In the pre-pandemic era, a regular day for Nonita Kalra, Editor In Chief, Tata CLiQ Luxury, would mean getting a lot of things done during work hours. As the top creative mind of the brand, she would brainstorm with her team, look at styling briefs, shoot pictures, and in the middle of all this make a dash for her meeting with the director. It would be a whirlwind workday for her. It still is. Except, she is doing all this from her home in London. In between her numerous work calls, she spoke to POPxo and gave us a glimpse of what it takes to become a groundbreaking editor.
A conversation with Kalra will transport you to a different world. A world that lights up your spirit. The one that makes you believe that you can accomplish whatever you set your mind to. However, she makes it clear that hard work is the key to this journey of triumph and success. Well, that’s exactly what has made Kalra a prominent and change-making voice in the fashion industry. Kalra’s illustrious career spans over more than two decades and throughout this journey, she has transformed fashion magazines into a cultural phenomena.
An Unparalleled Portfolio
Kalra was only 31 when Elle appointed her as the Editor-In-Chief. This was the time when fashion magazines were just entering the country. She worked with Elle magazine for more than a decade and gave it its fashion-forward visual identity. In 2013, she quit Elle and worked on consultancy assignments with Godrej Consumer Products, FDCI, Business World, UTV, BiTV, and Man’s World. She was also a regular columnist of The Indian Express, The Economic Times, Forbes Life, and DailyO.
Kalra became the editor of Harper’s Bazaar India in 2016 and she took the magazine to new heights. Under her editorship, the magazine got a new and unique vision. It made a splash with fashion, art and celebrities. Kalra was highly praised for her bold and fearless ideas, her prowess as an editor and her understanding of what the readers wanted. She worked as a tastemaker, defining fashion through storytelling, which she says, is the centerpiece of every successful business. That’s why she is writing her own story and there’s a lot more to come. Ask her what’s her success mantra? “I live, eat, sleep, work and I have that slightly obsessive quality about what I do,” she says. Well, that’s evident in the way she talks about her profession. It’s easy to see why she is considered the most sought-after and forthright voice in the fashion industry.
At Tata CLiQ, she is focussing on creating a pool of educated customers. “Educated customers make the right choices,” she explains. Currently living and working from London, Kalra starts her mornings really early. On most work days, you will find her hustling hard, finishing deadlines, collaborating with her team in India on Zoom calls and brainstorming–all in a day! As part of our POPxo Women Who Win series, we couldn’t think of a better person to give you a sneak peek into the life of a media maven. Slightly edited excerpts below:
How do you begin your day?
I am currently in London which is four-and-a-half hours behind India. So as soon as I wake up, I get to my desk and start working. I start work at 5 AM or 6 AM. My days begin early. It’s usually waking up, brushing your teeth, wearing your sunblock, and getting to the computer kind of a morning for me. When it’s lunchtime in India, I make sure I work out. That’s one thing that I don’t miss and I multi-task throughout the day. You will find me working when I am eating or going about my chores. I’m very grateful that I am a woman and that I can multitask. If it’s an important work meeting then I give it my full attention.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
COVID-19 happened and the world made a transition and all of us who loved meeting each other moved to a digital world. I started working at Tata Cliq Luxury in February 2021 and I have never met any of my colleagues. We’ve only met each other through Microsoft Teams. The beauty of all this is that we’ve learned to collaborate to work together, without ever meeting each other. We recently did a content property, called the Luxe Life, which was a virtual conclave. The birthing was conceived online, created online, and edited online. It’s been an incredible journey.
When did you know that you wanted to enter fashion journalism?
Here’s the truth–nobody really knows what they want to do with their careers. I did love fashion and I was really lucky that I had parents that indulged this love. I grew up surrounded by beautiful things, my mother was very fashionable. I used to get my clothes stitched. A few days ago, I was reminding a friend during a conversation that I’d bought this really cool material and it turned out to be curtain fabric. But I still approached a men’s tailor and got shorts made out of it. I was obsessed. I think I also got lucky because when I got into journalism, fashion magazines had just come into the country and I was able to interview for Elle. I didn’t want to take the job because I was working with Indian Express as their features editor. I remember Shekhar Gupta flew down to Delhi from Bombay and he said, “Nonita, no one makes you an editor at 31. You’re going to leave Indian Express, you’re going to take that job, but you have to go and make me proud.” It gave me my most valuable lesson that you have to be generous to people you work with. And it changed my life. So that’s how I got into fashion partly. I think I was able to pull all of this because I spent ten years training as a journalist, both in print and broadcast. That’s how I got into it. It was a combination of being at the right place, at the right time, having a great mentor, and doing a lot of hard work. There’s nothing without hard work. There are no successful people, just hardworking people.
