Michelle Obama, Indian Weavers Hope Gift of 100 Handmade Saris Will Help Highlight Problem

Michelle Obama in New Delhi, India
Michelle Obama in New Delhi, India

*“If she likes our saris and decides to wear them, it will be a great gesture of beauty with purpose,” says Pervez Matin, whose family has been in the weaving business in India for three generations. And that is why Indian weavers in  the city of Varanasi, want U. S. First Lady Michelle Obama to accept (and be a show piece for) their gift of 100 saris during her visit to New Delhi with her husband, president Barack Obama.

The craftspeople of India’s holiest city hope that with the First Lady’s acceptance of their gift, attention will be brought to the threat of competition that the centuries-old industry is now facing, according to what the local businessman told The Associated Foreign Press on Sunday.

The weavers have been working on the garments for months and not unlike any industry, are threatened with competition from those who mass-produce garments and sell them for a cheaper price.

“We have used pure gold and silver threads for the sari that we have prepared for Michelle,” said Pervez Matin, whose family has been in the weaving business for three generations.

“It was woven on a handloom by our workers over two months,” he told AFP by phone from Varanasi.

Matin’s cream-coloured sari, which would normally cost 150,000 rupees ($2,400), is among 100 that Varanasi’s weavers are planning to send to Obama, who arrived with the US president Sunday on a three-day visit to India.

With the rules regarding value limits on gifts the First Lady can accept, this already sounds quite extravagant.

Mrs. Obama never disappoints. She wore a design by Indian-American designer Bibhu Mohapatra as she stepped off Air Force One wearing a tailored dress and matching jacket with splashes of blue, black and white.

“We know about the First Lady’s love for our handwoven fabric. We will send all the saris and she can pick and choose what she likes,” Matin said.

The Muslim weavers in Varanasi are known for their high quality silk products which take days and sometimes months to make and are priced as high as $10,000 apiece.

But craftsmen say the traditional Banarasi silk industry is hanging on by a thread and could be killed off within a generation by factory-made Chinese imports.

“Our industry is suffering. We thought it (gifting the saris to Obama) is a good way to highlight the problems that we are facing,” Matin said.


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