I was a Sari

Metamorphosis in Mumbai.

Gucci has come together with I was a Sari in order to change the lives of talented women in Mumbai.

The Backstory.

When he entered the workshop of a sari dealer in an old market in Mumbai, Stefano Funari realised he had come across the definition of the circular economy. From floor to ceiling the shop was packed with saris in every colour, condition and fibre. All were waiting for a second chance in life. Stefano was convinced that with this fabric supply he could work on textile projects with vulnerable and disadvantaged women from the Mumbai area.

The women, he believed, could add even more value, making unique and very beautiful textile products, through the process known as upcycling.

There was a need for change. The previous projects he’d witnessed offered tailoring training to women, but the women, while talented, were not reaching the standards they really needed to enter the professional garment market.

From traditional communities they struggled to balance their desire to learn and train with their responsibilities at home. He asked himself how he could change this cycle, coming up with a different model for women in these circumstances to give them regular income, dignity and access to opportunity.

I was a Sari was born.  In 2013 with the support of Fashion in Process, a research collective within the Design Department of Politecnico di Milano University and in collaboration with local NGOs working in communities in the Mumbai district, the first group of women began their training in reconditioning and upcycling saris. By 2016 more than 40 artisans were fulfilling orders on time and of quality.

This is a carefully calibrated programme, taking place in five working centres across Mumbai. The spaces are safe places for women, run by women. They are places where women can flourish. But the project reached a crossroads. The question needed to be asked: could it scale?

The Gucci component.

In 2017 the relationship with Gucci was formed in order to allow I was a Sari to do just this.  The Gucci team realised that by applying high level embroidery techniques and working with Gucci’s major embroidery houses, the sari, a garment synonymous with repurposing, could be given new value in the global fashion market.

Challenging prejudice:

However the embroidery industry in India at this level is dominated by men, traditional ‘kaarigars’. Up until now women have been excluded.

This is particularly true of aari, an embroidery technique that creates an extraordinarily beautiful and intricate relief on fabric. It is technically challenging to master, not least because embroiderers work stitches rapidly into the material held by a frame and cannot see the design as they work.

It requires a blend of instinct and technical prowess. Time and time again we have been told women cannot accomplish this technique.

On behalf of the women training to be artisans, together I was a Sari and Gucci have challenged this prejudice head on. In four of Gucci’s major partner export houses, women from two local NGOs, Community Outreach Programme and Animedh Charitable Trust, have completed their initial training, including in aari. Furthermore, the male artisans have become teachers to the women students.

This has allowed Gucci’s export houses, not only to train women but to begin changing the minds of the society and community, in favour of female empowerment.

They will now go on to apply their skills to produce the first capsule collection.

A project with true change at its heart:

Through our CHIME FOR CHANGE campaign, Gucci demonstrates every day that none of us can move forward if half of us are held back.  We believe that by working together, we can change the course of history to create a future of gender equality.

And now, through I Was a Sari, it is clear that a programme for doing good can also be ambitious. I Was a Sari now intends to scale from 70 women artisans to hundreds of women who can work with the project.

Gucci supports that ambition. Most importantly this is a programme that has been built around the women so it is centred on their needs and requirements.

It takes a unique partnership to keep the needs of the female artisans in balance with the requirements of the luxury fashion industry. We call that Gucci Equilibrium.

In 2019 ‘I was a Sari’ won the Circular Design Challenge Award, India’s first award for sustainable fashion, getting the opportunity to showcase their collection at the Lakmé Fashion Week Winter Festive 2019.

The Circular Design Challenge Award, in collaboration with the UN Environment and R Elan’s ‘Fashion for Earth’ initiative, is an opportunity to urge the new designers and entrepreneurs to use materials composed by recycled materials for their collections. “I Was a Sari” has been awarded among 900 entries from over 30 cities in India.


NOW I CAN is a campaign that tells the story of the artisans involved in the making of tote bags. NOW I CAN – represents the voice of each artisan sharing the journey, the positive transformation and the prospect of a better tomorrow. The result is a first capsule collection of bags which includes the name of the artisan, hand embroidered and attached to the inner lining, creating a connection between the artist and the person who wears it.

In a sector of the garment industry that was previously out of bounds to Indian women, this project symbolizes a cultural change in favor of female empowerment, allowing women to become the “designers” of their lives.