Michelle Obama to receive 100 hand-woven saris on India trip

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Indian weavers are planning to give US First Lady Michelle Obama 100 hand-woven silk saris during her visit to New Delhi with her husband, a local businessman said on unday.

The weavers have spent months painstakingly making the garments which they hope will promote their centuries-old industry in India's holiest city Varanasi, as they face threats from cheaper, mass-produced competition.

"We have used pure gold and silver threads for the sari that we have prepared for Michelle," said Pervez Matin, whose family has been in the weaving business for three generations.

"It was woven on a handloom by our workers over two months," he told AFP by phone from Varanasi.

Matin's cream-coloured sari, which would normally cost 150,000 rupees (S$3,283), is among 100 that Varanasi's weavers are planning to send to the First Lady, who arrived with the US president on Sunday for a three-day visit to India.

The stylish First Lady stepped off Air Force One wearing a tailored dress and matching jacket with splashes of blue, black and white by Indian-American designer Bibhu Mohapatra.

"We know about the First Lady's love for our handwoven fabric. We will send all the saris and she can pick and choose what she likes," Matin said.

Varanasi's mainly Muslim weavers have long been famous for their high quality silk products which take days and sometimes months to make and fetch up to US$10,000 apiece.

But craftsmen say the traditional Banarasi silk industry is hanging on by a thread and could be killed off within a generation by factory-made Chinese imports.

"Our industry is suffering. We thought it (gifting the saris to Obama) is a good way to highlight the problems that we are facing," Matin said.

"If she likes our saris and decides to wear them, it will be a great gesture of beauty with purpose."

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