Andreja Pejic, Lea T, and Hari Nef are transgender models who have struck the big time, walking in shows for leading labels and starring in campaigns for fashion's most prestigious houses. And while their casting by brands like Givenchy, Gucci, Make Up Forever, Giles, and Hood by Air has been lauded as progressive, it would be considerably more courageous for a small, lesser-known brand in India to do the same. And that has come to pass. Red Lotus, an independent label in the southern state of Kerala, has launched a new collection of saris, modeled by two trans women, Maya Menon and Gowri Savithri. Despite there being an estimated 1.9 million transgender people in India, they are often mocked and ostracized, existing on the periphery of society. Trans women, referred to as hijras, are stigmatized in society. With such prejudice and resentment across the nation, Red Lotus designer Sharmila Nair's bold casting decision and colorful sari collection entitled Mazhavil (meaning rainbow in Malayalam), has understandably grabbed headlines worldwide. Speaking to the International Business Times UK, Nair explained that she is "not burdened by conventional thinking. I consider [transgender people] as much a human being as I am." But personal open-mindedness aside, it was also the Keralan government's recent campaigns regarding transgender policy that influenced Sharmila's action: "In order to understand the issues faced by the [transgender] society, the social Justice Department (SJD) of Kerala conducted a state-wide survey covering the following aspects of their social, economic, and personal life." And in November of last year, the state government finally offered the Keralan transgender community the same social and economic rights as all other gender groups.
But how do models Menon and Savithri feel, fronting a campaign that has now gone viral, while living in a country that is generally unsupportive of transgender people? Speaking to The News Minute, Menon expressed her gratitude and relief: "I could never have imagined that I'd look so beautiful," she said. "I have no words to thank Sharmila for the opportunity she gave us. I have never had open conversations even with my own family about this. Not many of my friends are aware that I am a transgender [person]. But this shoot has given me the confidence to admit that I am one." Nair took to Facebook this week to express her appreciation for the global response to her campaign, stating: "The last fortnight has changed my life...Starting with a small effort to focus on the plight of the ostracized transgender community by getting them to come to the limelight and model for a saree collection of Red Lotus, I have been literally flooded by calls and message of appreciation. The media, too, went on an overdrive, highlighting my little effort, bringing the issue to very sharp focus... As far as the effort to turn the focus on to the plight of the transgender [community] is concerned, I can only say: 'Mission Accomplished!!'" We couldn't have put it better ourselves.