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China's Opium to India's Garas: Zenobia S Davar

By Banani

16 July, 2015

Zenobia S Davar with her creation. Zenobia S Davar with her creation.


Someone rightly said, "Our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our nation". Our heritage, our culture and our values best exemplified by starting to appreciate it. That's the essence of life afterall as we recognize it.    Zenobia Davar, a lady who is well known for retaining the authenticity of the Garas (Parsi embroidery). Zenobia was passionate about embroidery right from her childhood. Seeing such interest, her husband and mother in law suggested her to take up designing as a profession. Her career started when she joined a 3 year diploma course in Fashion and Garment Manufacturing at Sophia Polytechnic.   In 2001, Zenobia came up with her own design, “ZS Embroidery”. Unlike all, Zenobia provides only original, authentic designs to her client, matching up with their budget. Zenobia told that one can find these designs in different cloth stores and they sell them as “Garas”, however those are not the original ones. She made us understand that those are done by machines (Aari work) which is completely different from the Gara work that are done manually using needles.


Parsi's heirloom- Garas Parsi's heirloom- Garas   Garas are expensive and use as family’s heirloom which pass from one generation to the next. The silk threads and the embroidery have their base from China. The Garas came into picture when there was a trade link happening between India and China. These Chinese people used to sell silk threads to Parsi homes. And hence, Zenobia too get her raw materials export from China. Since Gara embroidery is from China, one can get reflections of Chinese dragons and snakes. Zenobia shared that she loves nature and hence she incorporate lobsters, birds, bubble bees in her designs.    Zenobia not only manufacture new sarees but also restore the old torn ones. She narrated one story linked with her old Gara Saree and its restoring procedure.  Gara sarees can have embroidery only on the border of the saree or it can have full embroidery across the length of the saree. Real border zari saris are another category which uses real gold and silver thread material. The party dresses also uses crystals and glass beads which are elegant to look at.    Zenobia specializes in different types of embroidery and prepare clothing for kids to adults. Her work is not only restricted to Gara Sarees but also navjyote dresses for kids along with colorful caps embroidered in golden and silver threads, jhablas (tunics for girls), Daglas and Daglis for men and also cushion covers.

The jhablas (Blouse/tunics) has creatures like cranes, fish, lobsters, tortoise imbibed on the fabric. This can be worn with shorts, jeans and crepe dhotis which provides an elegant look. The Daglas are used by men and smart designers.

These designs are complex and unique which demands proper training of the workers. Zenobia marked that retaining employees is a challenge as this is a niche work which needs more effort unlike other embroideries that requires less effort and more money.  She further added that marketing is also very challenging as she doesn’t own a store and the products are of high quality and limited. She only manufactures when there is a need for that particular piece.


Zenobia is a master of Gara Embroidery which made Ms. Priya Krishnaswamy, to make a film based on Gara embroidery to promote this authentic dying art. This film was named as “Gangoobai” which was produced by NFDC. They asked Zenobia for her collection and wanted to showcase in the movie. 

Zenobia is also a mentor and teaches students from various college of Fashion and design. She managed to get the first position in a fashion show for Symbiosis students. Even people from Gujrat are requesting her to teach them the techniques of Gara Embroidery.

Zenobia’s success story doesn’t end here. She is a member of Cherie Blair Foundation which works for women entrepreneurship. Cherie Blair with other associates liked and appreciated her designs and presented her a signed biography and momento in the form of china plate of London. Zenobia not only does embroidery on clothings but also achieved to portrait on different sizes of frames. Those frames can be used in increasing the glory of anyone’s home décor. One of the frames used by Mrs. Blair in her office which was gifted by Zenobia.

Zenobia has also organized a fashion show and an exhibition in Dubai, December 2014 where her work had been recognized by all over the world. She is really an inspiration to all of us. The Journey has just started for Zenobia and she has yet to travel more. Let’s all get connect to our roots and start preserving our heritage.

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