House of Wandering Silk began with Meenakshi, fondly known to all as Mini.
Introducing Mini. Mini is always smiling. She laughs easily. She has warm eyes and patience for my poor Hindi. And did I mention she can carry her own weight in saris?
Mini is the last stop in an India-wide network of 'bhandiwalis'. 'Bhandi' means utensils in Hindi and refers to the women and men who travel India traditionally bartering steel utensils for second hand saris. Nowadays bhandiwalis also pay money for the saris as well as bartering goods.
The saris make their way through a chain of bhandiwalis and agents, from distant villages in Bengal, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan to the main markets for these items in Delhi and Kolkata. In Delhi you will find beautiful pre-loved silk saris, while in Kolkata the market is mostly in cotton saris. Read more about how we select and upcycle these beautiful saris here.
Mini is an effervescent woman from the state of Jharkhand, though her family are originally Gujarati. She is married, and though only in her mid-30s, already has three teenage children. She moved with her Gujarati husband, Vinod, years ago to Delhi, where they live in the north of the city. They're an incredibly sweet couple - contrary to Indian traditions, Vinod does much of the cooking at home. He has "Meenakshi" tattooed on his arm.
I first met Mini in 2010. She was one of about a dozen ladies selling second hand and vintage saris in a small market in a by-lane of Delhi. The women would sit there on the pavement market, in the frigid winters, steaming summers, and the downpours of the monsoon, selling some of the most beautiful textiles ever created.
Rekha, another of our suppliers at the textile market in Delhi where Mini sells her saris.
Wares at the textile market in Delhi: vintage Banjara embroidery, sari borders, recycled saris.
Mini stood out - her endless supply of happiness and energy were contagious. You can't help but smile and be happy when you're around her. I began House of Wandering Silk by sourcing Mini's sari stock for our Kantha Collection and Sari Silk Necklaces.
After so many years of working together, we've become more than seller and buyer. We're "business-sisters". I no longer go to meet her on the pavement where she sells her wares but get picked up by her entire family in their brand new family car (business is doing well!) and taken to her house.
There, in the fashion of true Indian hospitality, her husband, Vinod, cooks incredible Gujarati curry for me, they serve me steaming chai after steaming chai, and I spend a good part of the day picking through her large collection of saris.
Image 1: Today, after an ultra tasty chicken curry, Mini's husband brought out a small bowl of fresh sweets, "pera", that he's just brought back from his sari buying trip in Gujarat. They are milky, like most Indian sweets, and spiced with cardamom.
Image 2: The small temple Mini and Vinod have at home. They have a small, one bedroom place for them and their children, but it's a cosy home. The walls are painted this beautiful, rich red.
Image 3: Following lunch and desert comes chai. Mini's family members take turns to make chai, for which they use fresh, full cream milk and spice it with cardamom in the summer and ginger in the winter.
Mini's daughter, Puja, has got married recently. She is very happy and since her husband lives down the street (and now so does she), she can visit Mini and Vinod whenever she likes. This is the first time I saw her since her wedding and she looked so different! Now wearing a sari (rather than kurta pyjama like before), tikka and the 40 red bangles of a newly wed bride.
Saris before my browsing. Mini has them piled high and wrapped in scrap fabric. At any one time, she'll have several thousand in stock and I'll look through each and every one when I visit her.
Then begins the real business. One by one, like rare jewels being unveiled, Mini opens each bundle of saris and I sort through every piece to choose the yummiest. There are lots of ugly and damaged saris. There are also often absolute gems to be found - tussar silk, hand block prints, and queen of all saris, the patola sari (ikat weaves from Gujarat).
In the early days, I would select a few hundred saris in one sitting. These days, Mini knows exactly the kind of saris I like to buy and sources accordingly. Today I bought 1,200 saris - it takes a heck of a long time! Once they've been counted, Mini wraps them up again in scrap fabric to be transported to the HOWS workshop.
After sorting through the saris and making my selection, I got to look through Puja's wedding albums. She was married in a real Bollywood style wedding. I loved these photos. I think she looks like a movie star!