Cover Photo: SarisToSuits founder Patti Tripathi in an upcycled sari. Photo by Derek Wintermute.
BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE
Atlanta, GA, June 17, 2021: What do you do with a bunch of those saris that lie nicely ironed and tucked away in the corner of your armoire for years? Especially the ones that hold special memories, but never find the right occasion to be worn. Patti (Pratibha) Tripathi, founder of SarisToSuits embarked on a novel idea to transform pre-loved and preowned 7 yards of material into exclusive designer clothing and products. Aligning with the mission of the organization to empower women, the transformation happens by 171 once unskilled womenfolk who are trained by Gucci Equilibrium and employed to design and embroider exquisite merchandise and garments. The inspiration – her mother’s saris that she fondly carried around with her from Indiana to DC, Dallas, Florida, Chicago and Atlanta since her passing.
Founded in 2012 by Patti Tripathi, one of the first national news anchors of Indian origin and a global media professional, Saris to Suits ® is a non-profit public charity that strives towards female empowerment, education, gender inclusivity, equality and social justice. The focus is on building awareness to break down the barriers that constrain the advancement of women and girls. The direct impact they hope to make in the community includes joining hands in solidarity for Blindian Projects where people will be draping donated saris over their jeans, skirts, t shirts as they do volunteer work to serve the homeless, and wherever there’s a need. These community projects are slated to be held once in every three months.
SarisToSuits is known for its annual calendar, which, unlike fashion calendars that objectify women, features 12 South Asian women of substance from different walks of life. The nonprofit has some exciting new collaborations, new additions to the team and a brand-new title for its legal fund. The SarisToSuits website also features original narratives called Omniscient Perspective, beginning with women who appeared in the calendar, and other blogs.
The new board features a diverse group of individuals including Abha Rai, Asst. Professor, Loyola University Chicago, Dr. Annapurna Bhat, physician with super specialty in Rheumatology, Bhavya Choudhary, Founder and Managing Attorney at Bhavya Chaudhary and Associates Law Firm, Gautam Dange, Senior-Level Strategy & Innovation Manager, Coca-Cola, Kelly Wright, Preacher/Entertainer, host and Special Contributor of The Kelly Wright Show that airs on cable, and the Black News Channel, Mary Line Annamaraju, CFO at ECOM America, Marshalla Yadav, a philanthropist, and Veena Rao, founder, and editor-in-chief of NRI Pulse newspaper, and author of Purple Lotus.
Pratibha Salwan joins the organization with 27 years of corporate digital technology experience. “Her e-commerce skillset serves as a huge asset as the organization expands the S2S Store to include women-centric sustainable products from around the globe,” notes Tripathi.
“Be it sham marriages, domestic violence, or trafficking – we want to raise our voice against these practices through conferences, events, and fundraisers. As part of the revitalization, we are also using creative strategies to raise funds and have recently revamped our website. We are using our online channel and social media to tell stories that matter to our audience under the ‘omniscient perspective’ section,” said Salwan.
“I am glad to be part of SarisToSuits, as organization has great mission to promote women’s empowerment and support social justice,” said Dr. Bhat. Drs. Anu and Subrahmanya Bhat, through their Bhat Foundation, support various causes and award scholarships to deserving students.
“Saris to Suits Legal Fund is named Purple Lotus Legal Fund to honor Veena Rao who hosted a fundraiser in Feb 2020 just before COVID to raise over $5000. We hope to raise the amount tenfold, then the structure will be put in place by the board and committee members. Led by our attorney on the board we will put a structure, disbursement and tracking of the Purple Lotus fund,” said Tripathi.
The Purple Lotus legal fund aims to support survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking, organize women’s conferences to raise awareness for gender, cultural, social and economic equality in the US and internationally, partner with mission aligned social enterprises for job creation amongst the underserviced and spread the word about inspirational women across the globe through digital media stories.
