I like your timeless design very much and of course the fact, that you are focused on an important mission behind your brand. Let us begin talking about that. Please, tell us more about your MISSION and what inspired you to found BEHNO.
Shivam Punjya: First off, I never thought I’d be working in the fashion industry. I’ve always enjoyed fashion but thought I would work in an academic and consulting space. I suppose you can’t really control the paths life puts you on! After studying political economics and global poverty at UC Berkeley and working for an education advocacy nonprofit based in India, I was intrigued by global health and social entrepreneurship. I wanted to see how benefits from India’s education system could be maximized with its midday meal policy that was in place. So, I matriculated at Duke and started my masters program there. Time flew, and I soon found myself doing my thesis research in India, where I came to learn quite a bit about textile workers, their families, and about the disparity that existed between what they were producing and what they were earning. As I was exploring the textiles industry, I gained insight into a larger picture and into the global perception of “made in India”, which was either negatively received or quickly dismissed. This, coupled with the collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, shook my world up. I was compelled to challenge the common perception of “made in India” garments by employing ethical garments and also by ensuring that our front-end label, BEHNO, employed strong design sensibilities. Our mission is to produce beautiful pieces that are come from an equally beautiful place.
What is the “BEHNO standard”?
Shivam Punjya: The BEHNO Standard is our way of ensuring that we look at the manufacturing side of garmenting with an angle that treats, views and employs garment workers in a different way. Garment workers aren’t just a commodity in a much larger industry, but rather, people – like me and you – who have trained and learned a technically challenging craft. They deserve a work place that sees them as individuals with wants and needs. The BEHNO Standard was devised in partnership with our factory’s Managing Director and our non-profit partner after we spent time trying to understand garment workers critical wants and needs. The standard is broken into six overarching categories ranging from healthcare to women’s rights to eco-consciousness.
You are based with BEHNO in New York, but you support the production in India. Do you plan to produce elsewhere with similar motivations? For example to support women´s rights in Africa? Or to support the local production economy in the USA?
Shivam Punjya: Currently we are working predominantly in India as the country’s luxury manufacturing segment is picking up traction with the country’s “Make in India” campaign and we’d like to showcase the beautiful clothes produced. Further, we’re realigning ourselves with utilizing more magnificent handmade textiles, which are customary to India, in a fresh way. But, as fashion’s supply chain is massive and global to its core, we’re also working in China for some of our special knit pieces. We check out the compliances closely of each of our partners and are always looking to support empowering manufacturers!
A lot of people in Europe associate productions in Asia with unfair working conditions and the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh supports this claim of low standards. Why do the other brands and factories do not act fair and safe like you do it with BEHNO?
Shivam Punjya: Unfair working conditions aren’t unique to just Asia, however, I think that it is more visible there. Brands and factories everywhere struggle between the school of thought governing traditional ways of manufacturing and the alleged cost implications of producing ethically. I think that if companies really took the time to understand what drives productivity and assessed the cost of putting mechanisms in place to drive said productivity they would see that this type of production can be both financially profitable and socially sustainable. Garmenting has been around for hundreds of years and a new attitude towards the industry is slowly emerging. Collectively, the future looks much brighter.
Let´s talk about your fashion design and handmade textiles. Were you inspired by anything special for the press cuts and beadwork in the summer collection? What type of textiles did you use for the collection?
Shivam Punjya: India is a hub for some of the most intricate hand-made textiles, embroideries and embellishments. It’s a goal of mine to showcase the craftsmanship this is so embedded into the culture of India. The challenge is that with this long-standing tradition come predisposed presumptions of what a garment from India might look like. For SS16, we were inspired by Oskar Schlemmer’s futuristic ballet from the early 1900s and wanted to translate traditional embellishment techniques to reflect the same modernity. For upcoming seasons we’re using more hand-made fabrics in order to elevate a very traditional craft in a fresh, fun new way.
The patterns are mostly straight but with subtle feminine details, like cut-outs. What kind of woman do you think of when you design your clothes?
Shivam Punjya: The BEHNO woman is forward thinking, sharp, and aware both of herself and the world in which she lives. She’s not afraid of embracing her femininity but also remembers the power she commands in her world. She’s serious about her views, but most of all, she’s fun and a little quirky.
Photos: © BEHNO
Antonia is the founder and creative director of MOCHNI. Her goal is to create an ethical future of consumerism by introducing authentic people, brands, and products and by sharing inspiring content with more than 250.000 women yearly. She loves a slow lifestyle and the Californian summer breeze.