In a world where ‘self-made’ has been attributed to the likes of Kylie Jenner, it can be easy to gloss over the hustle that happens behind the scenes for those who weren’t born into the Kardashian Klan. For most of us, self-made means doing our fair share of internships, having to face multiple rejections and growing our confidence along the way.
Despite feeling that she started late in the game – starting her first internship at 23 years old and studying Classics and Law at University – Billie Bhatia has hustled her way through multiple internships and is now a successful fashion writer in her own right, previously working at Elle and now, Stylist magazine.
Everyone’s fashion journey is different from the rest and in that respect, Billie’s is no different. We spoke about her passion for reading, how she grew confidence in herself as a writer and the pressures of ‘looking good’ within the industry. This is definitely a must-read for any aspiring writer with some honest and humorous advice from the brilliant Billie Bhatia. Enjoy!
Had you always known that you wanted to work in fashion journalism?
I had no idea I wanted to work in fashion journalism – I barely even knew it existed as a career. I didn’t grow up in a particularly strict Indian household but ‘fashion journalist’ definitely wasn’t one of the careers we discussed over dinner.
I read and loved magazines, I enjoyed writing but I never put two and two together to appreciate it as a job. It wasn’t until my very first internship, aged 23, that I realised fashion journalism was something I wanted to pursue seriously.
As you studied Law and Literature outside of London, how important do you think it is to go to a fashion school in London?
I think you should always think of studying as an extension of education, don’t think about it as your career – because there will always be skills you can transfer into a job. If you love fashion and want to learn more about it: study it, read it, breathe it, live it. I loved Classics, so that’s what I read at University. I knew as an essay subject it would provide me with skills I could use elsewhere.
‘Don’t think of your education as your career – because there will always be skills you can transfer into a job’
I didn’t end up loving Law (crime was the best bit!) but it taught me how to be organised, how to construct arguments and how to read really, really quickly.
What happened within the first 6 months after you graduated?
It was a total disaster! The University bubble had burst and I was lost, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I just knew it wasn’t Law. I started writing a blog called ‘From Fat to Fit Billie’ that was supposed to document a physical journey I was trying to undertake (as you can see it was rather unsuccessful). I had always loved writing but never really thought I was that good at it, at least definitely not good enough to make a career from it. But the feedback I got from the blog was incredible, people loved it and I couldn’t quite believe why!
I started to read more magazines and newspapers and I remember one Saturday morning reading Caitlin Moran’s column in The Times and thinking – maybe I could do this. Not having a single contact in the world of journalism was tough. I scoured the internet for hours and hours a day to find contacts for any magazine going and would email them over and over again to see if I could get work experience, 99% of the time I didn’t get a response back. The other 1% was an auto-generated email telling me my CV had joined the very long list of applicants and the odds were slim.
I was working in a restaurant and bar as a waitress at the time, which meant I could focus on application in the day and work in the evening. When an opportunity at Sunday Times Style did arise, my boss told me my job would still be waiting for me but I had to go and test out my dreams in fashion journalism.
You have a stellar CV full of internships and work experience at high profile magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.
How important have you found those internships in leading you to where you are now?
Work experience and internships are the backbone of your career. When I entered the cupboard at Sunday Times Style I didn’t even know what a return was. At the end of my four weeks, I was a walking talking rolodex of addresses for PR agencies and brands. There is no disguising the hard work that goes into those 4 weeks you spend at a magazine, but you have to soak in every piece of information that comes your way – no matter how mundane you think it might be.
If it wasn’t for those internships I wouldn’t have known that the job of ‘fashion writer’ existed or seen first-hand what that role entailed. You are in a unique position as a fashion intern of being able to see everything – the writing, the styling, the administrative side of a magazine. You might not be privy to the decision making but you see the cogs that turn the magazine and from there you are in a much better position to decide your fashion fate.
What has been your biggest challenge/struggle so far?
Working in an industry where a huge percentage of your peers are beautiful and well-dressed can take its toll on your self-worth. For a long time I gave weight to the wrong things, things that I now know, aren’t important. You can easily be kept swept into the fashion vortex, where all the matters is what you are wearing, where you are eating, who you are hanging out with, which parties you are seen at. Those things don’t matter. Styling an editorial that makes someone feel something, constructing a sentence that hits the reader square in the heart – that’s what matters.
‘Working in an industry where a huge percentage of your peers are beautiful and well-dressed can take its toll on your self-worth’
You have to remember your goal in this industry otherwise you can lose sight of both your goal and yourself. My goal is to be a writer that people loved to read.
In your role, have there been any parts of the job that you didn’t expect or that may surprise us?
There is a huge amount of time management in my job because I am constantly juggling my print and digital deadlines. For those who think being a fashion writer is a Carrie Bradshaw-esque character squandering all their days at Soho House writing the occasional paragraph on next season’s trends, you are mistaken.
It’s half writing, half being in meetings, planning, scheduling and basically, doing non-fun adult admin.
Not to quote The Devil Wears Prada, but ‘a million girls would kill for your job’. How do you stand out from the crowd and get noticed?
You stand out from the crowd by having a unique point of view or perspective. Don’t just follow the crowds and have the same ideas as everyone else, think about what makes fashion exciting for you and work from there. Get as much experience as you possibly can and say yes to everything. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone and take on something that terrifies you. Read, read, read. Find people you love reading and soak up everything they have to offer. Don’t be afraid of people. Everyone started somewhere.
‘Don’t just follow the crowds and have the same ideas as everyone else, think about what makes fashion exciting for you’
If you are in your first internship and decide you love the look of the art desk – ask the art director if they have 5 mins to spare to talk to you. Pitch ideas to the features team, they might hate them but they might also love them. Be respectful (no one likes a bulldozer) but take every opportunity to learn something. Go to talks, speak to the panellists.
Looking back – no regrets, ofc – is there anything you would have done differently? What lessons have you learned?
I wouldn’t have been so lazy at University. I would have used my summers to gain experience instead of just partying with friends (It was really fun though). I felt like I was late to the interning game at 23 and I wish I had figured out what I wanted to do earlier than that.
I have learnt to value myself, know that I am good enough and ask for your senior management to acknowledge that. It’s a tough pill to swallow when the conversation doesn’t go your way, but when your boss pats you on the back and rewards you for your work there is no feeling quite like it. But after all, I am a millennial and constantly need flattery.
Finally, 3 pieces of advice for anyone starting out and wanting to become a fashion writer.
- Hone your skill. Practice and read and do it again and again and again. You cannot read enough (fashion or non-fashion content).
- Have a voice – realise what you want to say.
- Don’t give up. You will get rejected. You will get turned away. You will want to give up. But if I can do it, so can you.
Keep up-to-date with Billie @billie_bhatia
Words by: Heather Ibberson