IN CONVERSATION WITH NONITA KALRA
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, TATA CLIQ LUXURY / FORMER EIC HARPER'S BAZAAR
Nonita Kalra on everyday luxury in India, the value of storytelling, and conscious consumption.
LUXURY IN THE DIGITAL SPACE
As a leading editor of a fashion magazine in India having made the shift to digital as Editor-in-Chief of Tata CLiQ Luxury, tell us about your new role. What are some key learnings that you have held onto in your journey?
My new role is to give the brand a voice, almost like a physical persona. While it is a rather wide role that covers a little bit of everything, what I like most about it is that every day is different and needs to be approached in a different way. As someone who is all about the new, this is perfect for me! In terms of brand building and applying it to my new role, one of the key learnings I've had is that it's important to give a brand a voice and a personality. This allows greater trust from the customer and an enhanced form of communication and storytelling.
Whether it's print or digital - storytelling is storytelling, regardless of the medium you're using. At the end of the day, it's important that the story your brand is telling is an honest one.
“Before you ask me whether print has died, the answer is no – it never can. True luxuries, the ones that make you pause and take a moment, will always be relevant and print is one of them.”
What are your views on the Indian luxury market and how do you think the Indian consumer perceives luxury?
In India, we're actually spoiled, we've had luxury from day one. Every woman in the household can have her blouse made to fit - that's truly bespoke.
As Indian consumers, we're aware of what good quality products are and we're particular about it too. That's luxury - conscious consumption, bespoke, access to beautiful ingredients, meals cooked fresh for you, spices you can grind and tea that comes fresh.
"For me, the Indian consumer is way ahead of the Western consumer when it comes to luxury. Luxury, at the end of the day, is careful consideration of how you consume, and the Indian consumer has always been mindful of that."
Looking purely at the Indian context, where do you think the beauty and fashion industry or the consumption industry as a whole is headed towards in the digital space and what does it take to remain relevant in this space?
When we think of luxury in the Indian context, we need to understand that luxury never lives on scale, but rather on word of mouth and community. For a brand to thrive, their products, stories and communication needs to be extremely special, considered and initially small. The biggest movement we're witnessing today in India is the emergence of homegrown brands that are mindfully curated. The power that a brand's community can have is far more than what scale can provide.
Speaking of brand communities, what is your view on the way we consume digital content on apps like Instagram and Clubhouse?
What is unique about the social media platforms we have today is that stories can be told across many levels. It is exciting that content that started out as long-form can then be distilled and further distilled until it is snackable. One of the things that I tell young writers that work with me is, 'Everything that you need 1500 words for - cut it down to 400 words, cut it down to 150 words, cut it down to 75 words.' Tell the story across many word-counts because everyone is looking for a different kind of content to consume.
The greatest thing about Instagram or the internet is the democracy of communication. There is no intelligentsia that dictates the norms of communication, which allows information access to so many more people. There used to be a young housekeeping staff at the office who used to bring us our morning chai, he told me, 'Madam, I'm a TikTok star; I have 50,000 followers and I'm earning so much.' Access to information now belongs to everybody thanks to these apps, and that's luxury too.
When I think about Clubhouse, I believe it came at a time when people were saturated with visual imagery. It gave people the space to kick back and experience social media without the pressure of 'Am I looking perfect?' That's when it became a big thing and Tata CLiQ Luxury was one of the first to start this room called 'Luxury with Purpose' where you didn't have to get ready because no one had the energy to get ready. We all laid back in our Anokhi kaftans and just spoke to each other. Just hearing someone's voice was very relaxing. I am interested to see how Clubhouse progresses and what brands are able to do with it. I see that numbers are already dropping but that may just be temporary.
CONTENT AND COMMUNICATION
Do you believe that online shopping has undergone a massive change since the COVID-19 pandemic? Moreover, do you foresee a return to physical shopping?
It most definitely has and in the best possible way. It's exciting because it gives everybody access to brands that they've wanted to own but haven't had the chance to. There was a time when you had to drive from Andheri to Kemps Corner to buy a MAC lipstick. It has made products accessible. It's allowed people with a taste of luxury to own luxury and it helps people feel good about themselves, which is one of the best things.
The downside to online shopping has been the lack of touch and feel. People miss being able to walk into a store and actually experience a product before investing in it. What I foresee is a huge demand for events and to be able to go to a store. If I want to buy tea, I want to be able to smell it and taste it, and that's what will make me want to purchase it.
