What would the world be without brands and their personal connection with us ! However, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes before our favourite brands become available to us.

Selina Shergill, our next pathbreaker, Brand Acquisition & Licensing Professional at License India, brings global brands to the local market by acquiring brands and licenses (for their associated IPs), thus helping them establish a footprint in the Indian market and fulfilling the aspirations of customers.

Selina talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about figuring out her innate ability to manage things and deciding to pursue Fashion Management, something that came naturally to her due to her interest around understanding brands and their stories.

For students, sometimes it pays to know what you don’t want to do when you are still trying to figure out the career to pursue because it is always better to eliminate the options that don’t work for you !

Selina, tell us about Your background?

Being from an army background and a boarding school, it was easy for me to be interested in quirky and interesting things. I could visit new places, learn new things and be open to change. That freedom and exposure gave me the confidence to pursue just about anything in this world. 

What did you do for graduation/ post-graduation?

I studied B.Sc Honors at Lady Irwin College, Delhi University. I did my Major in Fabric and Apparel Science with a minor in Communication and Extension.

All through I was sure I would pursue an M.Sc in Fabric and Apparel Science but when I was in my last semester I figured out my innate ability to manage things, and thought of finding a course that would suit me.

I then went ahead and studied at NIFT where I did my Masters in Fashion Management, the best course I ever did. My 5 years in college were a cakewalk. I say this because everything came so naturally to me, yet felt like a challenge.

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

There is no way or path to reach this profession. HR does not put a post looking for a “Brand Acquisition manager” or “licensing”. To be honest, had I read a post like this after college, I would never have applied due to lack of knowledge. But after working at Khara Kapas as a brand manager I knew that I had a knack for brands and my entire interest revolved around understanding brands and their stories.

I owe a lot to my parents for believing in me during various phases, not questioning any of my choices, majors and minors in college or even my profession. 

During my internships and jobs, I have learnt so much from my managers and mentors. I feel I have been lucky  to have had the opportunity to be hired for one thing, but then ended up learning and doing so many more things that gave a boost to my confidence.

Tell us about your career path

I started with Fabric and Apparel Science as majors and had minors in Communication and Extension.  Then for masters when I decided to pursue Fashion management at NIFT, I also had a chance to do an MSc in Fabric and Apparel Science or Soft Textile and Leather at IICD, Jaipur. 

It was a tough decision, but I have never regretted studying at NIFT even once. The institute opens all doors for you. The MFM course drains you mentally as well as emotionally. Mentally, because of all the coursework and assignments, but emotionally because your attention and dedication to some assignments is personal. Once you get poor marks, it takes a toll on your confidence. And that is exactly what prepped us for the world outside.

As a masters student of Fashion management at NIFT these are the following tracks- 

  1. Merchandising – easily available
  2. Marketing – moderately available 
  3. Social media related- easily available
  4. Buying – moderately available

A profession like Brand management is considered very rare to pursue. 

My first internship was at Triburg where I learnt to do QC checks, Fabric assessment, Production and Product development. Triburg is a buying house and provides end to end solutions for brands looking for production and quality checks in India. 

Post this I made up my mind that merchandising will not be my profession despite it being a great experience.

During my Graduation research project at Benetton India Pvt Ltd, I learnt a lot about buying as well as trade shows. I also did extensive market and trend research. 

Post that I worked with Khara Kapas as a brand manager. Though I initially worked and focused on Operations and CRM , I gradually worked with the designer and CEO on global expansion and R&D for the same, as well as the launch of the brick and mortar store. 

After quitting Khara Kapas I decided to take a break and pursue academics to see if I needed to study further. By stroke of luck, License India happened. I remember telling the HR on a call that I don’t think this is the job for me. Since I had nothing to lose my parents asked me to go for it. 

That is when I was introduced to the world of brand acquisition and licensing, events and expos. While doing research and reaching out to brands internationally at first and later domestically I got a hang of this role, the real job being the event . The licensing industry in India is nascent and growing. To introduce our market to brands and help the industry grow is something key to us at License India. I had the chance to learn and work on certain products which indirectly were taught to me at NIFT- IPR, Social Media Marketing, Market Research, Trends Analysis. 

