Fashion trends will change frequently, but functional products won’t. Product Design gives you the opportunity to make something stylish and trendsetting for the fashion conscious, while solving a problem.

Neha Jain, our next pathbreaker, handles design and product management for new products (i.e. watches & clocks) of Timex’s brands (including brand management for TMX, Timex’s youngest brand), ensuring a smooth transition from when it is designed till it reaches the stores.

Neha talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about her journey from Fashion Design to Product Management and blending her interests in design and business to take up a career in brand building.

For students, nothing is more fulfilling than being in a multi-faceted role, building products being used by society on a daily basis !

Neha, tell us about your background?

I grew up in a middle class family, although as I was growing up, we became more of an upper middle class family. My parents are well educated professionals who always had an open mind to let their children grow up naturally. Though we were never pestered to secure the top rank in class, we took the responsibility on ourself to always do our very best. I grew up in multiple places, and changed quite a few schools which helped me accept changes gracefully. I also learnt to make friends easily & adjust better. My mother is very creative, organized & skillful; she’s almost a perfectionist. And in my father, I saw a top professional. I can say that I am a culmination of both their skillsets & nature; basically I got the best of their genes ☺

I also have two younger siblings (who are successful in their own ways). I have always tried to be an ideal child. The best part is, during my entire life, I got to stay together with my parents & siblings and that has been my biggest learning curve.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I did my bachelors in Fashion Design (B.Des) from NIFT, New Delhi & my masters in Fashion Management (MA, Marketing) from De Montfort University, Leicester, United Kingdom.

What were some of the influences that led you to such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?

I always had an inclination towards all things creative. I was lucky to have good skill sets to support my creative pursuits. I would attribute this to being partially gifted & undergoing disciplined training to be better.

I was always a long-term planner who thought out things thoroughly. When it came to choosing my subjects in 11th standard, I asked myself what I wanted to be for the rest of my life. I had two choices: either become an average engineer or a brilliant designer. I chose the later option. I then researched and worked towards my goals. Ultimately I got an AIR of 10 in the NIFT Entrance exam, which made my parents confident of my choice. The rest, as they say, is history.

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

I researched the best places to study design. NIFT Delhi was the number one choice for Fashion Design. I got an all Indian rank enabling me to study at NIFT Delhi. NIFT offered me everything, from internships to graduation, as well as getting my first job. 

Internships during college are very important: they are your first exposure to the industry. I recommend that everyone should try to intern for top brands, to work with industry leaders, because you will learn a lot & as a bonus, learn a lot of good professional practices. I was lucky to intern at FabIndia & be mentored by the famous Ms. Anuradha Kumra who taught me so many nitty-gritties of the job at a very early stage. A good mentor is like a blessing; I wish everyone gets such an opportunity.

After my Bachelors at NIFT, I wanted to do a Masters. My four years of design study during bachelors made me realize that I did not want to be just a designer for my whole life, I wanted to be more than that. Hence, I chose a masters in Fashion Management with a specialization in marketing to gain a 360 degrees knowledge on design. Also, I wanted to study abroad to gain international exposure & to fufill my urge for travelling. Also, especially for masters, your subject of study is very important. I found mine at DMU.

Though It is true that there are comparatively less scholarships available for design/fashion education, I got a faculty scholarship based on my marks, work experience & a letter of purpose. I was honest in my letter of purpose (just like I am here) & I got it! 

Education abroad is a lot of self-learning. You have to be self-disciplined to do well & if you do so, the sky is the limit for the kind of exposure that you can get and the opportunities which will come your way. It also gives you a global perspective & I’d say education abroad is relevant with today’s times. In that sense, I feel Indian institutes adopt the latest technology pretty late & the curriculum changes are so slow that you are learning practices which were relevant maybe 5-10 years before.

Also, I worked hard & completed my masters with Merit. I came back to India, and got a job after an intensive job search.

With my jobs, I always had a flexible approach as I strongly believe that doing your best in anything that you do will create learning opportunities for you. My first stint after my masters was as a retail manager at a Florist in the UK. This was to make money abroad (UK) while doing something which I loved. I love gifting & being creative. This job taught me how to make good small talk, multi-task super fast & become a manager in my own way. So, bottom line is, never shy away from opportunities which come your way. Everything adds to your being who you are.

