South Asian shaadi culture is famous for endless wedding functions, elaborate dinners and ornate clothing, but while the multi-trillion rupee industry is rife with potential, it has always lacked much needed diversity – a trait which is reflective of social and cultural norms that thrive on exclusion.
Only now has there been a slow trickle of conversations on body-positivity and campaigning against shaming darker skin tones, led by activism taking place on the global centre stage, pushed forward by social media movements like #brownandbeautiful. What’s more is that the uptick in awareness about building inclusive spaces in the fashion and beauty industry has been mirrored by local brands who are actively stepping outside boundaries to challenge long-standing practices of glorifying stereotypes: the ‘perfect’ bride, the ‘right’ skin tone etc.
A brand that is wholeheartedly embracing diversity is Lajwanti, a fashion house focused on hereditary workmanship and cultural beauty since 1995. The brand’s latest campaign ‘Saancha’ (a mould), highlights the importance of originality and the beauty each and everyone encompasses within them at a time when most people are content to follow rather than lead.
When you think of bridal campaigns, the first mental image you see is of a size zero model garbed in layers and layers of embellished clothing. This imagery isn’t unusual or uncommon, it graces magazine covers, is the highlight on social media pages on fashion and can even be seen splattered across billboards. The ‘perfect subcontinental bride’ doesn’t exist, but most women are subjected to unrealistic beauty standards on a day that should make them feel special as they are, not less for embracing their true self.
The campaign shot by photographer Abdullah Harris, who’s name has gained vast popularity for his trademark style, emphasises the need for more inclusive campaigning when it comes to the fashion industry, especially in association with shaadi culture. While talking about the process behind shooting ‘Saancha’ Harris says, “This campaign I did with my whole heart and soul. I am an artist and I believe in art and wherever my heart takes me.”
At the heart of the campaign is the admiration of the abject beauty that comes with celebrating what is different, pure and exceptional: a woman who is her true self. Poetically named ‘Saancha’, the campaign focuses on diversity, of shape, form, colour and self, for real beauty is beheld in the breaking of the mould, not in its confines.
Ana Ali, the CEO of Lajwanti, talked to ProperGaanda about working on a campaign that many might consider non-traditional and the hurdles that came with it, saying, “Campaigns like these don’t happen everyday, at first I too was cautioned about the step we were taking. but we all must realise, beauty is found everywhere, change was necessary and acceptance was long overdue. I take immense pride in the fact that Lajwanti has become Pakistan’s first Fashion house to break away from the stereotype of what it means to be a beautiful bride.”
The storyline of ‘Saancha’ revolves around acclaimed anchor and activist Muniba Mazari’s character, who said she was humbled to be at the centre of the campaign with such a strong concept. “I’ve always said that a woman is not just a face or body. She’s a free soul, a free mind. It’s time to acknowledge her true power & strength”
Dania Ali, the Creative Director at Lajwanti, describes the campaign’s origin perfectly, one that is rooted in mysticism and fantasy. ‘Saancha’ tells the story of a palace far away where five elemental princesses reside and protect a sixth primal element, the Lajwanti flower which in-turn watches over the princesses.
Baemisal’s social media is rife with posts that celebrate body-positivity and demand that brands make more space for plus-size women, rather can touting one-size fits all. While talking about her role in ‘Saancha’ she says, “I get so emotional looking at this shoot because God knows I’ve dreamt of being able to represent my size for every little girl to come after me. I’ve always hoped to open the door and lead the way for so many like me and my GOD being able to actually do that is beyond me.”
Actress MeharBano, who portrays another princess in ‘Saancha‘ has herself received much acclaim for the web-series Churails, which was also subject to widespread criticism for pushing boundaries, but despite the backlash for daring to do the unusual, the actress has stayed true to form.
While talking about the wedding industry, MeharBano says, “While our fashion industry has achieved many feats over the years and continues to make waves around the world, what was always missing was accurate representation of women from all walks of life, especially for bridal shoots. Saancha bridged the gap and made a statement, making way for a revolution of sorts by daring to go against the norms of how fashion is curated in Pakistan”
Lajwanti’s latest campaign isn’t only beautifully shot and wonderfully directed, it’s well thought out and is reflective of reality – of real women – and nothing can be more beautiful than that.
This post has been curated in collaboration with Lajwanti. If you’d like to collaborate with us at ProperGaanda, email firstname.lastname@example.org.