There is so much potential in what you study and how you apply it to your workplace, that call has to come from within. 

At the end of the day, you need to know where your “peace” lies. If you are happy doing the same thing day in and day out- you have hit auto pilot and that is when you need to get out of it or up your game, take up more challenges. 

How did you get your first break? 

I was approached for all my jobs via networking

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

The only challenge I faced was in the first month after college placements and after passing out. Though I knew in my head where I wanted to be, I could not find the right job. Most jobs that paid well didn’t interest me and those that were in close proximity had limited growth. Our industry needs to have more roles and not multiple profiles under one and pay just for 1 role.  A student today passes out with so much knowledge and experience that they deserve some credit and due remuneration.

Tell us about your work in Brand Acquisition and Licensing

I am working at License India. We are part of a bigger group called Franchise India Holdings, who are the pioneers of franchising as well as licensing in India. This profession has given me so much learning as a professional because the deals we make here don’t just benefit one person, but benefits the entire society. 

At License India the typical day varies. When doing a show or expo my focus remains on bringing in revenue as well as working hard to deliver my promises to the client. When a client comes for the expo, he networks, meets people from our market, they strike a deal and then we see a successful product launch or collaboration. 

Bringing new IP’s and introducing them to our market is key here. One needs to be updated on latest trends and understand what will work for the Indian market. Initially I knew only about Fashion and Lifestyle, but now I am equally aware about licensing across Sports, Arts, Entertainment and Corporate. 

On some days my focus is on social media plans and how we can be as interactive and innovative in our approach. 

Skills is something I am still acquiring. I feel I am not a great salesperson, but to get revenue I am doing my best to polish my skills. As a product manager I have had to prepare and research a lot, not because I know nothing, but because when a team member asks, “ Why are we doing this” or “ There is no way to do this”, I am ready with an answer and a solution. 

I love that I get to learn a lot everyday and the freedom to try on a new role every 3 months so far has been the privilege of the unforeseen pandemic. It forced us to look at things with a new lens as well as explore opportunities. 

 How does your work benefit society? 

Brand acquisition means to acquire certain brands and licensing is nothing but a niche form of marketing. 

So lets assume a famous brand overseas called- BLAH (hypothetical) has got some aspirational value and we think it will work for the Indian audience. We reach out to them and get them onboard either through a particular brand representation or introduce them via one of our licensing expos. These expos have conferences and awards as well. 

Once the brand enters India, our markets get access to those International brands. The next step can be licensing when a brand decides to get into brand extension. An Indian fashion designer may attend the expo or give us their brand rights to open a Salon, Jewellery line or Footwear range. Essentially giving us the right to use their brand name and logo.

This not only helps them grow but also allows our local manufacturers to enter the business which ensures them stability.

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

Of all things I have worked on, I feel most proud of working on a website which acts as a meeting portal. The amount of time, effort and energy that went into it makes me happy. I will be thrilled the day the portal has almost every brand in India on it. It is the chance of a lifetime where brands will be visible to everyone. This makes it open for small time manufacturers and retailers to connect with big names. 

The credit of course, goes to the team leaders who had this idea. But just managing the whole project has been an overwhelming experience.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

If you are in 12th– Take a pen and paper, write the subjects you like. Go and figure out a profession related to that. Do your bachelors in that. No one expects you to have your life figured out by that time.

If you are in 3rd year college- Do an internship. In fact go ahead and do 3-4 internships in the professions you are “confused” about. I did one internship in merchandising just because my teacher said “ I know you will not take it up as a profession, but it is essential for you to know how the industry works”

If you are not doing an internship, go ahead and do a masters In the subject you were effortless in. 

Stop going after MBAs. There are a dime a dozen. Work on your skills, know your mind and then decide on your path; unless of course the path doesn’t already seem clear to you. 

Future Plans?

I am currently working on a show called LABELS which includes awards, expo and conference on Licensing across Animation, Brands, Entertainment, Lifestyle and Sports. It’s a month away and the heat is on. My immediate goal is to make this show a super success.

Post that, the future looks bright with 2021 bringing in a positive mindset to many brands and companies. Hence the work in licensing in India will continue with some excellent work in this space.