Woven together, the rise and fall of southern Pakistan’s Banarsi sari

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Banarsi saris sold at Banarsi Silk Weavers Colony in Khairpur, Sindh. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)
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Zafar Abbas Ansari holds up sari fabric at his shop in Banarsi Silk Weavers Colony in Khairpur, Sindh. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)
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Updated 15 May 2021

Woven together, the rise and fall of southern Pakistan’s Banarsi sari

  • Banarsi silk was a luxurious hand-woven fabric once made in the city of Khairpur, in Sindh
  • No official data exists on the history of the industry and the stories are told by the weavers themselves

SINDH: At the Banarsi Silk Weavers’ Colony in the city of Khairpur, in Sindh, 47-year-old merchant Zafar Abbas Ansari was waiting, hoping for a few additional orders of silk Banarsi saris as Eid Al-Fitr approached.
The sari is a garment native to South Asia, where a long piece of cloth is wrapped elaborately around the body — usually in cotton or silk — and worn with a matching blouse.
Although the city does not make Banarsi any longer — it is now made in Karachi, more than 400 km away — customers still come to the city to purchase the fabric.
Inside the deserted 70-year-old market — once a bustling place — Zafar’s shop is among the last three Banarsi shops left. His family is one of the 40 weaver families who brought the industry to Khairpur when they migrated from India in 1952.
“It is almost two decades since Khairpur stopped producing Banarsi saris after the industry’s collapse. However, even today, the brand is popular among customers. They keep demanding Khairpur’s brand,” Zafar told Arab News.
In its heyday, Khairpur’s Banarsi sari was synonymous with luxury, with vendors supplying the fabric not only locally but also exporting to Pakistani families living in the UK and other European countries.
Inside Zafar’s shop, unstitched pieces of colorful saris — the blouse, the petticoat and main sari fabric — are displayed. The shop shows off different varieties of saris, including the traditional katan — a plain woven fabric with pure silk threads — chiffon, as well as synthetic fabrics.
“Banarsi sari has distinction and standing,” Zafar said proudly. “It is worn by royal families because of its grace and elegance. In some families it is an essential part of the bridal trousseau.”


The price of a sari depends upon its type. The most expensive sari fabric available in the Khairpur market currently is worth Rs45,000 ($300) a piece
Khairpur’s Banarsi Silk Weavers’ Colony is named after the city of Banaras in India (now Varanasi) because of the silk weavers who migrated from there.
There are no official records, and the story of the garment comes from the weavers themselves. They say the history of the Banaras sari industry in Khairpur is linked with Ghulam Saddiquah Begum — the wife of Khairpur state’s then ruler, Mir Ali Murad Khan Talpur of the Talpur dynasty.
Saddiquah Begum herself came from Bahawalpur state, and in 1949, the weavers said, during a visit to India’s Hyderabad Deccan, she offered Mohammed Yusuf Ansari — a sari trader from Banaras — the chance to start manufacturing in Khairpur.
She is said to have offered her state’s support for the establishment of the manufacturing units required.
In 1952, about 40 families of the Ansari clan migrated from Banaras to Khairpur and sari manufacturing began on handlooms. Later, the saris were exported to other countries.
Arab News could not independently verify this information.
According to Anjum Sajjad Ansari, grandson of Muhammad Yusuf Ansari and a representative of the Banarsi Silk Weavers’ Association Khairpur, at its peak there were 400 handlooms in Khairpur. Today, not a single handloom remains.
“At Khairpur’s Banarsi Silk Weavers Colony today there are 16 houses of traditional weavers. However only three are involved in this business of selling Karachi-made fabric,” Anjum said.
Like elsewhere, the Banarsi brand was associated with pure silk thread work. Initially, Khairpur used silk imported from China, but later the silk came from Punjab’s Changa Manga as Pakistan developed hatching silkworms and silk fiber producing factories.
The whole family engaged in the manufacturing process, including silk weaving, dyeing, warping, and reeling. It took between two to three days’ work to complete a single sari.
The silk weaving industry was thriving into the 1960s.
“In 1965, Pakistan’s President Ayub Khan visited and gave incentives and subsidies that boosted the industry,” said Anjum.
“However, in the later years successive governments paid little heed to this industry, and manufacturing units were shifted to Karachi by 2000,” he said.
For Anjum, there is still a chance to revive the past glory of Khairpur.
“We have given proposals to the government at different forums. But nothing has been done yet. The Banarsi sari has become a trademark for Khairpur,” he said.
“Khairpur’s distinction was to produce only handmade silk fabric, unlike other areas where machines are involved. If the government is sincere, factories could be re-established and skilled laborers could be recalled once more from Karachi.”