Do you think people are ready to get back to in-person interactions and restore previous forms of communications?
Absolutely. I've missed in-person meetings so much. Every morning at Harper's Bazaar, we had an edit meeting where I got to spend time with my team. It would always be scheduled for half an hour but would become an hour and a half because we were catching up and laughing, and obviously chocolate was involved. I miss that, I would pay money to sit across my team and talk to them.
“And while we are hopefully getting ready to return to in-person communication, the world will continue to have many forms of digital communication too. It’s important to understand that the prevalence of one is not going to be the death of the other.”
What has been a challenging aspect of producing digital content remotely?
Actually, you'll think I'm crazy, but nothing. I love content and I love telling stories so no matter what the challenge, I figure out a way to get it done. I live to tell stories and I live to find solutions to problems. What has been challenging is not seeing people and not sitting on edits overnight. I miss the long hours, hanging out with people and the physical labour of being on shoot and ironing clothes. And of course, the fact that everything takes longer because of the many channels of communication that we have to go through when we're not working in-person. Not seeing people, not being able to bounce ideas off of each other - that has been the challenging part.
As I've produced content over the last year, I've realised that storytelling continues, no matter what. I think that the greatest thing that the last year and a half has given me is the ability to listen more. Everyone has a story and we were only looking for the obvious stories. Now we're listening to the silence, listening to people's stories and telling them with a little bit more sensitivity.
“Maybe eventually we're going to learn a modicum of kindness, not just for other people but for ourselves too because as young women, we're terribly unkind to ourselves.”
We love storytelling at No. 3 Clive Road too, but we wanted to know from you, what does it mean to have good content?
I want to take the example of Tata CLiQ Luxury. Although it is an e-commerce site, it took a brave decision last year to push slow commerce. The idea was to insist on people considering a purchase before going through with it and taking a slower approach towards it. Instead of emphasizing the robust delivery speeds that they could offer, they maintained the need to take care of their own people first.
The whole philosophy during the pandemic evolved to 'luxury with purpose' - to help consumers understand where their products were coming from and educate them on the A to Z of sustainability. That, to me, is an example of good storytelling and good content because it is authentic and comes from the heart of the brand.
“For your story to be an authentic one, you need to believe in it first. There is merit in repeating your story over and over again, because if you don't believe in it to begin with, why would anybody else?”
Consumers and the communities around a brand look up to the brand as if they were a person and the few things that they want from brands are authenticity, honesty, and quality.
FAMILY AND FAMILIARITY
We were also curious to know, what have been your personal learnings from the pandemic? How did it change you, if at all?
I think it changed us all. At one level, we learnt that we're okay with solitude and on the other, we learnt that we need almost nothing. My primary takeaway was that I have too much and that I wanted to simplify my life. I wanted to own almost nothing and when I did finally buy something, I got myself a Pilates machine and a pair of noise-cancelling headphones because those are the two things that I truly use every day. Beyond that, I couldn't think of a single thing I wanted.
I also learnt that I miss the people I love dearly and I learnt that it was okay to be vulnerable around them, to show them I need them and want them in my life. It was heart-breaking to see the kind of suffering the world endured but through it all, there has been so much gratitude. I had never lived with my husband before and this year I was able to finally make the move and live with him.
“Through the last year, I’ve allowed myself to be authentic and vulnerable with the people I love. Most of all though, I have been immensely grateful.”
Last but not least, what is your most cherished teatime memory?
I come from a family of huge tea drinkers. They drank endless cups of tea and no meal was ever complete without one. Teatime in the evening was always English style with cake. My grandmother always served madeleines and cupcakes and she had this very beautiful Queen Anne tea set.
My favourite memory related to tea is the advice that my father gave me. He said to me, 'Whenever somebody comes to the house, you have to give them tea and something to eat. You will ask them three times, the right thing for them to do is to say no, the fourth time you ask you just bring them something because they actually meant yes!' He told me to extend this consideration to everybody who comes to the house and this is a rule I've had ever since.
For me, the story of tea is a tradition in my family, but it is also my greatest gift of inheritance - this generosity that I was taught by my parents and my grandparents.
“Tea is a sign that says welcome to my home and food is a sign that says I am willing to share my abundance with you.”
And for that, tea is extremely special to me. Most of all, while in London, I have been craving masala chai. It's only when you leave the country and home that you really miss your family and its traditions.