Saree Whisperer. Heirloom Hoarder. Custom Ambassador. A Story Teller.
By The People is an interactive series where we feature inspiring individuals from everyday life, who are empowered and creative in their own little space. The entire piece is about them and their picks on Unfactory. Their picks could be anything that catches their attention on the website or anything they see themselves use in everyday life – a stained glass butterfly that’ll fit perfectly in the balcony or an art print that they see in their children’s room. It’s almost like a slice of Unfactory from their point of view.
And in this edition we are delighted to introduce Sumitra Selvaraj, the founder of Sarees and Stories. She is the executive producer of VBuzz, an English language talk show in Kuala Lumpur. She wears a saree to work every day. In fact, she has exclusively worn sarees to work for the last 15 years. She has an admirable list of followers on Instagram, hungry and eagerly waiting for her posts on sarees and their stories. There is a stride of positivity and feels like a breath of fresh air, each time she writes on her blog or social accounts.
Of Sarees and Stories:
You cannot be faulted for spending hours admiring the rich collection of sarees that Sumitra Selvaraj drapes to work, to play or — to just do nothing. A teal Chettinad cotton with a Kalamkari border, a dazzling Pochampalli Ikat in maroon, gold and black or a busily patterned Kashmir silk that hugs her close — scroll through her instagram feed and you will see why the saree is enjoying a revival — and, thanks to aficionados like her, how richly it deserves its moment under the sun. Sumitra Selvaraj wears a saree every single day. A vibrant, modern Malaysian woman, Sumitra is a writer, presenter and media professional, based in Kuala Lumpur. She runs Sarees and Stories, a blog and instagram feed, dedicated to chronicling her daily love affair with this humble garment that millions of women drape to clothe their bodies, as they conquer the world.
Sumitra documents her life in a saree — one day she is off to interview Bollywood star Kajol, another day she is at a writing workshop, or headed to an impromptu beachside vacation. A bit of each day is dedicated to celebrating weaves, colours, patterns, textures and styles. But look a little closer and you will realise that it is Sumitra – the woman and her words, that make everyday an occasion. It is her stories that elevate her everyday saree-wearing experience for readers from the world over.
Once she has drawn you into her world, Sumitra wants you to reconsider the idea that sarees ought to only be reserved for special occasions. She wants you to appreciate the variety and versatility of this garment, without reducing it to a fad or a fashion statement. Along the way, she also invites us to question unconscious biases we may have about women who wear sarees — perhaps we imagine that saree-wearing women are old fashioned or conservative. Perhaps, we see them as exotic creatures, set apart by their choice to wear a garment so strongly associated with ‘Indian’ culture.
But Sumitra Selvaraj, smilingly demolishes all these preconceived notions one by one. She shows you how it can be novel but not strange for a woman of her age and upbringing to embrace the saree. And even while you are coveting her wardrobe and wishing you could learn how to drape a saree as elegantly, casually and effortlessly as she does, you will realise that her sarees are just one part of her identity but not emblematic of who she is. For Sumitra Selvaraj is a woman with many stories, and we are happy she chooses to share them with us.
Read on to know what picks Sumitra’s interest from the Unfactory collection in her very own words…
“So if you’re going to let me run around a wonderfully curated site like Unfactory, you’ve got to know that the first place I’m going to head to is the Saree section! And I think being swathed in a Red Silk Jamdani is exactly the way I’d like to begin every single day of my life. My husband recently asked me, if I could only wear one colour for the rest of my life, what would it be? And I answered Red of course, much to his consternation. But I really love Red Sarees, and I think they shouldn’t only be reserved for bridal wear.”
“Ooh…You have dog leashes! And such stylish ones too. I think if you’re going to use a print on a dog leash, it should be the outline of a dog…just to be absolutely clear what its going to be used for. Not that I can think of any other use for a dog leash… NOPE, I’m not even going there!”
“I have a serious addiction for notebooks, and have amassed quite the collection over the years. Unfortunately I don’t like writing in my notebooks; I like the look of the pristine pages, untainted by scribblings. So what I have is a collection of NICE notebooks, with lovely covers that I can just sigh and admire the purity. And then I have a pile of regular notebooks, usually collected from media events and such, with what I would consider unexciting covers. The Banana Fibre Diary with Ikkat falls firmly into the FIRST category.”
“I’m terribly unadventurous with jewellery, and quite happy to wear the same set of earrings with just my thali chain as a neck adornment. My late grandmother would gasp if she saw my neck and wrists bare, and would take things off herself to make me wear them. It mortified me to no end, so I made it a point to always wear jewellery while I was around her. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE jewellery…I’m just a little clueless when it comes to accessorising. And, because it’s so unlike me, I would pick the Sonora Sunset Cuprite set and learn how to be a little bit more bold in my jewellery choices.”
“Since I am free to pick from the same category twice…I’m heading back to Sarees!!! As much as the planner in me wants the Blue Jamdani Saree (because if I already have the Red then I should have one in another colour). I would resist the temptation to be predictable and go with the Tranquil Drape that is the Ecru Khadi Saree. I absolutely love the feeling of the rougher hewn cottons, and Khadi Sarees are something I really cannot get enough of. This particular Saree is a dream, and possible one that would look wonderful when accessorised with the Sonora Sunset Cuprite earrings from the list…😊”
We thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Sumitra better and loved going through her picks. Hope you do enjoy going through her list and match with yours. Stay tuned to her Instagram account and subscribe to the blog for some awe-inspiring stories.