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The Beauty of India’s Saree Libraries

The 'libraries' provide access to top-end sarees for women who cannot otherwise afford the items critical to every Indian woman’s ability to participate fully in social life.

Even in a small rural communities, women can expect to be invited to at least six weddings each year and the pressure to dress smartly is high.

Wedding rituals in India last several days and women are expected to wear a new outfit for every function. Other social events such as births and mundan ceremonies - the ritual shaving of a toddler’s head - also require festive attire. Quality attire is an investment in social capital that very few can afford.

Happily, the Gramshree Trust now has around 20 saree libraries sprinkled amongst rural villages in the state of Gujarat. There is no renting fee; borrowers must only have the saree drycleaned, which costs 50 rupees (70 cents), a small fraction of the price of purchase.

Gramshree taps wealthy women with overflowing wardrobes of sarees that they no longer use. Typically in India, women buy several showy sarees for their trousseau - a collection of outfits “suitable for a new bride” worn in the weeks following their wedding. Most women have little use for these dresses a few months after marriage, so each of Gramshree’s libraries stock 30 to 50 such pieces.

Ami Udeshi, a donator to the library from Ahmedabad, prefers to donate her sarees to the libraries instead of giving them away to one woman because it “widens the scope of their use,” she says.

The Gramshree saree libraries have served thousands of women across Gujarat, helping them feel good and look good, boosting their confidence and self respect.


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