"Think local, act global." - Priya Mohan
sariKNOTsari, founded by Priya Mohan, is an apparel store that specializes in repurposing clothing that is upcycled, meaning that vintage fabrics have been taken and given a new life with new designs!
The Process Lab Key Take-aways:
Innovative solutions such as upcycling sari materials can help promote sustainable fashion and clothing choices.
It is important to respect workers and manufacturers, as well as ensure fair wages, to run an ethical business.
During hardships such as COVID-19, it is so powerful to seek assistance, listen to others' experiences, and give back to one's employees.
Priya Mohan is an extraordinary example of a Canadian entrepreneur who has come a long way since the launch of her business. Not only has sariKNOTsari gained attention all over Ontario, but Priya’s charitable efforts to give back to artisans have made a remarkable difference around the world. Priya devotes her time to shaping her business around sustainability, ethical sourcing, and body positivity. Altogether, she celebrates the beauty of Indian culture by upcycling saris to create sustainable, multi-use garments that are both fashionable and durable.
The Inspiration: A Sari
Located in Hamilton, Ontario, sariKNOTsari sells upcycled clothing which is sourced from saris. Saris are a symbol of identity and heritage amongst South Asian women, and are such a long expanse of fabric, that even once garments have been made from them, there is still enough scrap material left over to make additional items such as headbands, scrunchies, pillow casings, scarves and more. After a trip to India, Priya started pondering how the sari material could be used to make refined clothing for women of all ages and shapes. And the idea of upcycling old saris was born!
"When something has a dent in it, you know there’s a story. A flaw is not a flaw. Flaws add characters and tell their own story." - Priya Mohan
The Origin Story of sariKNOTsari
Priya has a background in business with her two vintage furniture stores, The Blue Dot and Greystone Fine Furniture. She saw the beauty in vintage items and wanted to apply this attitude towards clothing. Priya’s mission is to have durable clothing made with pure vintage silk saris and guarantee long-lasting wear for her customers of all sizes.
From there, Priya travelled to Delhi to get help with her business idea from a tailoring friend, Aanchal Saini. As an award-winning fashion designer, Aanchal has been recognized for her Masters Thesis project in which she used old saris and turned them into modernized clothing. This further inspired Priya to source Saris as the material for upcycled clothing.
After several months of planning and building inventory, Priya opened shop! Almost instantly, sariKNOTsari garnered attention from the public. People were marvelled by the beautiful fabrics of India. Priya provided an opportunity for women her age to purchase high- quality silk garments that are environmentally friendly all the while ensuring fair pay and ethical work conditions for artisans in India, manufacturing her clothes.
The team at sariKNOTsari focuses on employing and working alongside workers who are based in Delhi. These workers carefully craft sari fabrics into wearable clothing that is easier to wear given our weather and North American lifestyle.
Our Clothing Choices: An Ethical Dilemma
Priya emphasizes the importance of having an ethical partnership for her business alongside Aanchal Saini. She guarantees that her business venture does not engage in any harmful practices such as child labour, which continues to be a problem in a developing country like India. Based on a report by The Guardian, about “170 million are engaged in child labour, with many making textiles and garments to satisfy the demand of consumers in Europe, the US, and beyond”.
Not to mention, children are the easiest to exploit and are often taken advantage of as free labour. Typically, recruiters from large corporations go to countries where workers are willing to work for less than a dollar; posing a choice between not earning anything and between earning the bare minimum to feed their families. Western recruiters convince the parents of young children that they will be paid well for their hard work, live comfortably and receive three meals a day and opportunities to go to school. Sounds like a good deal? Maybe; however, this is a very deceitful tactic in which the recruiter lies to the parents simply to use the child for free labour. With this in mind, Priya knew that she would never resort to such unethical practices. She has relentlessly questioned the child labour practiced and uses her business platform to bring light to this issue.
“Just because someone does the dirty work for [us] does that mean that [we] should take advantage of that?”
Priya’s company also partakes in donating to charitable organizations such as Save The Elephants by shedding light on the issues that matter most. Save The Elephants aims to protect elephants from poaching and the threat of urbanization on the land that the animals live on. Priya and her team bring forth awareness to the issues that the animals face by donating a portion of every upcycled silk purchase that customers make in store, demonstrating that anyone can make a difference.
Additionally, Priya also supports many local artisans by carrying their brand such as Kaarigar Pure Copper Vessels, Eucalan Delicate Wash, Fazl Handknit Socks, Casa Relief Fair Trade Organic Cotton Clothing, Mettamade Bamboo Clothing, and Love And Light Jewels.
The Challenge of Selling Upcycled Clothing
Priya understands there is still an underlying stigma surrounding second-hand clothes amongst women her age. However, the younger generations are investing more in ‘thrifting’, recognizing second-hand clothing to be more sustainable and ‘cool’. This is leading to a shift in perception towards purchasing upcycled clothing that is trickling into older generations. sariKNOTsari is further challenging perceptions around upcycled clothing by showing women the positive sustainable and economic impacts of making this choice.
So next time you’re thinking about purchasing a new clothing item, challenge yourself to try out an upcycled clothing option first!
Resilience throughout COVID-19
Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, most of Priya’s wholesale plans were postponed. She admits that COVID-19 had both positive and negative impacts on her company. During the pandemic, sariKNOTsari was not receiving enough foot traffic through the store, which resulted in decreased revenue. Local Art crawls and the annual Hamilton Supercrawl were also a major source of revenue for the company but these events were cancelled this year. However, Priya is a resourceful person who kept up with government grants and invested in her online story. She was able to keep sariKNOTsari running and has plans to continue growing.
Priya's Advice for other business owners: "Seek out opportunities! Ask around, learn from the experiences of others."