Tell us your name, background and earliest textile memories?
My name is Shafla Jalil. I live in North London but I grew up in Islington. I currently live in North London. Originally I’m from Bangladesh, both my parents are from Bangladesh. I was born in Sylhet, in a place called Moulvi Bazar, which is now a city, we’re no longer a part of Sylhet, we’re our own city. ‘Cause they made so much money, there’s a lot of money involved in Moulvi Bazar, so we’re our own city now.
Textiles plays a massive part, massive part. I love clothes. I love saris. They’re uncomfortable to wear, but I love wearing them. So especially when it’s traditional events I like wearing sari to those: weddings, family functions and things like that. On a normal day-to-day basis I don’t like wearing sari all the time. However, when I first got married in Bangladesh, I spent 9 months in a sari every day.
How did that feel?
It was part of tradition because I was a new bride and they were a very traditional family, so they expected that from me. So me and my sister-in-law would always wear cotton saris, we’d have these matching blouses and they would be sent off to the launderette every so often to be starched and then ironed and we’d have these stack of saris that we could go through and wear every day – and they looked very nice. You’d look very nice. And you did feel like a new bride, or ‘bow’ as they say. I was an expert in wearing them by then.
Where did you first encounter Jamdani?
So my first encounter I would say was before I got married. I actually saw one of my friends wear it. I just thought, it looks so amazing, so beautiful. So I asked her what is that, she said it’s a Jamdani and it’s my mum’s. So when I went to Bangladesh, when I got married that was one of the saris I wanted. I ended up buying a few because I loved them so much.
Where did you buy them from and what attracted you to them?
Because I’m quite tall, not petit, when you bought Jamdani saris from the local shops they tended to be a little bit small, lengthwise shorter, or the length was not enough because I was so tall. And then I discovered Aarong. Obviously Aarong was really expensive but their saris were amazing, the designs, the quality, the length, everything was perfect and so my first Jamdani was from Aarong.
Do you still have that?
I’ve got more, I ended up buying about 3 from there. And I have every single one of them. Every time there’s a special occasion, I’ve got that Jamdani on because as soon as you wear that Jamdani sari heads turn. You can have people there with hundreds of pounds worth of saris but for some reason if you wear a Jamdani sari and turn up, everybody looks at you and everybody will comment and compliment it. I’ve never had an event where people haven’t asked ‘where did you get that sari from?’
Do you wear Jamdani at non-Bengali setting?
I’ve never worn it in an English setting or had a suitable event to go to wear it at. If I was invited to something that I could, I would. Generally, it’s traditional wedding events and family gatherings and things like that. Never worn it to and English, western event to be honest with you.
What do you recall about the previous generation wearing Jamdani?
My mum. My mum loves – my mum was probably the first one that wore Jamdanis that I recall. I didn’t find it attractive as a child. I didn’t really look at it that way. It’s only when I became a teenager and I actually saw one of my friends wearing it, that’s when it stood out to me. But my mum, my aunties, my grandmothers they’ve all worn it. It’s a traditional sari. I don’t know a single Bengali family that does not have a Jamdani sari from my mum’s era or before that, everyone’s got a Jamdani somewhere.
Have there been any changes to the Jamdani saris over the years like the quality or patterning?
I would say that the quality has got better, much better. The pattern is a unique pattern. You can’t really change it otherwise it won’t look like a Jamdani.
Going forward, how do you see Jamdani featuring in the future generations?
I’ve got children. I have a 25 year old, I have a 12 year old. My saris that I have will be passed down to my daughters. My 25-year-old appreciates them a lot. As they get older they start to understand the culture a bit more and the tradition. She’s quite unique in her way as well, so anything unique like that, she’ll be draw to it. And she’s always been attracted to Jamdani saris. Every time I put one on, everybody tells me ‘your mum looks amazing.’ She has asked me ‘mum, what is that?’ and I’ve told her it’s a traditional Jamdani sari. So I think it’s not going to come out of fashion, it’s timeless. Jamdani saris are timeless. It’s just a classic sari. All the other saris can go out of fashion, they always do, they change. A Jamdani is a Jamdani, it’s never changed. You go into shops and they give you all these saris, they show you all of these saris and they give you different names of Bollywood films, but Jamdani has never changed, it’s a classic.
How does it connect with your Bengali culture?
Definitely. Jamdani is unique to Bangladesh and we associate it with loads of festivals and events as well. It’s so unique to Bangladesh and that’s what I love about it. It’s connected to Bangladesh, it gives you a sense of belonging. And you feel proud when you put it on. And you feel even more happy when people ask you: ‘where did you get that from?’, ‘how much is it?’, ‘Is it expensive?’, ‘is it comfortable or uncomfortable?’. Usually when we go and buy saris, it’s full of work and it’s very heavy. Jamdani is light, so when you put it on you can’t really feel it, it doesn’t feel uncomfortable. If it sits properly and you put it on properly it will stay. It’s one of those saris that everybody’s going to love. And if you put it on several women that turn up in different colours and different patterns, it will stand out. It just looks amazing together. It just looks so beautiful, it’s actually my favourite.