During my first year after graduating from my masters, I worked in a start-up. Though I had a bad manager, the job was good, with good colleagues. I learnt a lot. I got moved to another team because of my good work. 

I worked for a German client next year. It was a very fulfilling experience & Germans are great to work with. They are very thorough & time conscious. That complimented my skills and got the best out of me.

I also taught at NIFT, which was my way of giving back to my alma mater & I am thankful that I got that chance pretty early on in my life.

Then, I moved to Timex, in order to explore a new category i.e. watches. Watches were originally not a part of my training. But I learnt on the job & I learnt it real quick. I always wanted to be a brand manager. I slowly kept working towards it & my boss noticed my flair for it. She helped me pursue that role. Though it’s a part of my job, I am learning a lot & that’s the best part.

Throughout my jobs, I realized that I am a learner & I enjoy challenges & that’s what keeps me going.

How did you get your first break? 

After my bachelors, I got a pre-placement offer with the help of my college faculty. 

After my masters, the MD of one of the companies i applied for replied to my job request email & I landed the job.

What were some of the challenges you have faced? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: 

Bad boss in a job: I just navigated through the situation. Thankfully, I had amazing colleagues & they made the journey easier. I just kept working hard & found a solution. My hard work was recognized by another manager who asked me to move to his team. So, in the end, every bad situation takes care of itself. You just need to keep doing your best.

Challenge 2: 

I took up a challenging role by changing my product domain. I learnt it fast, I did an amazing job. We just need to approach everything with a positive mindset. 

Where do you work now? Tell us what you do?

I currently work with Timex Group India Limited. 

A major part of my job is designing new products (i.e. watches & clocks) for all of Timex’s brands & any project that comes our way. I am also responsible for product management for my products, ensuring a smooth transition from when it is designed till it reaches the stores. I have a team with whom I work on all aspects involved.

I also handle brand management for TMX, which is the youngest of all Timex group brands. Since this brand is still very young, there is a lot of research which goes into how we want to position it & how the market is responding towards it.

I am in a multi-faceted role, where I have to liaise between so many departments & different teams like technical, production, supply chain, marketing, visual merchandising, etc. I would say that ensuring a good temperament in dealing with all people involved is a major part of my role. I also need to have a thorough understanding of the product, because we are the originators; we can’t go wrong. We have to be crystal clear.

A typical day starts with responding to emails as well as sending out a few emails & taking updates on on-going projects. The design team at Timex has to be on top of everything & in that sense, it’s a very powerful role. Then we plan, design, research. But, what I can say clearly is that everyday is a new day as we deal with multiple projects at a time, hence you cannot define in close boundaries as to what a day would be like.

What I love the most is that I get to grow. I am not a person who enjoys stagnance or comfort. I’d like to keep facing challenges, handling them well, and solving issues. My job gives me all that. Hence, I love working at Timex. Of course, one must not assume that it’s a cakewalk. The bad is always a part of everything. But if we focus on the good, we will make the best out of anything. 

How does your work benefit society?

As one of my colleagues always says, ‘one day beauty will change the world’. Design gives you a chance to make something beautiful while solving a problem. If you have the heart for it, then there’s nothing more fulfilling than creating a wonderful design.

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

My graduation project at NIFT Delhi was probably one of them. I had a great concept. It was a lot of hard work. For at least 3 months, I used to start working at 8.30 in the morning till 8.30 at night. With the help of a few juniors, I created something absolutely brilliant. It was very intricate & raw & close to our Indian roots of handiwork. 

Also, I won the best collection award & a cash price of 50K.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Pursue something which you have a strong feeling about. When you do something with all your heart, you firstly do it well & it reaps you good returns because it is something you want to do with all your being. 

But, you can choose any path & trust me, you can scale to great heights & make any amount of money in ANY DOMAIN. 

You just have to be the best at whatever you do.

Future Plans?

To keep going as I always have. I have few goals in my mind, so I am working towards them.