I still remember my first glimpse into the glittering world of Fashion and Jewellery through “Window Shopping”, a strategy to bring in customers into stores though eye-catching visual displays, aesthetics and overall store design.

Tasneem Bharmal, our next pathbreaker, works as Visual Merchandiser, creating Windows and In-Store displays that define the look and feel of the brand through a persuasive Retail Ambience.

Tasneem talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about the joy of experimenting with colours, themes, visuals/callouts and the creative freedom of exploring new retail ideas every day, to increase customer footfalls that pushes her creative boundaries.

For students, Fashion is not just about good design, but also a flair for presenting collections and launches through innovative In-Store strategies.

Tasneem, tell us about your background?

I’m from south, brought up in Chennai, currently living in Delhi. As a child, I loved to draw and paint. My interest in fashion came from a very young age as my mom used to sew all my clothes. From class 9, I started following my mom’s footsteps and started making my own clothes. I used to cut up my father’s denim and make denim skirt. I also used to paint on my tee-shirts as I loved painting. I don’t have a favourite colour as I get fascinated by all colours. 

My mother is a house wife and my Father has a business of threads and buttons in Chennai called Indian Thread agency. He supplies to a lot of fashion schools including NIFT. 

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?

After school I had a choice between NIFT Chennai and Eikon academy. NIFT was extremely far from my house and I was not very keen to stay in a hostel. I took up my BSc Fashion designing course in Eikon Academy. After the course, I was not very clear as to what I wanted to become, a Fashion Designer, Jewellery designer or Visual Merchandiser. Plus, the college did not have any campus placements.

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?

I worked for my sister in Mumbai as a Fashion designer. We specialized in Indian wear lehengas and my traditional wear (Ridas). I worked for a year and then came back to Chennai and started my own fashion house called “Zahaabi Ridas” (on Facebook). I got a call from Diesel to work with them as a Stylist/Fashion consultant, for their Mumbai Palladium store in 2010. I used to assist the Store Visual merchandiser out of my own will as I found visual merchandising to be very fascinating. When the Chennai store opened, i was given the title of Store Visual Merchandiser which I happily accepted. By that time I loved doing VM (Visual Merchandising) and had gained knowledge and was ready to take it up individually.  I started getting a lot of appreciation from the Head Visual merchandiser and my pictures were featured in Diesel Italy magazine for best displays at store. 

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted?

There were verbal appreciations and emails from the head Visual Merchandiser as I was one of the top 10 employees in Diesel India in 2011. With constant motivation from the Head Visual Merchandiser (Saurabh Ailawadi) I then decided to do my specialization in Visual merchandising as this was the only career which I never got bored off.

I joined Academy of Applied Arts in Delhi to do an Advanced Diploma in Visual Merchandising. It was a privilege to be taught by Ashmit S. Alag. The course was a wonderful array of information and practical knowledge. 

My first freelancing project was with Fashion Forward Trends (A fashion Magazine). They were advertising their magazine in an event called WatsIn and they approached me to do 3 high Fashion Walls where Models, Actors could pose and get themselves clicked. 

I designed 3 walls, vintage galore, glamor and glitz and a walk down the fashion lane.

It was appreciated by Sussanne Khan Roshan.

My second project was with my class where we designed a window and in-store display for a brand called O2 Furniture. The brand is all about luxury with comfort.

There was no stopping then. When I completed my course, I moved back to Chennai and later in 2015 started working with CaratLane, a Jewellery Retailer, as a Regional Visual Merchandiser. There I Handled the North and South region from Chennai (8 stores). And in 2016, I moved to Delhi and handle the North region. By the time I quit, I was handling 24 stores. I worked with them for 3.5 years, a fantastic brand and got a lot of opportunities to create and experiment with my ideas. I thoroughly enjoyed working with them. 

I then took a break and traveled   for 3 months after I quit CaratLane. 2 months later I got a call from Ancestry where they offered me the position of Head visual Merchandiser.  The challenging and fantastic part here was the brand believed in natural and reusable material. It was great to create windows and in-store displays where we did not use plastic at all and all materials used were recyclable. I got to learn a lot here as I was solely responsible for the brand look. I also did mall installations, events, photoshoot styling and online Visual merchandising. 

I quit my job after a year and a half and I’m currently freelancing as a Visual Merchandiser and soon to be doing an art show displaying my paintings.

