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I am sorry I used the word ‘shame’: Sabyasachi apologises for sari comment in open letter

After facing severe backlash and getting brutally trolled in the online space, fashion designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee apologised and shed light on his perspective in a long open letter on Instagram.

Written by Jyotsna Basotia | New Delhi | Updated: February 15, 2018 12:48 pm
sabyasachi, fashion designer sabyasachi, sabyasachi sari remark, sabyasachi sari comment, shame on you if you cant wear sari, sari, sabysachi open letter, sari shame, twitter reactions sari shame on you, sabyasachi instagram, indian express, indian express news Fashion designer Sabyasachi apologises for his “sari” comment in a long open letter on Instagram. (Source: Sabyasachi/Facebook)

Be it choosing outfits for your wedding or just looking for an ethnic burst in your wardrobe, the first fashion designer that pops into most minds is Sabyasachi Mukherjee. From getting the best for Anushka Sharma-Virat Kohli’s wedding to designing ensembles for divas like Deepika Padukone and Rani Mukerji, the fashion designer has stolen many hearts with his bespoke traditional collection. However, his comments recently sparked a huge debate when he criticised women of his country, particularly of the younger generation, for not wearing a sari and giving preference to Western outfits.

Addressing Indian students at a Harvard India Conference, the designer said, “I think, if you tell me that you do not know how to wear a sari, I would say shame on you. It’s a part of your culture, (you) need (to) stand up for it.” No sooner did the news hit social media, people – especially women – took to Twitter and came forward to slam the designer and others who think it’s acceptable to tell women what to do and what not.

After facing severe backlash and getting brutally trolled in the online space, Sabyasachi apologised and shed light on his perspective in a long open letter on Instagram. “I once again apologise for the distress caused,” he wrote and added, “My intent was to call out those women who proudly proclaim that they don’t wear saris and simultaneously shame others who wear saris by saying it makes them look older, backward, or culturally repressed.”

Read the first part here:

To begin, allow me to sincerely apologise for the words that I used while answering impromptu questions at a conference at Harvard. I am sorry that I used the word ‘shame’ in reference to some women’s inability to wear a sari. I truly regret that the way in which I tried to make a point about the sari enabled it to be interpreted as misogynistic, patriarchal, and non-inclusive – this was certainly not my intention. 
Let me provide some context for those of you who may not have listened to the speech I gave at Harvard. A woman had asked me to comment on the cultural taboo of young women wearing saris because, as she said, society tells them that it ‘makes them look older’. ‘What is your suggestion’, she asked, ‘for those young generations, to break that taboo and embrace the sari…’ Unbeknownst to many, this is a question I field often with friends and customers. The ubiquity of such sentiments in our culture, evidenced by the fact that this question was posed to me at Harvard, of all places, was hard-hitting and triggered an unfortunate series of reactions on my part. Sometimes, when you are that invested in your craft, you become hypersensitive to the negativity surrounding that which you love.

Here’s the second part:

Now I have worked with the sari for 16 years. During this time, I have had countless open dialogues in various forums pan-India with women of all age groups and income brackets about the constant barrage of negativity surrounding it. Yet another question of ageism and the sari at Harvard triggered a lot of pent-up frustration that I have accrued for that segment of our society which constantly expresses disdain for this piece of Indian heritage. It is this frustration that I unfortunately generalised to Indian women in response to the question, when I now see that I should have framed it as a call to stop shaming the sari and whomever chooses to wear it. I am passionate about textiles and our heritage, and I am sorry that in the heat of that moment, I allowed this passion to be misplaced. I take full responsibility for this. 
On the topic of the sari, I ask you today: how many times have you or someone you know encountered this issue? 
Body shaming, attaching connotations of ‘Auntie Ji’, calling them sloppy; these are all ways that some men and women alike belittle the sari (and, more accurately, the wearer of the sari). These comments are laced with sarcasm and connotations of cultural repression and backwardness. Many women, young and old, are scared to have an outing in a sari because it is shrouded in so many layers of taboo and controversy, often citing inability to correctly drape a sari as an exit point. 
We are a celebrity-obsessed country, and yes, it does affect consumption patterns and social behaviour at-large. Some consumers are being conditioned to believe that the sari ages women, and you will see the evidence of that clearly documented by so many social media trolls targeting celebrities online. Isn’t that shaming, or shall we call it cyber-bullying? Yet we are often complicit in this, which may even be welcomed by some to encourage more traffic to a website/blog.