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What We Are Buying Today: Spanish designer Belen Mancha’s abayas, thobes combine modern style with vintage crochet

Updated 23 September 2022

What We Are Buying Today: Spanish designer Belen Mancha’s abayas, thobes combine modern style with vintage crochet

Thaa, a Saudi brand born in 2016 with an occidental influence, creates statement abayas and thobes. Using a mix of local and imported textiles, carefully crafted products are created by hand, using different techniques, one of the most distinguished being crochet.

Every season they release new styles as well as a classic linen crochet abaya that has become the brand’s signature. Every piece is made with love for the clients who appreciate and understand the work behind it.

Founder Belen Hernandez-Mancha, a Spanish designer who married a Saudi man, began to experiment with the abundant array of textiles, designs and patterns in the Kingdom. Being surrounded by art and talents within her family sparked the right moment for her to follow her dreams.

Since then her approach has been to cater to sophisticated customers who are trendy with refined taste. The re-emergence of crochet has been one of the best fashion trends this year.

Taking a modern look on a vintage classic crochet pattern, the Thaa abayas are designed to create unique, timeless pieces.

A hand-crocheted abaya features various organic shapes and a flowy design made of lightweight material.

“We will continue to create with passion and service our circle of clientele with a devoted attention to meet each client’s satisfaction, always paying attention to every detail from the design itself to the packaging and service offered,” said Hernandez-Mancha.

You can find Thaa apparel at Homegrown market in Jeddah, Mira Y Mano store in Riyadh and RAYA galleria in Alkhobar.

For more information, visit @thaa_ksa on Instagram.

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Milan design school Istituto Marangoni arrives in Dubai

Updated 14 September 2022

Milan design school Istituto Marangoni arrives in Dubai

  • The landmark event at the Museum of the Future combined a traditional physical fashion show with a complementary digital version in the metaverse
  • ‘Istituto Marangoni’s Dubai branch is a valuable addition to the city’s rapidly developing creative and cultural landscape,’ said Sheikha Latifa

DUBAI: Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al-Maktoum, chairperson of Dubai Culture and Arts Authority and a member of the Dubai Council, was among the guests of honor at a landmark fashion show that marked the Middle East debut of Italian fashion and design school Istituto Marangoni, the Emirates News Agency reported.

The concept for the event combined a traditional physical fashion show at the Museum of the Future in Dubai with a complementary digital version in the metaverse. Models appeared on the real-world catwalk alongside their virtual avatars, creating a unique event that blended tradition with innovation in a world where reality and virtual reality coexist.

The event showcased the work of five top graduates of Istituto Marangoni’s fashion-design courses in Milan, Florence, Paris, London and Shanghai. The grand finale featured designs by Rahul Mishra, a well-known alum who was the first Indian designer to show his work at Paris Haute Couture Week.

In Dubai he paid tribute to his alma mater with creations that combine traditional Indian designs with modern luxury fashion trends in a sustainable, ethical, “slow fashion” approach.

Sheikha Latifa said: “Istituto Marangoni’s Dubai branch is a valuable addition to the city’s rapidly developing creative and cultural landscape. Its diverse offering will provide creatives in Dubai and the region with the right tools to launch their design careers.”

She added that Dubai has cemented its position as a global design hub, one of the primary goals of Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum’s Dubai Creative Economy Strategy, which was launched last year.

As part of that strategy, Dubai Culture is working to strengthen education in the creative arts and, as a result, support the emergence and development of creative talents while establishing an ecosystem of creators in the emirate.

“Bringing global institutions with decades of experience in the field of design to the region reinforces our commitment to the sector and to being a cultural and creative hub,” Sheikha Latifa said. “We look forward to the incredible talent that will graduate from (Istituto Marangoni Dubai) in the coming years.”

Noura Al-Kaabi, minister of culture and youth, said: “It gives me great joy to welcome a globally renowned fashion and design school to Dubai. I see a great partnership in the making, where the UAE and other MENA (Middle East and North Africa) countries will have the advantage of a world-class design school, while Istituto Marangoni will benefit from the untapped talent waiting to be harnessed.

“The UAE is making waves in the creative space and building an ecosystem for future generations to contribute effectively to the creative economy. We are focusing on developing our cultural and creative industries to make them a more significant part of the UAE’s economy.

“We believe nurturing talent is critical to developing the creative sector and Istituto Marangoni will play an important role in achieving that. Imparting world-class education and specialized skills to our youth will boost their creative energy and support emerging talent.”

Stefania Valenti, the managing director of Istituto Marangoni, said: “It’s an honor to celebrate the opening of Istituto Marangoni Dubai at the Museum of the Future with the warm endorsement of Her Highness Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum and Her Excellency Noura bint Mohammed Al-Kaabi, and in this museum where our immersive experience found its perfect space.”

