A designer in Kerala has launched her new collection of saris, featuring two transgender models. Sharmila Nair’s collection called Mazhavil – or, the rainbow is “dedicated to transgender people because globally they are represented by rainbow flags”, Sharmila told BBC. In India, where transgender people are looked down upon by the larger society and are considered as the in-between people who are to be ridiculed and shunned, Sharmila’s choice of models is attracting a lot of attention.
The models – Maya Menon and Gowri Savitri – have no previous experience in modelling and Sharmila says she found them through Queerala, an organisation that works with the LGBT (lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender) people in Kerala. “I was thinking about how I was going to showcase this collection of handloom saris and I saw a Facebook post about the state government’s new policy to better the lives of transgender people. “I thought since the government was doing so much for the LGBT people, I should also do something,” Sharmila said.
Sharmila, who never uses professional models in her campaigns, says she had two criteria for selecting the models for her latest campaign. “We were just looking for models who love wearing saris and who would be comfortable in front of the camera. We didn’t want them posing too much. Both Maya and Gowri are transgender women, trapped in male bodies”, said Sharmila. The designer says she had been sent their photographs in saris, but when she met them they were dressed as men, in shirts and trousers.
“When we dressed them up in our saris for the campaign, they were totally transformed. They looked so gorgeous,” Sharmila added. The collection of brightly coloured saris and the stunning models have won rave reviews and the Kochi-based designer says that purchase orders have been pouring in from India and abroad.