Designing her pre-wedding collection sparked Pavithra Varathan’s interest and passion in designing sarees. In 2016, the 31-year-old designer started to work with families of weavers from the Indian temple city of Kanchipuram to come up with her own creations of Kanjivaram silk sarees for the Malaysian market.
“It takes a lot of vision and imagination to create sarees with elements of fashion, elegance, uniqueness and most importantly, quality, ” she says of running Kancheevaram Weaves By Zobha.
Kuala Lumpur-born Pavithra says it takes time to explain her modern designs to the weavers she works with. There are also traditional elements and techniques to adhere to, to make sure the end result stays true to heritage.
She points out that the gorgeous Kanjivaram saree is among the world’s most luxurious saree, and is worn for weddings and special occassions. According to Pavithra, the cloth is embellished with pure zari – threads made of fine gold, silver or copper.
One of the methods suggested to differentiate between an original and fake Kanchipuram silk saree is to pick a few loose threads from the saree, burn them, pick the remaining ash and smell it. It’s authentic if the smell is similar to that of burnt leather or hair.
“It is a bit tough to break tradition, because the weavers only know what lies within the tradition and Kanjivaram sarees are meant to be as authentic as they come. It is also why a Kanjivaram saree has such value and respect among people, ” she relates.
Pavithra’s biggest challenge is to think up unique colour combinations that can stand out on any skin tone. She says that customers like variety, and they tend to look for something different from the usual.
Pavithra was an interior designer before founding Zobha, and now runs it as a full-time business.
In August this year, Pavithra caused quite a buzz when she unveiled a Merdeka-themed saree in conjunction with the National Day celebration. It was inspired by the unity shown by fellow Malaysians battling Covid-19 together.
Zobha offers a wide range of traditional sarees, including pieces more appropriate for formal wear or weddings, from the simplest design to the most flamboyant.
“I would strongly say that I love sarees more and more as the years pass. The amount of effort and attention that I put into every single one of my sarees has only made me to love them more, ” she adds.
On the issue of modernising sarees, Pavithra believes that it can be done. She however thinks it should be carefully carried out – for example, trying out new colours instead of changing the look.
“Bringing modern colours and traditions together works better, rather than modernising the entire concept. If it’s to be done, maybe we can call the ‘modernised version of saree’ something else.”
Her wish is for people to support the handloom saree industry and its artisans. She also calls for everyone to wear a saree whenever appropriate. Sarees usually measures four to nine metres long, and it requires skills to drape it around the body in neat folds so that it falls beautifully.
The good news is that sarees are becoming more popular, Pavithra says. She believes the traditional attire is making a pleasant comeback, based on her observation of Zobha’s customers.
“To my surprise, the younger generation now love sarees. In fact, they are the ones who have lots of requests regarding the designs on a saree. “I believe, when the saree is being showcased elegantly, the younger generation do get the idea and adore them.”