The #100sareepact is a promise between Ally Mathan and I, to wear one hundred sarees this year.
Why ? Because we want to show our sarees some love. For too long we had relegated the saree to the back of the closets only to be worn on special occasions, mostly festivals. So we decided, we would air them and wear them. But it doesn’t stop there. We are both story tellers.I am a Communications consultant in rich media, Ally is a perfumier. We were compelled by habit to take the pact further to weave a narrative with the memories attached to each saree.
And so it began on March 1st this year. I posted on Facebook, more to hold myself accountable by announcing that this is what I was doing. The next day a few friends joined in. Ally began to post too. And her friends joined in. And the next thing we both knew, the #100sareepact had gone viral.
We would post updates on what we were were wearing and a story about it. Sometimes about it’s legacy, sometimes about the weave, other times an instance that occurred when we wore it last or just how we felt being enveloped in our mother’s saree and love. An emotion, a glimpse into our past and present.
Social media helped us to amplify the message.This is as much a story of the pact as it is about the power of social media. Our pact and it’s stories were amplified by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr by women and men in the pact. The #100 sareepact is now all over the world. In all major cities of India - Bangalore, Chennai, Coimbatore, Cochin, Mumbai, Delhi, Amdavad, Lucknow, Kolkata,Assam, Kashmir… and across the globe in Australia, Korea, UK, Netherlands, Italy, France, UK and the US of A. And now the regional press is taking it deeper into India also.
Almost six months into the pact and it is going stronger than ever before. As more women get to know of it, they join in.
As more men and women get to hear of it, they cheer us on even if they aren’t part of the pact.
My friend, Rekha, wrote about wearing the saree that her mother had worn, 56 years ago, and how she remembered her father being stunned every time her mother wore a saree. He would sing for her, in front of the children, much to her chagrin and embarrassment, and laugh away her protest. “ There, I hear him sing a song”, she wrote wistfully about her parents that are no more.
A gentleman wrote in to tell us that the smell of eau de cologne would remind him of his grandmother in her many sarees. She has passed on. She would keep cotton soaked in her cupboard of sarees which she draped, every single day. Another gentleman, a photographer is contributing to #100sareepact with photo shoots telling the story of one hundred women with his editorial twist. A Spanish professor opened his talk on the history of the saree in a museum, in Madrid, with the story of the #100sareepact and how the story of the saree is told in modern times.
One lady stepped out in the cold in Michigan, in boots and a turquoise blue saree peeping from beneath the jacket. Another lady went for her book reading meet in a saree in Netherlands. And in a poignant post, a mother wore a blue saree to spread awareness on autism and it’s challenges.
There are memories of special moments, gifts of sarees, mother & daughter relationships that have been shared since. Also strong statements about being comfortable in one’s skin, colour tone, gender diversity, choice and prevailing prejudice have emerged. The myriad rituals practiced by different families, their customs & traditions. The canvas of the stories is growing in expanse everyday, with every post.
So when marketing managers find it hard to sustain a program for more than a month, how have we successfully grown and sustained the #100sareepact ?
The #100sareepact doesn’t sell anything. To my mind, not having to sell a product is liberating. It frees you to have a conversation with your audience and to listen to them. What we have done is build a community that is unified and grown.
The Pact struck a chord in so many minds and for the first time we saw a sharing at a very personal level on a very public platform. The out pouring of stories has been surprising. Even I’ve told stories of my roots, my friends, my upbringing, my travel. I shy away from writing some days, knowing that so many I don't know will read my account through my saree photo. Is this too public ? Then, some days, I am compelled to tell my story. To be heard. To find an audience that will listen and understand. That will respond to my telling and to me.
This is more than clicking a photograph, and putting it up, to make myself accountable to my pact of wearing a saree a hundred times this year. This has now become about finding a voice through my sarees to tell my story.
The other day a bunch of us were in a saree for a shoot for a news channel, and a cleaner lady leaned from a few floors above and called out that we looked lovely. My "aha" moment. This movement is cutting across boundaries laid down by society too…I waved my gratitude to her. The saree has become a leveller. It is proving to be the one thing common in all our shared memories. It also carries with it the history of this part of the world in the colour, the technique, the motif, the art.
I have to say, this has spiralled way beyond what we had thought or hoped for. We never planned for this.
I eagerly await the morning to see who will wear what saree, and tell which story. There are common threads running through the sharing, and that commonality, of belonging to a narrative that unfolds, has been my most delightful discovery.
Everyone keeps asking me which is my favourite story so far. My answer remains the same. EVERY story needed telling. My favourite are those that I connect with, that make me privy to a moment in life that may have long gone, but whose fragrance lingers.
We’ve now built a community. A community that has come together for the love of the saree. That is the common thread in an otherwise disparate, geographical scattered member community.
We then took the pact from the digital world on to the ground. The #sareedate is where we meet in the real world in cities across the world and celebrate our stories. This put another spin altogether. It’s become more than the saree we wear. It’s become about us. Friendships have been forged.
Everyone is now eagerly awaiting 21st December 2015, when we all wear our sarees and celebrate the garment on what will become a World Saree day. This community is growing everyday, much to our amazement and our absolute delight. We cannot wait to see what more magic will emerge.
Key learning from the success of the Pact so far:
- Speak to your audience with honesty. We did. The pact has strengthened. And we have said this often, that we are learning as we go.
- Engage, engage, engage. Ally and I have honestly posted our updates and sarees for any one keeping count or anyone else needing the motivation to keep going. And told our stories to the world. The blog www.100sareepact.com has been a step up in that direction.
- Share experiences. Communication can never be one way. It MUST be inclusive. Every member of the community must feel a part of it.
- Have a clear message. ONE message. Be true to it.
We’ve been very clear from day one. We are ONLY telling our stories by wearing our sarees. We don’t sell sarees, we don’t promote saree sellers, we don’t support any one kind of region or industry of saree producers. We have had loads of offers, we have declined any association.
- Build a community. It will propel your message further. And how ! The success of the pact is proof enough.
- It’s hard work. It needs time. Nothing comes easy. Give it attention. Growing organic is great, but after a point scale needs structure.There is something magical taking place here. This coming together of a community of saree lovers and storytellers, and we are archiving it for the future at www.100sareespact.com, work in progress, as we steal time from our day jobs to refine it. We are also in the process of writing a book on the pact. While our blog will archive every story that is shared, the book will carry the essence and journey of the pact.
The book will come out next year and we hope that with the book, we reach our stories to people beyond social media also.
The #100sareepact is a celebration of our lives. I’ve been asked often what we are selling. The #100sareepact doesn’t sell anything. It is a platform where happiness is being shared. Positivity too. We are seeing the silver lining in our everyday living.
And anyone associated with it cannot have escaped the positivity.