Shivam Punjya is the founder and CEO of behno, a womenswear label designed in NYC and ethically manufactured in Asia, predominantly India.
The first thing we wanted to ask him is why he decided to create a sustainable fashion label. “First off, I never thought I’d be working in the fashion industry. If you knew me several years ago, you might have guessed that I enjoyed fashion, but really wanted to work in an academic and consulting space. But I suppose you can’t always really control the paths life puts you on. Anyways, 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 textiles workers, their families, and about a 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” by employing ethical garmenting and also by ensuring that our front-end label, behno, employed strong design sensibilities. That said, our mission is to produce beautiful pieces that come from a place that is equally as beautiful”.
Now, the company has really been growing organically and his learning curve has been super steep. “It’s been incredible having met some of the most phenomenal people. I can’t wait to see what comes” – he crosses fingers.
We are really curious about his story, but also about what is inside his wardrobe. Let’s have a look? Some behno tees hang on in his closet. He says he wears them almost every day! “Other than that, there are a ton of handloom pieces that I throw on. I think handmade pieces have another dimension to them. They tell the story of the artisans and explore a art form that is so intimate to both the maker and the wearer” – he tells us.
Going for a walk is always good for our mind and legs. Also to get to know more about this fashion designer. “What is the most difficult think you find working with eco fabrics and in an sustainable and ethic way?”- we ask him: “Well, I think the most difficult thing with working in ethical fashion in general is really being able to have a grasp of the complete supply chain. Because the fashion industry operates within such a convoluted supply chain, being able to track and vouch for the transparency for each element is challenging. Now, we’re actively trying to actively work on traceability and transparency”.
Collection 3 -the last fashion collection launched by Behno- looks deeper into the New Yorker’s subway commute as an allegory for the political disconnect this year’s U.S. presidential campaign has brought to light. Behno discovered the subway as a communal space that brings together individuals from diverse intersections of class, ethnicity and gender with a simple and common goal: going somewhere. In line with the Indian proverb, ‘one and one make eleven’, this season calls on civilian individuality to unite in strength in a time of monumental political shifts.
Multi-colored glass marble mosaics from the station walls of 42nd Street are embroidered onto an asymmetrical dress to playfully pose the question- “Have we lost our marbles?”- to reflect on the U.S. political climate. Observations of detachment from one another is translated into deconstructed lapels peeling away and hanging off the body of a linen suit, a vest dress worn backwards, and poplin shirt collars stretched so far, they fall off the body. Irregular pearl tile patterns from the station walls are made into soft jacquard knits with backward necklines while hand-woven silk stripes converge chaotically. The iconic blue seats on the train inspire the hue for flowing silk dresses while a completely embroidered suit brings to life the beauty of a mundane pattern New Yorkers walk upon everyday: the subway floor.
It is said that the best way to be sustainable is buying less, but… what about when we love to buy? “Being socially conscious when someone is shopping doesn’t mean that they can’t enjoy fashion; in fact, it’s about enjoying fashion and really diving deep when you’re about to buy something” – answers the designer.
“I try to consume slowly and only when I need to, so my shopping habits are contained. But sometimes I fall in love with somethings! In this case I try to always ask where the pieces were made and if the brand is doing something to promote bettering the conditions of productions in the communities that they work in. I think a conscious lifestyle is also about asking myself about the back-end of where my goods come from and costs associated with its making and the impact they have on the World” – says Shivam Punjya.
Here, other previous collections, made with love in India.