Roshani Dhekle, a 26-year-old woman from Vadodara, India, wakes up at 6 a.m. to start her 35-kilometer commute to her job as a garment worker in Goraj, a village an hour east.
The factory where she works, MSA Ethos, is a far cry from many of the traditional garment factories in India. Instead of grueling tasks in windowless, concrete rooms, Dhekle’s morning starts with chapati (a type of bread) and chass (buttermilk) — a non-mandatory benefit the factory provides. She then works alongside three-dozen coworkers in a sun-splashed room, creating clothes for domestic and international brands.
One of those brands is the emerging New York-based Behno, whose founder, Shivam Punjya, owns a stake in the factory.
Punjya doesn’t have a professional background in fashion. He founded Behno in 2014 after studying the working conditions of female garment factory workers in India for his master’s thesis at Duke University.
“I wanted to find out how we could use infrastructure to improve women’s lives in marginalized communities,” Punjya tells Mashable. “India has always been in my heart, and I wanted to show a different side of what could come out of India in a luxury state.”
Sixty percent of India’s garment workers are women, many of whom are part of lower castes in the country’s social system. India is the second-largest provider of textiles in the world. Despite being a crucial aspect of India’s economy, the factories are plagued by hazardous working conditions.
Since such an environment disconnects these workers from being a part of a community, it was important for Behno to provide a more interpersonal experience for women. As a result, MSA Ethos’ workers are fully integrated into the creation of fashion items from beginning to end, even meeting with designers.
“Other women work in offices or on farms, but I get to learn about fashion design for the western world while being independent, earning respect and providing financial help for my family,” Dhekle tells Mashable.
On the design front, Behno’s debut Fall 2015 collection is a mixture of crisp minimalism with punches of color: lavender, periwinkle, venetian red, all seen in everyday Indian culture.
A photo posted by behno (@behno_official) on Feb 16, 2015 at 7:53am PST
The brand’s lead designer, Ashley Austin, who studied under CFDA award-winning designer Chris Benz and built the collection with fellow designer Ethan Hon, says it’s all about modernism in India. In fact, the asymmetry in the collection was influenced by Le Corbusier, the Swiss-French architect and painter best known for bringing modern design to the city Chandigarh.
“We wanted to channel this first collection through the culture of India,” Austin says.
The team sources fabrics from across the globe, but uses cotton from India for their staple button-up shirt. They’ll continue to look to India for additional fabrics, including silk.
Behno’s focus on transparency in the overseas garment industry, and trying to invoke infrastructural change within it, is at the heart of Fashion Revolution Day — an annual initiative that raises awareness for those most affected by the commerce of clothes: the people who make them.
Friday marks the movement’s second anniversary, and its hashtag #whomademyclothes is a call-to-action for major fashion corporations to be more forthcoming with the conditions in which their clothes are produced.
“The supply chain in fashion is faceless, and because of that people are suffering,” Fashion Revolution Day cofounder Carry Somers tells Mashable. “This year we are calling for greater transparency.”
Fashion Revolution Day also provides emerging brands like Behno an opportunity to share their experiences with sustainable fashion and the impact their efforts make in the daily lives of those working in garment factories.
“We react to what garment workers want rather than what they need,” Punjya says, explaining that in addition to free breakfast, the women will soon be provided with health insurance and vouchers for free public transportation to and from the factory.
“Many people in fashion are not aware of the impact of what they are doing to other people on the other side of the world. Everyone is really starting to respond. You can’t ignore it anymore,” he says.
— Poorna Jagannathan (@PoornaJags) February 12, 2015
“When I brought the lookbook to [MSA Ethos], the women couldn’t stop smiling,” Austin says. “I don’t speak Hindi and they don’t speak English, but we had a mutual understanding. [It] transformed them—it showed that each item they make has its own story, from start to finish.”
Ultimately, Punjya and Austin want their consumers and manufacturers to share the same experience — to make you feel like you’re one of a kind, whether in India or on the streets of Brooklyn.
“Everyone wants to feel special, not mass-manufactured,” Austin says.
As for celebrating Fashion Revolution Day, Punjya will advocate in public by wearing his clothes inside-out, so people can see the labels.
“I hope someone stops me and asks why my shirt is inside-out so I can tell them,” he says. “This is something people need to be talking about. It’s a conversation we need to be having.”
Ian Frisch is a Brooklyn-based journalist. His writing has appeared in VICE, The Daily Beast and Refinery29, among others.
Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.