In 2012, Shivam Punjya, behno’s founder, went to India to complete his research on women’s health. While he was in India, he came across some of India’s most breathtaking hand-made textiles, and visited rural villages to learn more about the textile industry and the communities that produce them. As Shivam started to better understand women’s role in India’s garmenting and textiles industries, he learned that in many regions, up to 90% of India’s garment factories are powered by women. In other places, women are earning less than $1 per day to produce beautiful hand-spun, hand-woven textiles. He was astonished.
Shivam spent some time with us at House of Coco to tell us more…
Q: When did you launch the brand and what was the reason behind it?
A: We launched the brand fully in 2013, after I finished my masters degree in global health at Duke University. Since my undergrad years at UC Berkeley, where I studied political economics and global poverty, I’ve been a strong proponent of social enterprises, and finding solutions to some of the globe’s most pressing issues through unusual and nontraditional market channels. After undergrad, I went on to study global health at Duke University. While I was doing my thesis research in India, I came across Indian textiles and garment workers and learned about their lives at an intimate level.
While my “made in India” exploration story was progressing, the Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed in Bangladesh, and that hit the mark for me. I was curious how we could take an industry that was predominantly powered by women and make it a change-maker in addressing garment worker health and women’s rights. So we launched into partnering with a nonprofit organization and a veteran of the garmenting industry in India in order to build an ethical garmenting factory.
In order to showcase the amazing talent of this new ethical garmenting factory, and also to refresh and redefine the perception of luxury and fashion “made in India”, behno was born. behno is an advanced contemporary womenswear label that has strong design sensibilities and is designed in NYC, but produces exclusively in India.
Q: What’s your background?
A: I am a Californian, born and raised, and completely spoiled by its wonderful weather. I grew up around the Bay Area in a very large family- I have two moms and two dads, and two younger siblings: a sister and a brother. (I know my moms and dads situation might be confusing; my mothers are sisters and my fathers are brothers. Two brothers married two sisters.) We all live and do everything together. We’re the modern day Indian Brady Bunch family, really.
I went to university at UC Berkeley, where I studied political economics and global poverty. During my university years, I worked in various industries as I tried to engage and find a field I was passionate about. I worked in various industries, ranging from a multinational ink manufacturer, to international hospitality conglomerate InterContinental Hotels Group in London, to a few nonprofits in India, NYC and the Silicon Valley. I went on to study global health at Duke University, where I came across the inspiration to found behno, where I’m currently
Q: How many people are involved in the company and what are their roles?
A: We have a total of six individuals on our team. If we were to break down roles, it’s 50% on the business side and 50% on the design side. But, when I was putting our team together, it was really important to me to ensure that both aspects of the brands understood each other and synergized. The design team needed to be in touch with behno’s social mission and vice versa. Also, as you can imagine, being a part of a start-up means that everyone has to wear more than one hat that transcends your actual designation. Everyone on the team is a real champion and very understanding! You can read our team’s vast bios on our website at www.behno.com.
Q: If you could start over with the business, would you do anything differently?
A: Well, right off the back, I would have bought an amazing espresso machine on day one! I had really had underestimated the number of long nights I’d have and number of afternoon pick-me-ups I’d need…
But, on a more serious note, if I could start over with behno, I would have better prepped my mind. One of the largest roadblock- but also one of the beauties- of start-ups is spontaneity and uncertainty. That said, I would have better prepped myself to embrace these uncertainties and going along with the fun of figuring things out as they came along. When you start something, you feel naturally so attached to it. I wish I had accepted and integrated this fact- that things might not always go according to plan- earlier on into my working style.
Q: What is the hardest challenge you have faced since you started the company?
A: One of the hardest- but even more rewarding- challenges we’ve faced with behno is fostering and building an amazing ethical garmenting factory in rural Gujarat, India that is capable of producing luxury quality pieces. A lot of our garment workers come from impoverished agricultural backgrounds, where they have never held fine thread in their hands. Our garment workers used to work with sickles and ropes, and now, overnight they’re presented with a job opportunity that asks them to change their industries and mindsets immediately.
A lot of the skillsets a luxury-manufacturing factory aren’t prevalent in the villages our partner factory- MSA Ethos- works closely with. That said, this challenge has been so rewarding and also beautiful because of our amazing partners in India. MSA Ethos, our partner garment factory in India, has three amazing partners: behno, a large nonprofit called Muni Seva Ashram (MSA) and a successful of the garmenting industry. MSA and our factory’s managing director spend tremendous amounts of time training, working with, and fostering a phenomenal working environment for the garment workers at MSA Ethos. I would hardly call this a challenge though; it’s been more an eye-opening process that has taught everyone involved so much. It’s been a growth experience, especially for everyone at behno.
A: I’m 50% deaf, and my favorite phrase is: “Sorry, what?!”
Q: 2015 is here, where do you plan on taking the brand?
A: This year, we have some exciting platforms that will be rolled out throughout. I can’t say much more, but we have a new digital space that will make a home on our website, also a couple cool and interesting projects to connect our back-end story in India with our consumers abroad.
Q: To date, what has been the highlight since launching?
A: Well, we just launched recently on February 7th in Mumbai, India. The launch itself was such an overwhelming experience and the amount of support that behno garnered was amazing. It was so beautiful for me to see so many individuals from different industries coming together to really celebrate garment workers and a new label designed in NYC but exclusively produced in India. It was refreshing.
Q: Which city do you feel most at home in, London, Paris or New York?
A: None of the above. Home will always be the Bay Area (in Northern California).
Q: Style means….?
A: Style is whatever it means to you. No one else can define it, no one else can put a price tag on it, and no one else can dictate it. Amongst many other things, it’s about your style of thinking, your manner of dressing, your choice of music and they way you vibe. Style is about you in all your multi-dimensional facets.
Q: Best thing about London to you?
A: The humor and chocolates. I always feel that Brits have a very peculiar sense of humor that I’m not necessarily used to, but really appreciate. It’s dry, snarky, and satirical. I’m one for more forthright humor, so British humor makes me think a bit. I like it. And then, Cadburys’ Double Decker. That might be the best thing about London. Enough said.
Q: If you had to, what piece of clothing from your wardrobe would you wear everyday?
A: I love a crisp white shirt, and I feel that for me, Hugo Boss does it best. I wear white shirts with an air collar everyday.
Q: Best place for a coffee?
A: Come to California, and I’ll take you to Philz Coffee. Philz serves the most perfectly concocted hand-made coffee. My favorite is their mint-mojito iced- coffee. Amazing. You’re making me miss it.
Q: Most memorable piece of advice given to you?
A: A professor once said in her lecture: “Always challenge what seems so normal to you.”
Q: Guilty pleasure?
A: Binge watching House of Cards or Homeland, depending what’s in season, with Mexican takeout from Dos Caminos with an IPA (or two). Is season four of House of Cards out yet?!
Q: If you could spent 24 hours in anywhere in the world, where would it be?
A: Around a circular dining table- anywhere in the world- with my family enjoying a phenomenal meal. We have the most amazing conversations and laugh the most when we’re together.
Q: In future, how do you plan on expanding the company?
A: Right now, behno is focused on ethical garmenting, but in its future collections, we’re hoping to work closely with artisan communities to incorporate beautiful handwoven, handmade fabrics into our designs. We want to try and localize the product as much as possible, and really showcase a refreshed version of “made in India”.
Q: Where can people find out more? (website/social media)
A: Website: www.behno.com
Official hashtag: #mybehno
General information: firstname.lastname@example.org