How did you get your first break?

Since I initially had an experience of in store visual merchandising of about 3 years, I then decided to do a specialization in visual merchandising. The word was out on my LinkedIn profile and I started getting a lot of calls from there. My first individual freelance project was with fashion forward trends

What were the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

My first challenge was convincing brands about my ideas as I was still studying visual merchandising. It was a bit of a challenge to execute the ideas which I had rendered for the space given (Width 18ft x Height 15ft).

My next challenge was getting labor, doing market research within a budget 10K for the walls. I motivated the staff and made it look like a college project for them. We got the flex printed in-house and sourced post-it papers which hardly costed a thousand, and rented out frames for the Vintage galore wall which costed about 5K.

On the day of the event, we faced a lot of problems as we were short of labor to do those walls, so I decided to invite my friends to help me out and have free lunch 🙂

The event went off beautifully and the work was appreciated by all. It was a win-win for me and my friends.

Where do you work now? What problems do you solve?

Currently I am freelancing as I quit my last job recently. But when I was with Ancestry, I had to put my hands into everything, even the content which was displayed inside the store like visuals, story tellers/callouts, for the collections displayed, as well as styling, budgets, etc. 

What skills are needed for job? How did you acquire the skills?

Creative flair, commercial awareness, an eye for trends are something which you can build upon by practicing over the years. Software like Photoshop, coral draw and Illustrator are the basic tools to create and render your ideas. I learnt them during my college years and I’ve constantly updated my skills through online portals and practical work

What’s a typical day like?

My typical day at Ancestry was constant researching and updating myself. In any brand you work with, you will always be given short term projects with no deadlines apart from the long-term projects like window designing, collection launches, etc. Every single day you are busy designing, creating and executing your ideas. In a week I make sure I visit one store and give them a fresh look as the store receives new collections, new pieces added to the existing collections, re-creating a colour story when pieces sell out, styling the mannequins, training, grooming the staff, adding fresh VM elements and doing roll plays.

What is it that you love about this job?

Everyday there is something new and something beautiful to do. So, I never get bored as everyday there is a new challenge, a new timeline, a new rush which makes this field very exciting. You don’t repeat anything.

How does your work benefit the society. 

The Retail Industry in India has shown so much growth. But without Visual Merchandising it’s difficult to grow further as a brand. Visual Merchandising helps you shop better and saves you a lot of time. It enhances your shopping experience. 

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

Of all the windows I’ve done, 3 of them were very close to my heart as I worked very hard to turn my vision into reality, 2 were from CaratLane and 1 was from ancestry.  

The Jaipur Window:  

The Jewellery was inspired by the palaces of Jaipur. So, I thought why not we do a mini Hawa Mahal. The costing of the window was about 80K as it had a lot of elements in it, hence I had to persuade my seniors for approval. 

The collection was launched during Diwali time, the Hawa Mahal was completely lit with lights just like the celebrations that take place in Jaipur. I still remember, once the window was up, a lot of bloggers posted and appreciated (One of my fondest memories) the work. Every time I visited the store, I would see people posing in front of the window and clicking selfies.

Fleur Window:

The window was a huge hit as Caratlane was the first brand to do a moving window in India. I got the inspiration from the Chanel spring summer 2015 show. The collection revolved around flowers and I had to do a blooming flower to create an impactful window. The budget given to me was 40K. It was a complete success and the window was featured in the VMRD magazine. I felt very accomplished as it was one of my dreams to be featured in VMRD.

Pichwai Window:

At Ancestry, The window is an Open window format, there are a lot of restrictions like the view of the store shouldn’t be blocked, only natural materials were to be used and the budgets are very low. The Pichwai collection was the biggest launch, as we were walking the ramp at Bombay times Fashion week. The collection was inspired by the Pichwai art and had a contemporary take on it, the colour palette for the clothes was white and I had to design a window around it. I created a white forest look made out of paper. The entire window costed me 8K, the cheapest window Ive done till date. I remember the CEO specifically called me. She loved the window design and how elegantly the entire theme was carried out.

Your advice to students based on your experience ?

Being in this field for 10 years I can totally vouch that Visual Merchandising is a very unique job. So if you have the flair for VM go for it as you are in a very creative and magical field where you can see your visions come to reality. Having said that, It is important to study Visual Merchandising and choose the right college to do your graduation and post graduation.