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BEAUTY BEYOND GENDERS

An Indian fashion designer spotlights transgender women for her new sari collection

Itika Sharma Punit
By Itika Sharma Punit

Co-editor, Quartz India

It was a risk that has paid off for Kerala-based designer Sharmila Nair.

Two weeks ago, Nair hired transgender women to model for her latest sari collection called Mazhavi (rainbow in Malayalam.) And to her surprise, she is swamped with orders like never before. The collection is called the rainbow because the designer has used the colours of the rainbow in the saris.

“When I decided on the models, I was honestly not sure of the kind of reaction we will get,” Nair told Quartz. “Transgenders are not treated very well and there are several misconceptions about them. Even I had prejudices about the community. But when I worked with them, I realised that they are just like us.”

Nair decided to work with transgender models after Kerala released its transgender policy. In November 2015, the state government launched a policy—a first of its kind in India—under which transgenders in the state would have equal access to social and economic opportunities.

The two models, Gowri Savithri and Maya Menon, were surprised when Nair told them about her idea. “They told me that your brand will suffer if we model for you,” Nair said.

But the response has proved them wrong.”Some people want the same blouses that have been worn by my models because they believe it’s auspicious to wear clothes worn by a transgender woman,” Nair said.

Here are photos of Nair’s latest collection:

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Gowri Savithri (L) and Maya Menon.
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The designer was inspired by Kerala’s new transgender policy.
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A transgender woman models for the latest sari collection of Red Lotus, a Kerala-based designer.
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Twenty-nine years old Gowri Savithri is currently unemployed and is finding it hard to get a job in Kerala.
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The collection has received buying interest not just from India but also the US and Dubai.
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Saris worn by Gowri Savithri are higher in demand and many buyers are asking for several pieces of each, designer Nair said. “I don’t know what it is about her that has struck a chord with the buyers,” she said.
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The two models who participated in this shoot have disclosed their transgender identities on social media but not to people in the real world. They believe they have no other option, Nair said, because if they don’t hide their real identities, they will not be able to get jobs and earn a livelihood.

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