Your name, background and earliest textile memories?
I’m Shaju Bibi. I’m British-Bangladeshi based in Birmingham. In terms of fashion or textiles and Jamdani, in terms of our heritage it’s been a traditional attire in our wardrobes. As women, we have adorned saris ever since I can remember as a little girl. It’s something my mother has worn, grandmother, it’s been in our generation, to this day it’s something that I wear personally. At events, functions, weddings, when we’re celebrating Eid. It’s my go-to in terms of sari. In terms of Jamdani – the first time I came into contact with it was when we went to Bangladesh, back in 1992 I think. We were there for my sister’s wedding. We went shopping and learnt about the different types of saris that were available and that was my first introduction to it. It was something worn by families, relatives. We were gifted that from a number of relatives as well. It was something mum has wardrobes full of back in the day. It was a piece of attire that you would find in most mother’s wardrobes. It was something I’ve worn while I was there and in the subsequent years after that. It’s a traditional wear. I love wearing saris and in terms of Jamdani saris I did have or what my mum passed on or gifted to us – very bright, bold colours, very delicate, in terms of the material it’s very high-quality cotton muslin fabric, very elegant soft style with lots of stunning, floral and ornamental motifs embroidered, all hand-crafted, hand woven. I understand historically and even now they’re mainly manufactured in the capital Dhaka, so there’s a dedicated district there. There’s guys who develop, design and manufacture the saris there. When we went we stayed in Sylhet and that’s when we would purchase from the local malls, from the shopping centres there. While we were there the TV adverts were dominated with adverts promoting saris, fashion, different stores. From memory there was one this one that sticks in my head with a bit of jingle, with reference to Jamdani saris. It was very catchy. I’m not even going to attempt to try and sing it for you. It stuck in my head. I will verbally speak the line from what I can remember, it was “… Jamdani print sari…”, so it was making reference to the design and the print. It was my historic experience of it. Amongst the family, sisters and siter-in-laws, they do have pieces and I’ve asked that question and I’ve had one photo and a few more photos coming forth. People are digging them out to share that information, so I’m happy to share that with you.
In Birmingham there’s areas where people buy saris – tell us about your experience there.
In Birmingham, if you haven’t been there are some dedicated Asian areas where there are certain stops that specialise in saris. Predominantly a lot of the shops are Indian-owned, Punjabi owners. They tend to be imported from India. There’s are a few select Bangladeshi shop owners who did use to sell them, especially in the ‘90s. You see it very rarely these days. I haven’t come across it these days. You would find the traditional cotton Jamdani saris, so you could pick that up. Very limited options back in the ‘90s. Probably more rare these days. Although nowadays everything is so digital, I’ve personally shopped from India and I’ve also brought things from Bangladesh. When relatives go over, we put in requests for certain styles of saris. So it is ironically more available. You can have things shipped over from India, from Bangladesh. Historically the Bengal district, the heart of where it all comes from is Dhaka, so there are lots of websites and social media accounts which act as an agent. So if you want something that can be shipped over or ordered for you, there are those options available. If you went to shops these days in Birmingham you’ll probably struggle to find them. I know in London a lot of my family do tend to go shopping every so often, especially in East London I believe, there’s very popular shopping districts, especially in Green Street. So the likelihood of finding a Jamdani sari there might be a lot higher than what you find in Birmingham.
What is your view about Jamdani moving forward and do you still wear saris?
Yes, absolutely. My first memory of wearing a sari I must have been 12 or 13 when we celebrated Eid, so it’s something passed on from my mum. And then from my eldest sister over the years. As I grew older I did my own shopping. Jamdani saris is one of the styles that I wore, and from other regional types from India. It’s something I definitely see as part of my heritage. It’s something I still wear these days at functions. It’s a very elegant in terms of fashion in Asian culture. It’s something I wear. I don’t wear traditional Asian suits, it’s much more saris I go to. In the future it’s something I would pass on if I had daughters and to nieces. It’s something that’s a big part of big fashion choices when it comes to events and functions.
Shaju’s family member sent a photograph of a machine manufactured Jamdani-style sari