What has been a turning point in your career?
A couple of things. I joined India Today as an intern, that was a turning point in many ways because that was the first time India Today hired interns. I worked hard and I found my calling. I had a lot of friends who wandered around not knowing what they wanted to do. At 21, I found my passion. In a sense, my turning point was at 21 when I found a job that I loved. I considered it a gift. I woke up every day and worked with words and with the smartest people. No two days were the same. My move to Bombay was a turning point. I did a couple of years of business journalism and television. I think failing when I was young was very important because I kept changing jobs trying to find what to do. When you change jobs, you develop a certain fearlessness. Then I got an opportunity to work with Indian Express. I got a whole features page to work on. I joined Elle in 2000 and it changed my life. It was the same time we saw a fashion week for the first time. The industry was being documented so I feel I was there at the right place and at the right time with a desire to work harder than anyone else.
You made the switch from a fashion magazine to an e-commerce platform, how have you been liking the change?
I think the pandemic made us all reconsider our future. E-commerce sites have understood that while they are being run by incredible data scientists and marketing geniuses, when it comes to clothing, emotion and expertise is involved. You could look at data forever, but unless you become storytellers you are not going to make it. E-commerce platforms stepped in to become the new storytellers and what’s nice is they really are driven by the desire to educate. Tata Cliq Luxury, for example, is driven by the desire to educate the customer. We want to create a pool of educated customers because they would make the right choices and right decisions.
A mantra that you follow or swear by in your professional as well as your personal life?
I start every morning with a new desire to earn respect from people I work with that day. I never think about yesterday and I never think about tomorrow. I only think about what all I can do today to earn the respect of my team.
What are the key quality skills that helped you succeed
Hard work. There is never a shortcut. When I am creating, I am an architect in my head. I like to create in chaos. You can also be sure that if you have given me a budget, I will stick to the budget and save your money. So that’s a really weird thing about me. I will never overspend your money. I will treat it like it’s my money. I will probably save some for the future. I always have plan A, B, C, D. Another thing that I do is–I see myself as a writer, and I work very hard with my own writing. we forget to hone this one skill, which you need, regardless of what age and how you communicate, whether it’s visuals or videos. So for a storyteller, I am still old-fashioned and I think you should write old-school, you should write beautifully. Words should be the visuals.
What has been your biggest accomplishment so far?
The fact that I have been able to work with extraordinary young women and that they’re still talking to me. I learn so much from them because they are sassy, they are outspoken, they have so many thoughts and feelings.
Is there a misconception about fashion journalism that you would like to change?
We consider art and sculpture as something elevated, and need expertise to write about. When we’re talking about beauty, we want a dermatologist, a trained doctor to talk about beauty. We use clothing to cover our bodies, to express ourselves or to make a political statement. And yet we don’t want to give fashion that respect. Fashion tells you what’s going on in a country, what’s coveted in a country, there is politics behind silk, there is politics behind cotton. Then why are we so dismissive about something as extraordinary. When did it become a crime to look good? How dare we take that away from ourselves.
What would be your advice for budding fashion writers?
If you want to become a fashion writer, then treat it with the same respect you would treat journalism. Do your degree, focus on writing, work hard. It’s a new world, so arm yourself with multiple skills, learn to tell stories across mediums, whether it’s telling a story through social media, video or writing. Find a collaborative crew that can work together to tell stories. You are documenting history for future generations to understand. Your point of view must be educated, informed, and unbiased as a journalist, but it’s important to be able to present it and be open to criticism and disagreement.
And lastly, how do you unwind?
I play with my dog. That one hour of exercise is my meditation. I’m doing dance classes over the weekend, I picked up kathak over the lockdown. I like movement because our jobs are so cerebral. At night, I read. My mind never switches off and I am never away from the screen but for me, reading is just magical.
Nonita Kalra lives in London. Her journey has been inspiring and wholesome. Team POPxo wishes her all the luck for her future endeavours.