The success of Forsarees, a homegrown label founded by Ritu Oberoi in 2018, proves that there is no garment quite as elegant and versatile as the Indian saree, more so when it is handwoven and sustainable.

There is no garment quite as elegant and versatile as the Indian saree. When the offering in question is handwoven and sustainable, its value rises even further. The success of Forsarees, a homegrown label founded by Ritu Oberoi in 2018, proves this well.

“My vision has always been to popularise Indian traditional crafts in urban and modern setups. And I proudly believe we have done that with Forsarees. We wanted to organise developmental projects in craftsman clusters while creating handloom marvels, particularly focussing on creating women led projects in craft villages,” she explains in a candid chat with The Daily Guardian.

As a sales professional working in the field of media and advertising for years, Oberoi had no background in the handloom or fashion industries. In fact, her last role was in ABP News. She made a foray into this line when she took a sabbatical from work and travelled across the country, discovering many craftsmen clusters in the process. She says, “The seed of entrepreneurship was planted during one of these trips. While travelling to craft villages I was startled to see so much skill and talent around but selling their products beyond certain niche exhibitions was a real struggle for the artisans. So, I decided to take the plunge and use my sales expertise to create a bridge between these craftsmen and urban customers like myself.” This led to the birth of Forsarees.com.

The sarees sold on this platform are one-of-a-kind, authentic, and directly impact artists at the grassroot level. They also offer customisation of sarees with something unique included in each collection. Oberoi points to their Ekla Chalo saree as being their most popular offering. Available in both soft cotton and Jamdani, this design has the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore imprinted on its pallu and borders.

Forsarees has over 300 weavers and other ancillary workers as part of their team. The craftsmen are chosen after a particular cluster they want to work with is identified. New collections are launched frequently, and while they focus on festive flavours they don’t believe in seasonal launches. “Our products are suitable throughout the year for every occasion. We launch new collections every month. Each collection is in limited quantity to maintain uniqueness,” shares Oberoi.

Though domestic clientele constitute the largest share, their products appeal to a global audience, and they have patrons in USA, Dubai, Australia, UK and Singapore. Celebrities such as Vidya Balan, Sonali Kulkarni, Amruta Subhash, Renuka Shahane, Nirmika Singh, have all been spotted in their sarees at various events and photo-ops. Referring to them as ‘saree evangelists’, Oberoi says, “The authentic handloom and traditional crafts we stand for, have helped us associate with these celebrities.”

There is no doubt that India has a rich fashion heritage, but unfortunately, it isn’t always appreciated. Oberoi puts it down to the fact that in their quest to imbibe modernisation, Indians have ditched traditional art forms. Further, she highlights that sarees are no longer seen as regular wear and hence the specific knowledge around this garment has not been passed down the generations. She goes on to add, “Our rich handloom heritage is overshadowed by copies available in power loom/machine made forms. These are cheaper and take away the charm of authentic handlooms. I personally feel it is time to re-ignite our love for sarees, bring out their rustic charm, increase the employability of its creators, while working towards building knowledge around various forms of weaving.”

The period of the pandemic threw many challenges their way. From having no sales for months due to lockdown, and a reduced demand after opening up, to battling the lack of raw materials at the weaver’s end and idle looms – their business was affected in many ways. However, they consistently kept creating their collections, never cutting back on the projects they had planned with their artisans. This instilled confidence in the artisans and helped the team to retain their trust. When asked about their biggest reward, Oberoi emphatically says, “Beyond numbers, the biggest satisfaction comes from the fact that we have been able to achieve our two core objectives—rural employment and women empowerment.”

Every saree from the brand Forsarees is made in rural clusters. Each artisan has their own loom at home on which they create exclusive pieces. Their products are sold on their website and social media platforms. Oberoi signs off by sharing their upcoming plans. She says, “We are working on a collection from Assam, where we will be creating our much-loved Ekla Chalo Sarees using different weaving techniques. We are also working with some women artisans from Kutch who work on embroidery forms to create a special collection.”

The writer pens lifestyle articles for various publications and her blog www.nooranandchawla.com. She can be reached on nooranand@gmail.com.