Dubai is the latest addition to the ranks of global fashion capitals that host an Istituto Marangoni school, including Milan, Florence, Paris, London, Mumbai, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Miami.

Valenti said that with the help of qualified, professional staff from Italy and an innovative “learning by doing” approach, students at Istituto Marangoni Dubai will develop the skills they need to realize their potential and turn their passion and talent into a successful career.

“Today’s event showcases what Istituto Marangoni students can achieve,” she added. “With the opening of our school in Dubai, we are offering local aspiring fashion and interior designers the opportunity to acquire the skills and knowledge required to kick-start their careers.

“Istituto Marangoni is committed to playing an active role in the Middle East to encourage a new ecosystem of talent, institutions, stakeholders and industries. We hope to contribute to fostering a new generation of fashion designers in the region, with special attention to empowering women in their aspirational field of interest, be it fashion, design or arts.”


Hand-woven Japanese silk fabric artisans turn attention to Saudi Arabia

Updated 28 August 2022

Hand-woven Japanese silk fabric artisans turn attention to Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: Kyoto-based Okamoto Orimono Co., Ltd. (branded as Nishijin Okamoto) has worked to provide rare silk fabrics since the Meiji era, and have carried on the techniques and traditions of Nishijin textiles for over 100 years, across four generations.

Nishijin Okamoto is one of the few remaining weaving companies carrying on the historic culture of Nishijin and Kyoto, and the company is offering innovative silk fabrics that will impress the wearer.

Ema Okamoto, textile designer and managing director of Nishijin Okamoto, spoke to Arab News Japan, saying, “I grew up as a child amid the sounds of the machines, the winding threads, and the bustle of the craftsmen in the house and workshop. This atmosphere of the Nishijin workshop is my origin and my life.”

“The people of Saudi Arabia, like us, cherish their roots and as they live their lives. I got a lot of inspi- ration from the regional symbols they showed us wherever we went,” Okamoto said, expressing interest in creating “a traditional collaboration between Saudi Arabia and Japan.”

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What We Are Buying Today: Samuda

Updated 10 February 2022

What We Are Buying Today: Samuda

  • Samuda is empowering Saudi Arabia’s fashion and design industry by highlighting traditional arts

JEDDAH: Samuda is a new Saudi luxury brand that shares the stories of the Kingdom’s lands through intricate designs illustrating the country’s most prominent landmarks and the ancient arts of its diverse culture.

Working to international standards, the company’s aim is to redefine everyday items with high-quality lifestyle accessories, inspire the community with exceptional designs, and promote local art for a global audience.

The firm recently launched its first collection of silk, cotton, and cashmere scarves and throws with designs inspired by national heritage sites.

The business’ founder said: “At the center of our achievements lies a profound Saudi perspective committed to promoting our rich history and introducing a modernized form of traditional arts.

“We stay connected to our roots and firmly believe in showcasing our love for our Kingdom with specially designed products. People around the world can now appreciate the richness of our designs with premium-quality materials.”

Samuda is empowering Saudi Arabia’s fashion and design industry by highlighting traditional arts including the iconic motif Asiri Qatt, drawn on the interiors of old houses in Asir, Al-Sadu, and even the beauty of Hijazi architecture.

With carefully selected vibrant shades, the design process goes through several stages, from brainstorming sessions to quality checks.

Sustainability is also important to the brand and its goal of cultivating a longing and yearning for luxury items that enhance living standards.

For more information, go to www.samuda.com.sa or visit Instagram at @samuda.sa.


Louis Vuitton designer Virgil Abloh dies of cancer

Updated 01 December 2021

Louis Vuitton designer Virgil Abloh dies of cancer

  • LVMH said Abloh, 41, had been battling cancer privately for years

NEW YORK: Designer Virgil Abloh, a leading fashion executive hailed as the Karl Lagerfeld of his generation, has died after a private battle with cancer. He was 41.
Abloh's death was announced Sunday by the luxury group LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) and the Off White label, the brand Abloh founded. Abloh was the men’s wear designer of Louis Vuitton.
“We are all shocked after this terrible news. Virgil was not only a genius designer, a visionary, he was also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom,” Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive of LVMH said in a statement.
A statement from Abloh's family on the designer's Instagram account said for the last two years, Abloh battled cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare form of cancer in which a tumor occurs in the heart.
“He chose to endure his battle privately since his diagnosis in 2019, undergoing numerous challenging treatments, all while helming several significant institutions that span fashion, art, and culture,” the statement read.
Abloh is survived by his wife Shannon Abloh and his children, Lowe and Grey.

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