Stylist Micaela Erlanger Puts Spotlight on Garment Workers Exhibition

25 Stylists : Micaela Erlanger - P 2016
Courtesy of Subject

Lupita Nyong’o’s stylist partnered with designer Shivam Punjya to promote the new photography exhibition, which tells the story of industry workers in India.

Factory workers in the garment industry have long gone unnoticed to much of the world wearing the clothes they make. Following the tragic Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013, they were still boiled down to nameless, faceless numbers: 1,134 killed.

Since the incident, there have been calls for reform, stricter regulations and more humane working conditions. But as with any industry, change takes time. However with the help of artist and activists like director Andrew Morgan, whose documentary, The True Cost, put the conditions of textile workers before audiences, consumers are slowly becoming more aware of what goes in to producing the clothes on their backs.

Shivam Punjya, founder of New York-based ethical clothing line Behno, is another industry member looking to enlighten shoppers. Earlier this year, Punjya invited photographer Dan Smith and videographer Kent Matthews to his factory in India to capture the female workers and to tell their stories. The 16 powerful portraits will be displayed this Wednesday at Sotheby's, with a silent auction and cocktail reception hosted by celebrity stylist Micaela Erlanger.

FACES: A portrait from Shivam Punjya's exhibit, "Dharmishtha." (Photo by Dan Smith)

“As someone who works with many different designers and brands and with conscientious celebrity clients, the conversation of ethical practices is one which comes up increasingly more often,” Erlanger told Pret-a-Reporter. “I felt that I have a duty to bring awareness to this topic.”

The stylist, who works with the likes of Lupita Nyong’o, Jennifer Hudson and Common, certainly has an extensive influence (44k followers on Instagram) — one which she hopes to use to not only showcase the artisans in factories but also to educate her ethically conscious fans. Some of the changes she hopes to see in the greater community are already being implemented in Punjya's company.

"Behno really has made a mission to help put an end to the unethical treatment of women and workers, raise the standards and ensure that these employees are given rights, sustainable wages, and the insurance needed to live," she said of the contemporary luxury label that has been worn by the likes of Emma Watson and Alysia Reiner on the red carpet.

In speaking with Erlanger about his project, Punjya noted that they found many common interests, including the organization Labour Behind the Label, a British non-profit that works with brands to help them understand what Punjya refers to as "the invisible side of the industry." 

As for how to achieve meaningful change, Erlanger said it all begins with awareness. “I have made it my mission to be incredibly informed regarding the production practices utilized in the garments I put on clients and in my own personal collection.”

She continued, "Consumers are asking more questions and doing their research. People have a genuine interest in being knowledgeable and ethically conscious. I think the biggest tip is to pay attention and ask questions.” Punjya agreed on this point, noting that young people in particular are instigating the movement. He also stressed the importance of “looking at garment workers in an artistic way,” adding, “they are artists, not machines.”

Punjya and the team hope to humanize and contextualize the workers. “We wanted to tell their stories in a way that’s emotional, but not sad. We wanted to convey this in a very beautiful way.”