Pay Clothing stores: Cavendish, Canal Walk, Sandton City and Gateway.

The founder of Sari for Change, Rayana Edwards, shares her story on how the project started.

Edwards said it began in 2014, after she identified a huge untapped sari resource in her community and the need for training unemployed women to become self-sufficient. At the time, Rayana was a single mother raising four daughters herself.

“Every Indian grandmother has a collection of saris stored in their back cupboards, with the hope of passing them on to the next generation. Each sari is often only worn once for a special occasion, so this presented a resource of six meters of beautiful fabric to innovate,” explained Edwards.

According to the UN Environment Programme, the fashion industry is the second-biggest consumer of water and is responsible for about 10% of global carbon emissions – more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Unfortunately, fast fashion problems are often overlooked by consumers.

And according to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, emissions from textile manufacturing are forecast to spike by 60% by 2030.

To combat that circular fashion, companies such as Sari for Change focus on extending the lifespan of clothing and reducing waste.

Since its inception, more than 15 000 unwanted and gently-worn saris have been collected from community-based organisations and repurposed into various garments, including jackets, kaftans and kimonos, and sold via their online shop.

But Sari for Change is more than just circular fashion. It provides jobs and has provided skills and employment to women, mostly from Soweto, with training hubs in Cosmo City, Dobsonville and Yeoville.

With 7.9 million people unemployed in South Africa, every job created is important.

Speaking on the partnership, Edwards said: “We need to educate consumers about production processes that are kinder to the environment and understand the back story around the impact of their production. This is a big step in the right direction for a big retailer, demonstrating their commitment to empowering community organisations that focus on upskilling and developing women. Every woman and indigent person employed in the programme has their own hard story, and Sari for Change is bringing much-needed skills and development directly to them.

“This is a major retail breakthrough, considering this project started in our garage. Mercy, the leader of the Cosmo City hub where the Pick n Pay range was produced, started as a cleaner in the clothing factory.

“As this partnership required scale, it necessitated the shift from domestic to industrial machines. The two new industrial machines mean our women are now focused on efficiency and output. Two additional seamstresses who attended the 2023 upskilling programme are now full-time employed.

“Mercy and her team have been coached and mentored on pattern-making and grading to meet Pick n Pay requirements and were trained by our in-house expert.”

Hazel Pillay, the managing executive of Pick n Pay Clothing, emphasised the importance of supporting local talent through such collaborations.

“This particular range for customers offers a truly unique one-of-a-kind wrap dress at an everyday affordable price for our customers. What makes it even more special is that the dresses are made by upskilled women within the community.

“This partnership exemplifies the spirit of sustainable fashion, but also underscores the transformative power of collaboration. We remain committed to championing local suppliers and designers through initiatives like this and our Futurewear collaborations, enriching the retail landscape with diversity and purpose,” said Pillay.