The Ethos of Fashion
Trendy silhouettes. Classic colors. Sustainable products. That is behno’s business model, and it is making waves in New York City.
By Erica Commisso.
Shivam Punjya, behno’s founder and creative director, founded the brand to address poverty and global health through traditional and non-traditional enterprise channels. In simple terms, that means he uses his background studying business, fundraising and working with non-profit organizations to build a socially conscious brand that betters the world and a wardrobe.
Through a partnership with with a large non-profit and a successful industrialist of the garmenting industry, behno created an ethical garment factory called MSA Ethos, in order to implement “the behno Standard”, a six category program to highlight the brand’s mission. It focuses on health, garment worker social mobility, family planning, women’s rights, worker satisfaction and benefits, and eco-consciousness.
Machines are designed to reduce the company’s carbon footprint, designs do not include fur or exotic materials, whatever leather that’s used is gathered from the food supply chain, and fabric waste is limited. More than that, each bag is made without child labor, and each garment worker is given fair wage, transparent agreements, and access to training programs and education for themselves and their children. There’s equal pay for men and women, leadership opportunities for female workers, and even subsidies to and from work. Essentially, each employee of behno’s MSA Ethos factory is treated the way they should be treated: as a human being.
In fact, the word “behno” means “sisters” in Hindi and, in order to further encourage female empowerment, all women at the factories will be referred to by their first name, followed by the suffix “behn.” This creates a sense of plurality, or a sisterhood.
The brand is also shifting away from the fast-fashion trend, instead designing in “collections” rather than by season. This reduces fabric waste and encourages consumers to engage in slow-fashion products that last for years on end. Each collection is comprised of bags that transcend geography, time-sensitive trends, and weather patterns. As a label, it also creates curated RTW capsule collections, by request and on a project basis in order to promote artisan and ethical techniques.
The label’s mission, it says, is to “redefine and bring sharp awareness to sustainability and ethics to fashion. We will set a new standard for manufacturing for the global garment trade that revolutionizes the way garment workers and artisans are treated, viewed, and employed. Our aim is to become part of a global mission that inspires change, improves factory conditions, quality of life, and safety of individuals in developing countries by working with international factories that adhere to rigid compliances.”
Shivam Punjya also partnered up with fashion photographer Dan Smith and documentary filmmaker Kent Mathews for MSA Ethos to explore the less visible side of fashion for The Garment Worker Project. The project, founded in New York in 2016, aims to “revolutionize the way garment workers are viewed, employed and treated by incrementally implementing a variety of social programs.” Essentially, they encourage the behno Standard across their factories. So, Punjya, Smith and Matthews offered up their unique set of intimate photographs and a documentary detailing the lives of garment workers, all captured at MSA Ethos. They hope to prove that garment workers are people as opposed to commodities, and that the multi-billion dollar fashion industry does not need to be based upon the exploitation of labor.
Left to right, Ina mini crossbody in saffron, Amanda bag in white, Tilda mini saddle bag in bone, Ina mini crossbody in sky blue.
Each sleek bag is also designed with the idea of new luxury in mind. Printed grey and off-white pebbled leather dot the latest collection, alongside electric red and soft blush leathers to infuse a blast of color into smaller bags. There’s even a handwoven, recycled plastic bag with a removable strap to add an element of depth and intrigue to an otherwise simple ensemble. Created at high-quality factories with old-world craftsmanship and a timeless feel, benho infuses modern silhouettes–think bucket crossbody bags, oversized totes and classic leather pouches–into the culture of handbags, hoping to redefine the way consumers approach fashion.
More recently behno has worked with Matches Fashion to create two exclusive pieces, a Woolmark certified, wool coat and an evening gown with Swarovski crystals, that were originally created for the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange which showcased first at Buckingham Palace, and are now available as limited editions on Matches Fashion’s website, from September 27th.
Behno used hand appliqued mirror and beadwork by artisans in India for the coat and silk organza embellished with Swarovski upcycled crystals and scattered with black crochet 'kolose' for the evening gown. A form of intricate crochet that encourages self-expression; artisans adopt a freestyle approach to each design, Kolose make patterns up as they work on the piece, letting creativity not be limited to a set pattern, and choosing colors while they work. To create the ‘kolose’ patches, behno partnered with artisans from Tuvalu, an independent Polynesian island nation who migrated to New Zealand and formed an all-female artisan collective named, Fafine Nitutao I Aotearoa.
“It was such a phenomenal experience to bring together two cultures, vastly different but also so incredibly similar, into fashion in a way that really paid homage to the artisans behind the pieces. The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange allowed for a critical examination of the handprint of fashion and indigenous craft, and it is fantastic to partner with Matches Fashion on showcasing this tremendous work,” says Punjya.