In Conversation with WE ARE SAATH

Arts Everywhere recently had the chance to talk to students Hrishika Muthukrishnan (’21) and Pareen Bhagat (’22) about the UNC student organization WE ARE SAATH and their latest project, a fashion show that addresses the stigma of mental health in the South Asian community. Continue reading below to learn about the group’s mission, the inspiration and challenges of putting together a fashion show during COVID times, and the important message they hope you take away!

(left) Pareen Bhagat | she/her/hers, Advertising and Public Relations, ‘22 (right) Hrishika Muthukrishnan| she/her/hers, Neuroscience, ‘21


Raising awareness of South Asian Mental Health through storytelling and activism

Tell us about WE ARE SAATH and the mission of the group

WE ARE SAATH at UNC-CH is a group of individuals that come together to raise awareness of South Asian Mental Health through storytelling and activism. One of the beautiful things about mental health is that it can be applied to anybody’s personal interests, whether it be photography, writing or fashion, which makes it easy for students to connect to the mission.

How has your organization adjusted for COVID?

Hrishika: With COVID, we decided to change the structure of the organization so people had more opportunity to be more involved. We decided instead of holding workshops, to have large-scale projects that people could be a part of with specialized roles. I personally felt with this transition, people felt more important because they were given a specific leadership role where they felt like they were contributing. With workshops, I felt we were disconnecting from a lot of the members because I felt like they wanted to be more hands-on and do more with the cause. I also felt with our workshops, we were only attracting students who were solely interested in mental health when my goal was to broaden our audience to any UNC student. I wanted people, especially those who didn’t take mental health into consideration, to see its importance.

Pareen: I found that a lot of people would openly acknowledge mental health and say it’s important but when it came to themselves, they reverted back to our traditional mindset of “this doesn’t apply to me.”

Hrishika: I knew the only way I could do that was by using common forms of media that appeal to every student which is why we started our magazine and created this fashion show. Our intention with these projects is to appeal to the general student body and get the conversation going around mental health but normalizing it first so that even those who are uncomfortable about the topic feel more comfortable with our common forms of media.

How can students get involved? 

Just DM us and we’ll find a role that interests you the most and find out how we can tie it back to mental health.

Anything else you want people to know about the organization?

We definitely understand mental health is a serious topic. We believe however, there is an untouched part of the student body that faces mental health issues on the daily that believe their issues are not as “big of a deal” as others “who have it worse”. Our goal is to touch this part of the student body and show them that any individual’s mental health is important.

The Fashion Show

A new perspective and a new way to bring about the conversation with family and friends

Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the fashion show?

Hrishika:  Originally I wanted to find a way to help Pareen connect more to mental health as she joined the organization. I knew she was into fashion and I wanted to see if I could connect her interests to our mission, suggesting a mental health fashion show.

Pareen: The fashion show was inspired by the stigma faced by South Asians when it comes to mental health. It was inspired by the fact that this is a conversation we need to have not only with our family/community but with ourselves. Sometimes we forget that we have unconsciously internalized that dated thinking and that we are harsh on ourselves.

Can you tell us about the process of preparing for the show? Any challenges?

Hrishika: The process of preparing for the show was very shaky. It had four main parts that loomed over both I and Pareen’s heads of how we were going to make it happen: outfit production, budget, venue, and creative direction.

Pareen: We were on a very limited budget from the beginning and so the cheapest way to have these outfits made was to have them made outside of the States. Since I am from Zimbabwe I had the outfits made there with a tailor I’ve used for other outfits. Trying to organize garment construction without physically being there was definitely a challenge but we got through it! It just required constant communication and learning a few skills from YouTube. For one of the outfits I had to draw up a pattern because it was hard to explain, so I had to watch a couple videos and do some research before sitting down and drawing out a pattern!

Hrishika: Acquiring the funds for this show was a huge struggle for us. Because of COVID, it made it really difficult for us to acquire any specific grants because people weren’t readily promoting them as they would’ve during a regular economical state. I had to reach out to every single funding related area within UNC and kept track of 12 different departments/organizations for funding. I reached out to so many people outside UNC to acquire the appropriate funding and it took me about six months to acquire all the funds for this show. It was pretty disappointing during the first three months because it was a lot of no’s, or sorry we can’t afford to do this right now. I knew the power this show would have to put mental health in a new light for students to see and I really wanted to make it happen and eventually we acquired over $5000 with the help of Arts Everywhere and Student Government.

Another struggle was how we were going to hold the show and where we were going to do it. No one really knew when the vaccines would come out and we didn’t want to take the risk of exposing individuals by holding this in a closed environment. I was lucky enough to scout out a local landowner and let us borrow their land to hold this show.

Creative direction for the show although rewarding was difficult. Pareen and I knew we wanted to tell the journey of mental health through this show. But we really wanted to hit home with it by not only the outfits but the scene and through nuances placed within the scenes. It took us a long time, with the help of Mira Kasari, to decide how we wanted to design the photography shoots and depict the transformation and growth we wanted people to see the acknowledgment of mental health as.

Pareen: We are so grateful to Arts Everywhere for providing the funding! We wouldn’t have been able to do this whole show without them!

Most rewarding part of putting the show together?

Pareen: Definitely just seeing it actually happen. We were in the planning stage for so long that it was almost like the show wouldn’t come together. I think at the end of the shoot, we just realized how much we had done and put into this and realized that we actually did it.

Also once we started posting it, it was amazing to see the positive response from everyone!

What do you hope viewers will take away from the show? 

Pareen: We hope that they will take with them a new perspective or even a new way to bring about the conversation with their family and friends. We hope those that are struggling know that there is a community who will support them.

We have a video coming out soon that will be available on Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube so they definitely can.

For more information and content from WE ARE SAATH check out:

All photos used are courtesy of WE ARE SAATH.