And, check out the third part here:

Let’s also talk about another subject that has arisen out of the fervent discussions occurring about me and my brand, and one that has always been a big topic on gender inequality and the patriarchy (which, according to some of you, I am ardently supporting): the pay gap. It is humiliating to have to defend yourself in public but sometimes a bitter medicine needs to be swallowed to drive home a hidden truth. I would like to bring to your notice, that the majority of my staff at Sabyasachi Couture are women. From pattern makers, to seamstresses, to designers, to publicists, to IT consultants, department heads, store managers, and core of management; women comprise the top earners on my payroll – and it is not because they are women, but because they’ve earned it by their merit. And every Friday, men and women alike at Sabyasachi wear Indian clothing to celebrate our love for textiles, with zero enforcement. 
Mine is a women-oriented brand and I owe my complete success to them. I have always, and will continue to love and respect women irrespective of the labels recently assigned to me. It was in this spirit that I started my brand, and that is how it shall remain till the day we decide to shut its doors. 
I once again apologise for the distress caused by the words I used, but not for the intent, which often takes a back seat when slammed by controversy. My intent was to call out those women who proudly proclaim that they don’t wear saris and simultaneously shame others who wear saris by saying it makes them look older, backward, or culturally repressed.

My social media team takes extreme care that not a single negative comment written by you is censored, so that the world can make their own judgments and have a transparent view of the brand. Tomorrow, you can shame me further on twitter, make provocative headlines out of this letter, or choose to blacklist us as consumers. It is absolutely fair and understandable because it is your prerogative. 
For us, for better or for worse, it will be business as usual.

What do you think of his stance in the open letter? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


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  1. S
    Feb 15, 2018 at 4:21 pm
    U really didn't need to apologise for what u said sir.. because d problem was tat what u said was misinterpreted to make it a gender issue.. nothing else.. ur views when u made d statement r so correct..
    1. S
      Suren Abreu
      Feb 15, 2018 at 9:39 am
      Instead of a simple apology for the very direct and blatant use of the word 'shame' for women, he resorts to an elaborate explanation that minimises the effectiveness of a sincere 'sorry'! How difficult is it for a man just to say "Sorry, I should not have used that word. I was wrong."?
      1. Smiti Mehrotra
        Feb 15, 2018 at 11:02 am
        He did not even need to deliver a simple apology. What he said was brutal, but correct. There are women (yes women, because a woman wears a saree) who take pride in being modern. And bein modern for them does not mean being evolved in their opinions and viewpoints , it mean 'huh hum na pahente saree' . I have met so many women who say this. This is not a feminist issue. This is a cultural one. Whatever he said, is absolutely correct. A woman wearing a salwar kameez is called a behen ji. Where is your feminist instinct then? He is inculcating our culture in everything he makes. We should be proud of him. I am a woman too, I don't feel good about the fact that I can't drape a saree. And he also targetted men when he said they couldn't keep the dhoti alive. And also talked against cultural appropriation. You can pinpoint everything wrong, but can't even appreciate him for the other things. Being a feminist is good- but being a modern feminist is cancerous.
      2. Upma Prakash
        Feb 15, 2018 at 9:20 am
        Then he should also wear kurta pajama or dhoti kurta rather trouser n shirt.... Such hypocrite...
        1. Smiti Mehrotra
          Feb 15, 2018 at 10:54 am
          You are being really shallow now. This person is talking about sa uarding our culture. Andbhe is doing his bitin sa uarding it so don't even dare to say he should wear dhoti kurta. He is making our culture popular at a global level something you could never do. And secondly what is wrong in what he saif huh. I have met so many women who take, disgustingly, a pride in not wearing a saree. They wear jeans just for the mere reason of looking mordern. He or I or anybody were not trying to order women to wear a specific clothing. He is asking us to stand up for our clothing. I am a woman, and being an Indian, the fact that I don't know how to drape a saree is wrong. This is not a feminist issue. Because he also said that "our women have kept saree alive but the dhoti is dead- targetting the men as well'. He also spoke against cultural appropriation. And he did not even need to justify himself and yet he wrote this letter. Stop seeing every comment as a patriarchal one.
        2. Jitendra Parmar
          Feb 15, 2018 at 1:14 am
          Nothing wrong with what Sabyasachi said. Indian people have inferiority complex about their own culture and clothes and are ashamed about it. Such is the influence of Western lifestyle, I think sari and dhoti would be dead in next 25 yrs. There was no need to apologize, probably he got scared for business or professional reasons.
          1. Kanupriya Goel
            Feb 14, 2018 at 11:26 pm
            Why is Sabyasachi apologizing? He had not said anything wrong. I am a college student. A few days back I went to a "khadi mela"and their also I faced same situation. Girls hating saree to prove themselves modern and those wearing saree were backward according to them. Girls are not complaining about less leg movement of saree. But they have tagged saree as an icon of poor lifestyle/ qualification. If we Indians will not endorse this beautiful long fabric then who else will? Our weavers will not survive by ing very less material. Whole tradition will die. Then one day somebody from any developed country will come and tell us this is saree, it from us (and the whole scene will be changed).
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