Meaning sister in Hindi.
A project that tells the story of connection, of women through textiles. Sisters, daughters and protectors of the planet. Hands that learn how to do magic.
BÉHEN is a project created by an avid dreamer that travels to lands beyond the sun, but always leaves a foot in Portugal. Joana Duarte, Fashion Designer, went to London for her master’s degree at Kingston University, and started to fall in love with untold stories. Those with adventures colored by saris, bérber tribes and other characters who took her with them. She easily gets lost in distant lands of dreams and lets herself go by songs from other countries and fabrics that travel the world. Today, she focuses on making garments with old bedspreads and all the other fabrics that she can find in her grandmother’s trunk.
Based in sunny Portugal but firstly imagined in India, BÉHEN believes in fashion being waistless and in one-off clothes made of antique textiles or textiles weaved with the magic of time in faraway lands. A brand born to be a storyteller, it tells the tales of women singing in hindi and dancing under Rajasthan’s sun. Women who step on the Portuguese sidewalk with ‘saudade’ on their chest. Women who saw the sunrise in Syria but don’t close their eyes to darkness. Women who want to change the world. Clothes ethically made by women communities around the world supporting Syrian boy’s and girl’s education.
By working with small communities, we are transferring the money that usually goes to the usual and bigger production facilities to smaller businesses that have the same skills butbecause they are “small” they usually stay in the “dark”. Also, we don’t believe in quantitiesand by working with smaller producers we can maintain our range of products low and have a bigger quality control. But that is not the only reason, having a relationship with the people that produce our products is one of our core values, fashion became atomized and therefore lost its essence and its power of connecting people. Our mission is to bring people back together, and we truly believe that fashion can do it.
Working with different places / communities can be challenging and we are still learning. We want to choose were we produce very carefullyso it can bene t both sides in the long-run and avoiding a one-time order, that will not benefit thecommunity or artisan at all. We plan to produce in different places / communities because they all offer something different, and there is always something new to learn. Curiosity can kill the cat, and we are aware of it that is why we aim to maintain the number of places that we work with to a very special group and every new addition to the group is carefully analyzed. It is important to measure if we can commit with the new place / community and if we can make a positive difference in their situation. The world is big. Sometimes it doesn’t feel that big, but it is big enoughto have multiple communities that are being marginalized. Fashion can be overwhelming, and it does take inspiration from many places, but instead of just “stealing” inspiration it could actually work with artisans / communities to develop an authentic product that can serve the community as well.
We currently produce in Portugal in partnership with Aga Khan Foundation in Lisbon / Sintra with women communities that are unemployed and receiving professional training in sewing. Also, we work with a small atelier in Aveiras de Cima - Madalena Toscany. We also make sure we collaborate with other projects with similar mind sets as Cooperativa de Valorização de Resíduos from São Tomé e Príncipe.
Béhen aims to become a role model for the fashion industry – proving that it is possible to create design pieces without harming the planet, by using antique textiles and producing ethically with local communities. Demonstrating that fashion can be a force for good and vehicle for change. Creating cloth from scratch requires agriculture, fabric production and dyeing. These stages have massive CO2 emissions, water consumption, pesticides, and harmful chemicals associated with them. The truth is that nothing is 100% sustainable, but, the good news is that antique textiles are everywhere, and most of times they are not even being in use. Using antique textiles to make most of our clothes but also to contribute and promote the production of new textiles made in faraway lands by ladies who are the mastersof incredible techniques, using natural fibers and vegetable dyes (not polluting andhelping small communities and artisans) it is a pretty good option.
All over the world! But moslty in Portugal. We buy the antique textiles directly from small sellers at flea markets, antique shops etc.
Rejected garments play a huge part in production waste. This happens when quantity overcomes quality. Fashion can never be sustainable (even with sustainable textiles) if the clothes are massed produced. This is the reason Béhen only works with unique fabrics and small quantities of pre-order pieces. We believe that special clothes will always nd aspecial place no matter the time it takes.
Joana met this family 4 years ago while volunteering online for an international organization. After some time she decided to continue helping the family but independently and remotly. We communicate with them daily by Whatsaap or Facebook. For more detailed conversations we have the help of a translator. The family is now displaced in Lebanon as the flee from Syria almost 6 years ago. Currently they are living in a improvised home (more like a tent) narby a huge refugee camp. The children were not in school when Joana met them, as the family could not afford it. Now, Marwa (16), Khaled (13) and Mona (11) are at an official school in Lebanon. They are a big family of seven: The mother, Amina, the father Kassem, Halima the oldest (18) who is studying to be a hairdresser, Marwa (16) who wants to be a nurse, Khaled (13) a engeneer, Mona (11) a doctor and the youngest Mariam (3). 5% of all our sales contribute to their education.