Friday, August 01, 2008

industry insider interview: navaz batliwalla

as part of a (hopefully) ongoing series, i'll be speaking to people working in coveted positions within the fashion industry. undeniably an incredibly competitive area of work, you'll need a headstart above the rest of the pack, and this lot are happy spill the details before our eager eyes and ears.
they're long posts, but i think they'd make great print outs to stick in your handbag for a read on the bus/underground.

First up is Navaz Batliwalla..

For people who don't know, please could you tell us a little bit about what your job entails?
I'm a freelance fashion stylist and journalist. I was fashion director of CosmoGIRL! for 6 years but it folded last summer so I returned to freelancing. My job now involves writing fashion articles and styling shoots, mostly for magazines but also for websites and newspapers and a bit of advertising.
I'm also working on a book and TV proposals with Donna who was beauty editor of CosmoGIRL! Styling is my main passion and entails a lot of leg-work, organisation, teamwork and creativity.
You have to think on your feet as things can change at the last minute and if you're the person in charge you have to make sure it doesn't all fall apart!

Can you give any advice regarding university courses? How important is it to have a degree?

I did the fashion promotion course at Epsom which is now UCCA ( so I'd recommend looking into their course. Having said that, for me it's all about work experience. Learning the nuts and bolts of the job is far more important than having a degree but not really knowing what the job involves day to day.

You'd never know it but a lot of it is phone-work and admin! If you definitely want to go down the fashion journalism route without the styling then I think you're better off doing a journalism course where the focus is on writing. This will give you a head start.

How do you keep on top of fashion trends?
I'm naturally curious about what people are wearing so my eye is wandering 24/7. I take in everything and it goes in my memory bank for future reference! But it's not just about fashion. The best stylists soak up everything so that means keeping abreast of movies, music, clubs, shops, exhibitions, books - past, present and future.
These days trends don't start on the catwalk so I don't really look to the catwalk that much for inspiration, I'm more about what real people are wearing. I just make up my own trends based on what I see around me and sometimes they take off, sometimes they don't but you have to go with your instinct and have your own point of view.
Youth culture is my thing and I'm massively into blogging at the moment and Googling stuff, the internet is still a novelty for me and I'm discovering new and old stuff all the time.

What will set somebody apart from the rest when they're looking for work experience? Are people of a certain age more likely to get placements?
I could write a book on this subject! My number one tip is Be Professional. When you're applying for work experience you have to treat it like a real job. I know it's unpaid but other than that it IS like applying for a job. It's equally as competitive and it's your first step on the ladder so make the effort if you really want to do it.

My five point plan would be:

1) Find out the name of who is in charge of work experience and call them up. You can easily find the phone number of the magazine on the masthead (the page that lists all the names and job titles) so get over your phone phobia and make the call. In that call you can get the person's email address but also use that opportunity to ask all the questions you have; What's the minimum age? How many other interns are there? Is it paid? What will you be doing? These are intelligent questions so it shows initiative and also may help you not waste time as you might decide on the basis of that call not to pursue that placement (eg, if you discover you're too young).

2) Be super-careful when composing your email. Use the person's name and be specific. Eg, instead of 'I'd love to work for your magazine' say 'I'd love to work for Teen Vogue/Elle/Fashionista'. Editors love to have their egos stroked so use a bit of flattery about why you particularly like their magazine (but don't overdo it). Keep your covering email to a short paragraph and state your availability. If you can be flexible or available at short notice then flag that up as often people drop out at the last minute. Attach your CV and make sure it includes an email address that you check daily and a phone number. Proof read your email before sending it or get someone else to check it. I'm extremely strict and bad spelling or typos don't get to the next stage I'm afraid. The reason is that if you're taken on as an intern or 'workie', you'll be representing the company so we need to know you're meticulous and tidy, not careless and sloppy.

3) Follow up your email two or three days later with a call to check it was received. You'll probably be told you're on a waiting list. Feel free to apply for other placements but keep emailing on a monthly basis to show you're still willing and available. You don't have to be a stalker but by keeping in regular contact it shows you're genuinely keen.
4) When you're making those phone calls try and sound dynamic and alive and not like someone is holding a gun to your head.
5) If you don't get the placement you wanted, just keep pushing on. Rejection is a part of life so there's no point getting bogged down in it. Believe me, it's never personal, just that someone else had the edge over you. Simply move on to the next one on the list (you do have a list, don't you?).

The age question. I'm not an expert on this but I think most places want you to be over 16 or 18. It could be an insurance issue but often it's just a maturity issue. A lot of the time you're expected to use your own initiative as well as go on errands and appointments. We need to know you can be left alone to get on with things because no-one has time to babysit a workie.

It may seem unfair but that's the point of view from our side. What I did used to do when I was at CosmoGIRL! and got an email from an under-18 wannabe-workie was offer them the chance to come to visit the office. I would show them around, explain the job and answer their questions. If they took me up on the offer and showed intelligence and enthusiasm I'd always put them on my waiting list for first dibs when they turned 18.

I don't know if other editors do this but there's nothing to stop you suggesting it. That in itself shows maturity and initiative and if you get the chance to meet that editor you have made a very important future contact.

