It's hard to put the founders of fashion label Huemn in a box, though many have tried. Hipsters, intellectuals, rebels, opportunists... the labels are many though, to be honest, it's a bloody waste of time and Pranav Misra and Shyma Shetty will probably prove you wrong anyway. In another progressive move for the designers — the first to show the athleisure burkha on an Indian ramp — their newly launched e-commerce platform features three sections: men, women and non-binary.
"It just struck me, because we keep talking about acceptance, and how clothes and fashion aren't binary, but when it comes to giving the concept a deserving space, no one is doing that," says Misra. "Especially in a country like India, where it’s necessary to understand that gender is not a black and white issue." According to Shetty, the idea was to start a conversation because "while we get basic sex education in schools, gender is never explored. I have these conversations with my parents as well, and they have no clue, but they're curious to learn."
The clothes on the non-binary section are modelled by Taksh Sharma, a transgender model who has just completed her transition. While the initial offering is sparse, the designers have multiple drops planned, so that the dialogue continues.
"For me, fashion is fluid, like water. Like gender." - Himi
"Even when I was conceptualising the website, it wasn't clear in my head: why do we need another button to define a non-binary section," Misra explains. "I started reaching out to people to ask if it was necessary, if it would bring about change, and the response was overwhelmingly positive."
Both Shetty and Misra are quick to point out that this isn't a case of pandering to popular sentiment. "It's essentially a shop, you either fall under a man's fit or a woman's fit. There isn't a non-binary sizing chart, it (the non-binary tab) is more emotional and that's what we wanted to capture," Misra insists. Shetty says, "Even at fashion week when they ask us whether we're showcasing menswear or womenswear, we just say, 'it doesn't matter, slot us wherever you want.'"
The designers are also acutely aware that this is one small step towards a more egalitarian environment, and that they don't have all the answers. "Huemn is essentially a non-binary brand. We want to take everybody along, so you can learn for yourself what you’re doing wrong," says Misra. "By starting this, hopefully I’ll learn more about gender too."
Shetty adds, "Once you get rid of labels, you start celebrating the individual, you can be whoever you want to be and have an impact. We're basically trying to bring community together and show that we’re all the same."