“I’m overjoyed that the fundraiser NRI Pulse organized for SarisToSuits before the pandemic helped create the seed for the legal defense fund. I hope it grows exponentially and helps transform the lives of women who are trapped in abusive situations,” said Rao. “I am also very excited that Patti chose to name the fund after my novel, Purple Lotus! The lotus germinates in stagnant waters, but grows tall toward the sky, and shares its beauty with the world. I am sure Patti, Pratibha, and the newly created board– of which I have the honor of being a member– will work hard at impacting social change and making our world a little bit more beautiful.”
“I support SaristoSuits in its mission of empowerment of women and of those who need it. Personally, I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to empower 1000s of victims of crime and abuse by helping them obtain legal status and work permits so they are not caught in the circle of violence, abuse and trafficking. In the words of one of my empowered clients, ‘Didi aap hamare liye Bhagwaan jaisi hain’,” said Choudhary.
“Saris to Suits has been a pioneer organization in the Atlanta area with national and global presence, that has relentlessly fought for gender equity and the upliftment of women. Through their community programs and engagement sessions, they have empowered victims of domestic violence and human trafficking giving them hope and a new passion to lead life. I have no doubt that Saris to Suits will continue to support our South Asian community and positively influence our values, ultimately dismantling patriarchy,” quoted board member Dr. Rai.
“Abha Rai is a great addition because as an academic her specialty is gender studies, domestic violence, and has focused her thesis on the South Asian American community in the US,” said Tripathi.
In a collaboration titled I was a Sari, SarisToSuits is working in partnership with an India-based social enterprise that works with female artisans to upcycle once a vibrant sari into stylish western outfits and other products.
“From the Saris to Suits (R) calendar we are making saris to suits clothing … literally. It is sustainable fashion,” says Tripathi. Gucci Equilibrium is training women in Mumbai to become artisans. These once unskilled workers are getting skilled in embroidery and design to make clothing and products such as kimonos, clutches, Kaftans, made from saris.
How did the idea of makeover come about? “I had thought about what to do with my mom’s saris for the past decade. Since her passing at age 56 in late 2004 I had been carrying around two suitcases of vintage saris. I do not attend many occasions wearing saris and I did not want to turn them into pillow covers and curtains. I wanted to wear them in a new form,” says Tripathi. Also, perplexed by the intention of the title, the organization was receiving sari donations!
Tripathi, always inclined to embolden women, had considered getting Savannah College of Arts & Design to partner with SarisToSuits to help train under-resourced women, domestic violence or traffic survivors to customize people’s saris into exclusive merchandise. In the meanwhile, Tripathi and her friend stumbled upon an Italian who had launched a social enterprise in India and the products were already popular in Italy and Greece. COVID has hit the organization hard, but the 171 artisans trained are now working from home after their warehouse closed.
Each sari makes one kaftan (dress); and two saris are used to design kimonos, which may be worn as a mini dress/shirt top/beach cover. Everything including shoes and jewelry are re-imagined with upcycled saris, including the hangtag. Without advertising, the first sample stock of 40 clothing items and clutch bags in the E-store has nearly sold out. The E-store is getting restocked with a variety of clothing and beachwear, jewelry, baguettes, embroidered kaftans, backpacks, scarves, shirts, pajamas, tote bags, etc. made from saris by July. “It’s a mission-aligned partnership and I’m very excited about it because the artisans are getting paid, receiving health benefits while we have a unique item in our wardrobe that no one else will ever own. win-win-win,” noted Tripathi.
“We are a volunteer-run organization and I have been working enough hours to account for several people for nearly a decade now — with volunteer hours, not pay. We need to hire to become sustainable and make a greater impact. Also the best thing people may do is buy from an e-store, and DONATE – SMALL AMOUNT GOES A LONG WAY. We are Benevity-certified charity for corporate matching grants and I’m actively applying for grants for the first time as I close a decade to make the charity a staffed force to be reckoned with for women’s empowerment,” said Tripathi. “My Mom and her treasured saris were the inspiration that will empower hundreds of women in India (and perhaps later in the US) to become designers of their own life.”
Be it calendar or clothing, SarisToSuits has always endeavored to support women in their struggles. Driven by passion, the organization is striving to make a difference, one sari at a time. Visit https://saristosuits.org/ to learn more and support their cause.