“My desire to become a High Court judge had already ebbed away by the time I got an appointment order at the age of 54," says Anna Chandy in her autobiography 'Atmakatha'. Chandy had just one more year of service when she took oath as the judge of the Kerala High Court and scripted history by becoming the first female High Court judge of the country. And that moment stumped women's equality in the higher echelons of the judiciary. But it took another 41 years for a Keralite female Chief Justice –Justice K K Usha – to enter the corridor of the Kerala High Court.
In a tribute to the trailblazer on the occasion of her 116th birth anniversary, the state has come up with a path-breaking revolutionary 'Vidhi' that is set to drastically change the way the woman lawyers are going to dress. At a time when the dress code of the lawyers, which was inherited from the British, is frozen in time, the looms in Kerala have designed sustainable attires that suit the hot and humid climate of the plains in India.
‘Save The Loom’, a not for profit collective formed to revive and restore the handloom industry that was battered during the floods in Kerala, was meticulous in doing extensive research to bring out a new range of fabric and design for the lawyers. The collective has drawn immense inspiration from its founding patron Justice K K Usha, who passed away recently.
The lawyers have to follow a dress code in black, white or grey shades prescribed by the Bar Council of India Rules under Advocates Act 1961. But wearing a layered dressing pattern of stuffy black gowns and robes, especially in hot weather conditions, is a tall order for the lawyers.
The saris and textiles in the ‘Vidhi’ collection are climate-friendly and comfortable, and above all adhere to the guidelines set in the dress code. And interestingly, the sarees in the collection are named after eleven women legal luminaries, including renowned Malayali judges such as Anna Chandy, Fathima Beevi and K K Usha.
"This is perhaps the first ever effort to develop exclusive handwoven textiles for the women legal fraternity in the country. 'Vidhi' guarantees ultra-comfort for the fast-paced lifestyle of lawyers. It is the end result of the efforts of our R&D team that studied and did surveys to develop a textile that can ‘breathe and dry’ easily in the hot and humid weather and give comfort to the wearer. The design aspect meant focussing on the comfort factor and to make it appealing to the young lawyers, many of whom don't wear sarees. This special line also has unlimited possibilities for continued exploration. Our focus was to provide a steady source of income and job for weavers, not being completely dependent on the traditional 'kasavu mundu’ and sarees”, said Ramesh Menon, founder of Save The Loom, and fashion consultant.
As the fabric is woven using high yarn count, the clothing is finer, softer and more comfortable to wear. The yarn count also reduces drying time as the moisture content vanishes in 30 minutes.
The concept of reversible design, which can create two different looks, has been incorporated into ‘Vidhi’ collection. For instance, it gives an instant solution to dress up for a meeting immediately after courtroom proceedings. The clothing is also ideal for machine wash as the black and grey shade do not tend to bleed.
The lawyers' fraternity, especially Justice K K Usha and her husband Justice Sukumaran played a significant role in reviving the traditional handloom industry of Chendamangalam in Ernakulam district that was devastated in the 2018 Kerala floods. Hence it’s an honour for the weavers here to dedicate this initiative to make special sarees for the female lawyers as an act of gratitude," said Paravoor Handloom Cooperative Society president T S Baby.
‘Vidhi’ collection also stand out for the fact that they are woven exclusively by women, and the finishing of the sarees are done by women self-help groups. Each sari also carries the name of the weaver who hand wove it.
‘Vidhi' is being launched on May 4 on the birthday of Justice Anna Chandy. A couple of young advocates of the Kerala High Court, who have recently tried out the series, are all praise for the apparel. Their 'vidhi' (verdict) is loud and clear - "They are simply elegant, gorgeous and comfortable!"