Goan designer Verma D’Mello, known for bridal collections, surprised everyone in 2019 by showcasing indigenous Kunbi and Gauda tribal wear at Cannes. She earned acclaim and the “best red-carpet designer” award. The Kunbi saree, once fading into obscurity, made a comeback. Previously, it was worn mainly by Goa’s Kunbi and Gauda tribes. However, as modernity spread, it became a symbol of caste and identity, discouraging youth.
Now, the Kunbi saree is back in the limelight, adorning fashion ramps and ceremonial events. The Goa government supports its resurgence by establishing handloom training centers. However, challenges remain, such as the labor-intensive process, natural dye requirements, and competition from power looms.
Critics argue that the saree’s transformation into designer clothing risks disconnecting it from its working-class roots. It’s vital to ensure that the community benefits from the revival and retains control over its future. A cooperative approach, with women involved in making and wearing the saree, could modernize designs and ensure autonomy.
The newfound recognition is already influencing change in villages, with even tribal sarpanches embracing the Kunbi saree once more. As the saree gains momentum, its journey continues at the October San Francisco Fashion Week, affirming its place in both Goan heritage and contemporary fashion.
Re-reported from the article originally published in Hindustan Times