I, like many people I suspect, first knew of Navaz Batliwalla through her fashion blog Disneyrollergirl. Her achingly cool blog is something of a juxtaposition – a name which could suggest you might be served up a Mickey Mouse fashion blogger on roller skates but in contrast you will find a level of experience and depth of knowledge that delivers a whole lot more. Her insights are thought provoking with well-written posts (preferring as she admits quality over quantity), she’s transparent, honest and extremely clever. Navaz is more than ‘a blogger’ – with her fashion background and affinity for networking with her well-connected fashion-heavyweight peers, she is also a presenter, branding consultant and stylist bringing with her a distinctive look and cool tone of voice. I am thrilled she agreed to answer my probing interview questions in my new section called ‘Getting Naked With.’ Navaz represents a new wave of media – a fashion influencer at heart with a digital soul that has amassed a strong, loyal following. Here she takes us through her journey and looks to her fashion future.
NakedPRGirl: Before Disneyrollergirl you were a Fashion Director at CosmoGirl – how did you get your job there?
Disneyrollergirl: It was a long time coming actually. I had studied fashion promotion and illustration (illustration was my first love) and then done a bit of magazine work experience. I landed a job assisting Caroline Baker at Good Housekeeping and she was amazing. She knew it wasn't my dream magazine but she said 'you can do it for a few months and move on'. The reality was that I stayed for a few years as it was difficult to get out of that pigeonhole. In the end I went freelance which was scary but necessary. I did mostly editorial styling - for newspapers and independent magazines like Tank and Oyster . It was also when I first started writing. I was asked to be a regular contributor to Handbag.com where I'd cover the shows, contribute to the fashion forums and be the in house fashion agony aunt. I hadn’t done much writing but I was recommended and found I liked it. Especially as it was the beginning of digital media and everything was very immediate - I found I liked that pace. One of my editors used to called me 'the Mother Teresa for the style free and stunted' which wasn't far off the mark! Two years into freelancing I was headhunted by Natmags (now Hearst) who were looking to launch CosmoGIRL! in the UK. I had always wanted to work on a teen mag and knew it would be seen as a step backwards but I took the job and had the best fun ever for six years.
NakedPRGirl: You started Disneyrollergirl anonymously – why was that? Were you clear with your brand right from the start?
Disneyrollergirl: Oh no it wasn't strategic in any way at the beginning. It was towards the end of CosmoGIRL! and I just wanted another outlet where I could be more opinionated and spontaneous. I thought as I was working for a title they would see it as a conflict of interest. Also, everything was anonymous then, on the online forums everybody had an alias so it wasn’t such a strange thing. But I realised very quickly that the ‘anonymous insider’ element was what the readers really liked. All the insights into the industry were the most popular posts, things like covering press days which nobody did then. At the time there was also Sasha at LibertyLondonGirl and another mysterious fashion editor called Mrs Fashion. Both were quite acerbic and anonymous and we three related very much to each other’s blogs even though we had no idea who was behind them!
NakedPRGirl: Has your journalist background helped with your blog? Did you study journalism beforehand?
Disneyrollergirl: I studied journalism as part of my HND with a bunch of other subjects but I had no great ambitions to write. But definitely being in the industry was a big plus in already having PR contacts, going to fashion events, understand the system and the business of fashion. And also, coming from a very small editorial team, you learn the commercial side very quickly. I think that understanding content also gave me a head start. Knowing how to mix up my posts, pace them, sub them, picture research, all that stuff is second nature as I’ve done it for so long. That said, just having a natural curiosity is equally important. I still prefer to find my own stories than rely on press releases.
NakedPRGirl: Your FAQ section on your website is super comprehensive – do you think it is important to be transparent as a blogger?
Disneyrollergirl: Yes I do because integrity is extremely important. And I think it helps to very clearly let brands know how you like to work. It saves a lot of time and misunderstandings. In fact the good ones appreciate it as they are transparent too and proud of their product.
NakedPRGirl: Your social media stats are super impressive (none of them bought as you say!) – do you think there is a problem with buying followers in the industry? What is your favourite social channel?
Disneyrollergirl: The problem is that people get hung up on numbers. Somewhere along the way an ‘expert’ has said it looks bad to only have 48 followers so along comes a service to boost your stats. Whereas maybe if you just up the quality of your content and engagement you can build a genuine following that way. The channels that work best for me are the ones that are useful rather than just a platform to build numbers. So I use Twitter to get my news and I mainly follow publications and fashion news journalists (@Vvfriedman @luxurysociety @BoF @Fashionista_com) on there rather than my mates or celebrities. I either retweet the interesting bits -with added commentary - or I tweet my blog posts. Pinterest has become important for me as I’ve got a huge following on there, over 400K. Again, I use it as a research resource so I’m on there pinning and repinning a lot. It’s a more focussed place to research images - artists, designers, photographers - and then people with similar tastes follow. I don’t see many brands exploiting Pinterest though which is a missed trick as you can get a lot of engaged traffic referrals that way.