How do you deal with any moments of self doubt in your work?
However experienced you are you will always get moments of self doubt and you have to learn to expect them and deal with it. Usually distracting myself does the trick instead of dwelling and moping around.

The main thing is to keep soldiering on and believe that you can do it and not give up. I always tell myself there must be a way to do something, I just have to find it!

I think it's also important not to compare yourself to other people. Just do what you're doing and put all your energy into that. A good confidence-boosting self-help book I discovered is The Magic of Thinking Big by David J Schwartz. (I didn't think I was a self-help kind of girl but apparently I am!)
Are there any particular types of company that you recommend trying to get work experience with in order to further your career in it's early stages?

In my experience if you start off in a company with a small team you'll get more hands-on experience. The big-hitters like Elle/Vogue/Harpers Bazaar may be more prestigious but you might just get stuck doing 'returns' for a month, whereas if you're on a niche mag with only two staff in your department, there's more scope for you to get stuck in.
If it's not a magazine, then the same goes for model agencies/PR companies/fashion designers. Think small and think laterally. But also think of somewhere you'd genuinely enjoy working rather than just being tempted by a fancy name.

keep your eyes peeled for part two, coming soon..


WendyB said...

I'd add "dress professionally" to "be professional" -- of course it should be suited to whatever work environment you're in. If it's a casual place, be casual! But there are degress of casual. I've seen some people make heinous wardrobe mistakes!

Kelly-Ann Maddox said...

Great little interview, and very useful for people who want to break into the industry. I like the way you've highlighted key quotes.

this wheel's on fire said...

very interesting!

WendyB said...

Degrees, I meant!

María said...

I can't wait for part two. Thank you for this, really it's so interesting.

Teresa said...

very interesting...and useful.
Seriously I'm in desperate need of some connections for the fashion industry.

Anonymous said...

THANKS SO MUCH! I'm definitely interested in breaking into fashion journalism, these tips were very helpful! i look forward to reading the other two! :)

Irene (capuccinobar) said...

I've been reading this blog more or less since ir started, and I think this is one of the best posts!
(I recived your email, just tell you that you deserve it, I couldn't answer you because my internet is a bit... :S)

Michelle said...

wonderfully insightful interview on the workings of the fashion world! I'm always so cursious to find out what make fashion "works"..

Anonymous said...

what a wonderfully insightful post. i was working at teen vogue at the time when cosmogirl folded and it was such a crazy time! i found all of your advice extremely useful and interesting! have a great weekend.

Kat said...

Oh wow, thanks for this Stevie!
Its times like this when I really admire the dedication of bloggers to provide such quality posts. Well done!

michelle said...

Ah thank you! I had the photos saved on my computer for a bit and forgot where I got them from :) Of course I'll give credit where credit is due, I was just previously unsure.

emsie said...

This is a fabulous post - such a useful insight! Can't wait for part two.

young-shields said...

i read this over my breakfast (just glanced at the clock and its midday, ha!) and it was genuinely very useful. now discotheque readers will have the 'hard edge' over others when applying for internships, fantastic.

thanks for the lovely comment, i actually live in a town caled frinton in essex, about an hours train from london, so the name isn't connected! young shields is just a title of a song i like (casiotone for the painfully alone) and it had a nice ring.

and thank you so much for adding me to your august reads - it will help me on my journey to blogging addiction, haha XXX

Héloïse J. said...

thank you thank you! all this inside info sounds really interesting.
waiting for part 2!


young-shields said...

just realised the link to my blog isn't working on your august reads links - and then i noticed its because its young-shields not youth-shields. it took me way too long to work out considering its my blog, ha!

The Beauty Mum said...

Hey Stevie, thanks for asking me to take part - it looks great! Also, if anyone has any other questions, leave a comment on our blog and we'll answer them. Donna is a beauty editor so if there are any potential beauty editors out there, send over your burning questions...!

Couture Carrie said...

This info. is priceless - thanks for posting this interview!!

Paris Tarts said...

Thanks for the lovely comments and for putting me on ur best blog reader list :)


Char Ruiz Manjarrez said...

This is by far one of the best posts I've ever read. Great job!


Stefanie said...

this is a wonderful post. I read half of it and plan to print it out and read it on the SkyTrain. Lovely idea!

Anonymous said...

wow great post! I'm currently interning for a fashion site right now and the advice was great! BTW love your blog!

Check out which is the site im working for! Lots of stylish bloggers like yourself are on it!

Caroline said...

SUCH a great post. thank you!

Anonymous said...

Good luck with your work placements this summer! I'm doing a similar kind of thing at a magazine and I found this interview really interesting.

Simran at

Anonymous said...

Loved it, and can't wait for more like it.

How did you get in touch with her?

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Great questions - really well done. I liked the question about self doubt - keeping it real. Thx


awesome post! this definitely helps me a lot =)

gloria said...

Those are great questions you asked!

Stylist said...

Very beautiful blog for fashion. Its really FABULOUS and FASCINATING!

laura said...

Wow! what a informative blog! great post. this is really great blog for fashion. Actually, I'm a fashion stylist looking and searching more style.