If Sex and the City made you believe that working in a magazine is a walk in the park, you aren’t alone. Magazines may have been romanticised to a great extent in popular culture but cut to real life, it’s an entirely different ballgame. The formula to success? “Be ready to experiment, adapt and absorb,” says Kamna Malik, Content Director and Editor-In-Chief of Elle India. You can rest assured that she has lived the part. After all, taking charge of the magazine in a tumultuous year like 2020—one that saw a vast cultural shift happen—takes more than a bit of experimenting and adapting. Though like the rest of us, it all begins after a cup of coffee!
The many challenges of 2020 haven’t deterred her from working towards building an inclusive fashion platform. And lest one forgets, it's more than a single role that Kamna Malik juggles. As Head of India Design ID, a position she has held since 2018, she continues to oversee operations at the luxury design week. Though new to fashion, she comes backed with a strong eye for detail in design and architecture. It all began when after graduating from law school, she made the transition to media with double masters. And since then, there has been no looking back. Her portfolio highlights some of the leading names in the industry. From editorial positions at The Financial Express and The Times of India Group to her time as a Managing Editor - Brand Solutions at Elle Decor & Elle India, everything has together contributed to her current role. Add to that her prior involvement with other prominent institutions— think Tate Modern, Victoria & Albert Museum and the London Design Festival.
Bringing all of this to the table, today she heads a woman-dominated team at Elle India, which celebrated its 24th anniversary in January this year. Her perspective as a leader? To make the magazine an inclusive space, one where women have each other’s backs. As we celebrate the stories of women who have redefined success with the #POPxoWomenWhoWin series, it seemed only fitting that we reached out to this trailblazer. From creating a positive work atmosphere for her team to advice for anyone aspiring to make it big in media, Kamna Malik tells it like it is. Below, excerpts from an interview.
I begin my day with a huge cup of coffee. I cannot do anything till I haven’t had my coffee so that’s like the very first thing I need the minute I open my eyes! My definition of a typical day has changed during the pandemic. Every day is different. But I think it’s a combination of never-ending calls, truckload of emails and messages, Zoom/Google meetings, etc. I am actually waiting for things to stabilise so that a ‘typical work day’ can come back in fashion. I have forgotten what a normal working day feels like!
My first job was at an NGO when I was attending law school. My parents were very strict about pocket money and so I required a job. I joined an NGO that would help educate underprivileged children from the slums. I would go to my college in the morning and late afternoon onwards work with the kids.
I’d like to believe that I am a fair and inclusive boss. The world is changing and you have to take everyone together with you if you want to do bigger things with your brand. The working culture of media is such that one ends up spending a lot of time with their team members. Hence, I think it’s imperative that the atmosphere and vibe within the team is a happy and positive one. Fashion magazines have historically carried a reputation of having toxic work environments and as an editor, one of my focus points is to create a workplace that inspires and motivates people. Of course, there are days when I am tough but at the end of the day, it’s all for the betterment of my team and the brand.
I think my iPhone/Gmail calendar is my favourite tool. I put all my reminders, meeting updates, to-do lists on that and it gives me a clear picture of how my days look. Also, I like to plan things in advance. It just helps me keep things a little under control.
Hard work, Consistency and Conviction.
Honestly, there isn’t one single achievement. The goalpost of what I want to do professionally keeps shifting and moving. However, when I look back at my journey, everything looks like a big accomplishment. I had never imagined my career to shape up like this when I first started working.
Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans! So make plans but don’t be married to them because life has a different way of playing things out.
We are a women dominated team, aged between 20-40 years. Since the average age is so vast, my constant endeavour is to encourage each person to build their own voice. I want them to speak their mind and stand up for what they truly believe in without the fear of being judged. Whether it’s through what they write, what they wear, what they put out on social media or the kind of conversations they have – I try to maintain a culture that makes them feel secure. As a woman, I know how tough things can get and whether we like it or not, the Indian society still expects only the woman to do the balancing act. While things are changing, we still have a long way to go. In the meanwhile, I want the work culture to be such that women can count on each other in more ways than just one.
I won’t sugar coat this. Magazines, digital content and media space is tough. It is not as glorified as it looks from the outside. It doesn’t pay well and one has to really work their butts off to make a mark. Chances and opportunities are less and there are way too many people out there fighting for them. For anyone who wants to break into this industry, I would say that come in with zero expectations and be ready to work really really hard. Be ready to experiment, adapt and absorb. It is going to take a couple of tough years before things get stable.
I don’t relax! I need to learn how to do this. I have been a workaholic for the last 14 years and I am at a point now where I am realising that I need to learn this skill as well. But yes, travel is definitely something that helps me unwind.
A perfume, lipstick and lip balm.
Featured Image: Kamna Malik