After a visit to India in 2012, Shivam Punjya vowed to revolutionize an aspect of the fashion industry that is often overlooked: the treatment of garment workers. The next year, in 2013, Punjya launched his new line behno. Integral the label’s identity is “The behno Standard,” which focuses on implementing ethical conditions for its workers in India, ranging from fair wages to health to eco-consciousness. Now, with the hope of imparting change beyond his own line, Punjya partnered with photographer Dan Smith and filmmaker Kent Mathews to document the stories of the workers who produce collections for behno.
“There are so many garment workers whose craft we rely on to make our pieces come alive,” Punjya says. “Between the grassroots and ‘glamour’ of fashion, I felt that the humanity of these artisans often get misplaced, and most often, are unheard.”
Punjya, Smith, and Matthews traveled to India to photograph and interview these artisans. The result—known as the “Garment Worker Project”—is a collection of portraits, five of which are you can see in the slideshow above. The photos, all done in black-and-white, are striking; rather than being sensationalist they simply show the workers at the factory and in their homes. Each worker has his or her own story: there is Bhavesh, the manager of the cutting department, who lost one of his legs following an electric shock as a child; Dharmishta, an operator who lives nearby with her husband, in-laws, and young nephew and is currently expecting her first child; Dhumsingh, another operator, who has just moved into his own home; and Tara, who has had to support her sick husband.
“We wanted the portraits to be quietly powerful,” Punjya says. “Quietly powerful like the resilience and persuasiveness garment workers display when they work so passionately in the lesser known and back-end of fashion.”
Tomorrow, the team will gather at Sotheby’s for a viewing party. The event is being co-hosted by stylist Micaela Erlanger.
“When Shivam approached me to co-host the event I jumped at the opportunity,” Erlanger says. “I think I have a responsibility to promote positive change and awareness within an industry I am so passionate about.”
“Change begins with awareness,” she continued. “If anything I hope this proves to be educational.”
THERE WILL BE A PRIVATE RECEPTION FOR THE GARMENT WORKER PROJECT TOMORROW, JULY 20, AT SOTHEBYS IN NEW YORK. FOR MORE ON BEHNO, VISIT THE LABEL’S WEBSITE.
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