NakedPRGirl: You cover fashion, beauty, retail, digital and cultural events and rarely cover subjects such as celebrities etc – how important is it to stick to your USP?
Disneyrollergirl: I think it’s important as it focuses your content. Especially now that there’s so much samey content out there, if you can be niche or have a narrow focus, you can stand out. Personally I think it’s better to have a clear USP and work with a few, high quality brands than diversify too much and work with everyone. Maybe it’s easier for me to do that because I don’t rely on the blog for all my income so I can pick and choose.
NakedPRGirl: What advice would you give to others just starting out in the industry?
Disneyrollergirl: The fashion industry is not an industry where you’ll get rich quick (or at all). So don’t do it for that reason. But if you’re passionate about media, fashion, design and have a natural curiosity and hunger then that will take you quite far. Contact building is the other really important skill. Grab any opportunity to build your network and you’ll find that people are actually quite willing to help you. In that sense, social media - Linkedin, Twitter, Instagram - has made it so much easier to connect. You have to be persistent of course, but looking for those windows of opportunity and grabbing those moments will help.
NakedPRGirl: Which shows do you attend at Fashion Week? What do you take from them?
Disneyrollergirl: I have cut down on the shows I go to. I aim for the biggest ones and the smallest ones. So The Katrantzous, Kanes, JW Andersons are important - you want to be there, to feel the show as well as see it. And then Fashion East, Marques’ Almeida, the newer designers are interesting to see how they’re developing. I always go to Topshop and Burberry because they do interesting consumer-focussed activity, and Margaret Howell, Toga, Preen and Paul Smith are personal favourites. I look at what I want for myself and I look for overarching patterns, in terms of silhouettes, colours, prints, but also how shows are presented, what the punters are wearing, what they say about the world we live in. London’s always interesting if there is something big going on in politics at the same time. I keep an eye on menswear as well as obviously that’s a growing market.
NakedPRGirl: You were recently interviewed by WGSN’s Head of Market Intelligence Lorna Hall at MICAM last year – what did you share with her? What tips do you have for others on being on being on stage?
Disneyrollergirl: We talked about how brands are using social media well and how they work with bloggers and influencers. Actually it’s not even about blogs any more, Instagram and Pinterest can be even more powerful. We talked especially about how small brands with no budget can harness social media with unique visual storytelling. My main tip for being on stage is to be as prepared as you can. So familiarise yourself with the format in advance, be aware of timing, think of examples or stories to tell to keep the audience engaged but try not to ramble. If you’re not confident with technology then keep things simple rather than having to manage elaborate slide shows.
NakedPRGirl: Navazbatliwalla.com focuses more on your styling and creative consultancy – do any projects stand out that you have worked on?
Disneyrollergirl: One of the best ones was the work I did with Oasis a few years ago that started off as illustrated copywriting and then spiralled into a bunch of other things! I came up with illustrated phrases for one of their look books which they then used in their windows, on packaging, clothing, VM throughout the stores and even in a couple of ad campaigns. It was just a fun, organic way of working and very different from the other journalism and styling I was doing at the time.
NakedPRGirl: What would be your dream brand/people to work with?
Disneyrollergirl: I’m obsessed with La Garconne, the ecommerce site and store in New York. Their aesthetic, editorial and product selection is right up my street - all those minimalist tomboy brands like APC, The Row and Acne!
NakedPRGirl: How do you see the future of digital developing?
Disneyrollergirl: It’s getting to the stage where everything is digital and you really have to embrace it. In terms of fashion, mobile is increasingly important and with retail it’s interesting to watch the convergence of physical and digital. I think we now need to work out how to cope with the constant deluge of information and stimulation.
NakedPRGirl: How has your personal style developed over the years? What defines your look?
Disneyrollergirl: It’s grown up a bit, I had to retire most of the Hello Kitty and Disney paraphernalia from my teen mag years! Now it’s about timeless pieces - the APC boots, Prada cashmere, Margaret Howell coats but with added whimsy from accessories.
NakedPRGirl: Do you have a motto or a mantra that you live by?
Disneyrollergirl: Not really but I love this quote from the Belgian artist Panamarenko, "If you always remain inquisitive, that pure idea will suddenly appear…"
NakedPRGirl: Where is your favourite place to be creative and write?
Disneyrollergirl: Any of a number of cafes in bookshops dotted around town. Bookshops have a special ambience even if they’re jam packed. My current favourite is Waterstones in Piccadilly followed by a mooch in Fortnums afterwards, of course!
Navaz's first book 'The New Garconne: How to be a Modern Gentlewoman' is available on Amazon now.