The Story behind Unfolding the Saree Zine

The Story behind Unfolding the Saree Zine

From overcoming her "hatred" for the daunting Indian Saree to publishing a Zine on it. Learn more about what went into the making of Unfolding the Saree Zine in Kulture Shop's interview with Studio Kohl's Mira Malhotra.

KS: Tell us about how Unfolding The Saree Zine came to be? How did you realize it from an idea to an actual product?

Mira: I was thinking about what I could make for ELCAF actually, as part of Kadak collective. Since we are 8 graphic storytellers, and I have always enjoyed writing stuff, and reading zines, I was keen on making a zine. Originally it was just going to be prints and postcards, but it was a really big deal for me to be part of the collective, and to be part of ELCAF, so I wanted to push the envelope for myself a bit. I've always been a big fan of self-published literature, mostly because it's so offbeat, and the Riot GRRRL movement and DIY culture inspires the most. I've probably mentioned this everywhere but I love Kathleen Hanna, lead singer of the Riot GRRRL band Bikini Kill, and pioneer of the movement. Her art and music both inspire me greatly. To create something like what she did would be impossible for me, because of having the Indian context around me, and I always feel one should be true to their own specific context (even if not necessarily to their culture). Something that really intrigued me was the saree.


I grew up having a hatred for the saree, it was something 'older' women wore- sorry for the ageism, and any experiences wearing it as a teenager were awful, it once completely unraveled off me on stage. It eventually grew on me after my time in NID Ahmedabad, and of course, I recently learned how to drape one (though I suck at the pallu pleating still). I always had a lot of questions on the saree, about it being a decent dress on one hand, or even extremely sexy on the other, and had heard very mixed ideas about it in terms of how women appear while dressed in one-that inspired the content of the zine, and the sexy /modest binary has to do with the 'folding/unfolding' phrasing in the title. I'm a sucker for stuff from the bazaar, Indian 'novelty' items, toys, and folk arts and crafts too, and these have all formed a basis for where Unfolding the Saree came from.


It's clearly 'novelty', the whole idea of a miniature saree on a hanger, and I credit my travels around India with visits to local bazaars everywhere. My husband and I both make it a point to visit the markets of all sorts of places on our humble vacations, and we often bring home the oddest things. I guess these all were the basis for coming up with it, and when it did, it was like lightning. To realize it, wasn't as difficult as I'd imagined- but it was time-consuming. With the help of the Studio Kohl team, especially my intern Pearl D'Souza, it was easy breezy though it was spread over a large amount of time, because it was a self-initiated project, probably 2 months.

KS: Tell us about the process of self-publishing and some challenges you had to work around?

Mira: Well, firstly you have to fund yourself. That means you're responsible for everything but also free to make what you like. I had no time to do it so I created it within work gaps after I went home I'd write, for example. I always try to make my products sustainable to the business of Studio Kohl. Easy to purchase, not too costly, as we all know designer products are killer expensive; something that feels like a souvenir. But I also need to get that money back. I see so many designers complain about how no one buys their expensive products, but then they also complain about how expensive designer products are. It's quite hilarious.


To try and price it right was one of the challenges, and it influences your materials. For one I wanted to use a local, cheap paper to communicate the local Indianness, or the bazaar feel, or even the DIY zine feel- so flier paper was a good choice. The downside of that though is that people don't want to buy it because it looks tacky. This was corrected by using the novelty of the zine being an actual miniature saree. It worked out great too because we actually needed a flimsy paper. Without it, the paper wouldn't sit correctly, and it would fan out and drop off because there are so many folds. We chose a lightweight local colored paper that was easily foldable so that it worked great. The good thing is it also comes really cheap.


After you read the zine though, and its opened out it can be hard to make it as compact as it was before, and so the concept of the sleeve came in, not just as a packaging device: keeping the zine clean and holding the title, but also to keep that shit together. Or it can get quite puffy. It's quite small when folded but becomes really huge when fully opened! The most expensive piece of the set is the hanger. And the most troublesome to make as I didn't know anything about product design.

Lastly, though the writing was the hardest. In my quest to finish off my commercial work I rarely get time to do the really creative work, which is writing or drawing. I had to collect images that suited the content, write the essay, and fact-check. Luckily Aarthi Parthasarathy of Kadak, who is also a very old friend of mine, gave me inputs and corrected my errors.

KS: Since it's launch, how has it been received?

Mira: Very well! It transcends a lot of boundaries- so it doesn't just work with the designer crowd. It works well with those in fashion, even your 'aunty' crowd likes it, Bollywood fans and just generally women everywhere do- and men too! It's been better received by designers because of my connections, and I'm proud to say it was sold out at ELCAF with quite a large no. of copies. It's been featured on one of my favorites sites: For Print Only by Under Consideration, and is for sale in the UK at a great store: Colours May Vary, and at the recently held Saree Festival across all the metros. It's been featured in newspapers: Hindustan Times, Mid-Day; and talked about briefly in Indian Express and Mint Lounge. There are still many more features in the pipeline too. :)


KS: Tell us a little about Kadak Collective.

Mira: Our collective is a bunch of women who came together simply because we liked each other's work. The idea had been in Aindri's (our tribe's leader) for some time and she brought us all together. I cannot thank her enough. While most of us are storytellers in a more literal sense: comic-writers/artists, filmmakers, some of us are graphic designers and visual artists. Despite these differences, which makes for a fun, enlightening banter/debates on our Whatsapp group-- the only Whatsapp group I'm a part of that I really care about, we all have a lot of common ground. Which inspires a lot of trust in the others, unlike a lot of teams I've been part of where the wavelengths are all different, or at least off mine! It's a bit like a sisterhood, and a very well accomplished one at that. We've so far had a great run at ELCAF 16, and also Gender Bender Bangalore 16, where we put up a temporary Reading Room, consisting of our zines and comics, which was heavily attended. We are planning another Reading Room very soon, so wait for it! You can read some of the comics from the Reading Room online too.

KS: What's next for Unfolding the Saree Zine? Are there going to be any editions or follow up zines from Studio Kohl?

Mira: Initially I had the idea of continuing the series, talking about the many dualities of the saree, and having a 'collect all the sarees' theme for the zines, but I quickly trashed it. The trick about novelty is to not overdo it, so there won't be anymore. But other zines are likely to come out of the success of this one, and I'm already marinating some ideas in my head for those. They will all be in a similar theme and hopefully, I'll get better at the writing part of it. Let's see, it all depends on that busy schedule opening up!


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