The nine-yard saree was becoming too boring and plain Jane for many urban Indian women in the 1980s. The stiff cotton material of most sarees didn’t help that image either. India was changing and women wanted more options –something modern, stylistically different and a fusion of Indian and western.
It was during this time that Garden Vareli, a saree brand, entered the market with its out-of-the-box and sensual ads.
Garden Vareli’s light, flowy synthetic sarees with bold prints (often floral) became all the rage thanks to these ads. It was easy to wear, anti-crease and had a pop of colour. It was even easier to wash. “The speciality of Garden Vareli has been that it has been a trusted sakhi for all women of all ages and all personalities all through her life,” reads the website of the saree.
The saree was launched by Garden Silk Mills, which was established in 1979. But it was the TV ads that grabbed the eyeballs of the nation. Top actresses and models – like three consecutive Miss Indias Namrata Shirodkar, Madhu Sapre, Aishwarya Rai, and Lisa Ray – were a part of the ads.
The saree had to be marketed differently than its cotton and silk counterparts and that became a challenge for its advertisers, but they accepted it.
The ads stood out for its star cast, the way the saree was draped and even the blouses worn by the women. But the unique selling proposition (USP) of Garden Vareli remained the saree, which came with geometric, floral prints and colourful designs.
“To begin with the models were unconventional and bold,” pointed out advertising expert Navroze Dhondy. The brand was positioned as upmarket aimed at ‘strong and achieving’ women.
Dhondy added that Garden Vareli sarees focused on segmentation of the market and went on to create a differentiator for itself. “For the first time, it was a shift from the saree being perceived as boring, everyday wear without any sensuality to a smart, bold and sexy attire meant for the modern women,” he said.
Advertising and marketing strategist Santosh Sood said good advertisement and advertising campaigns are about resonance more than directly trying to sell the brand. “We had a saree ad that celebrated the sexuality of women unabashedly, but without being vulgar,” he said. “A woman does not always have to be somebody’s mother, daughter, wife or sister, she is she and that is her identity – this was beautifully brought out in the campaign,” Sood added.
The ads also showcased designer blouses, which could be halter neck or backless – clearly a dramatic shift from the every day half sleeves or sleeveless ones.
Three marketers ThePrint spoke to were unanimous in their view. The Garden Vareli saree ad campaign reinvented the clothing with a punch of youth, sensuality and character. “It was the hip thing and to wear a saree and no more a mommy thing,” said one of them.
However, with time, the brand lost its sheen. The television ads stopped in 1995. While the brand is still alive, it has been now pushed to the smaller towns. This could be due to the competition. There are multiple choices today, unlike the 1980s and 1990s, and this could be a reason for the growing dissonance of the brand with urban customers.
The Garden Silk Mills is currently facing a financial crisis and reported a Rs 54-crore loss last year.