This month’s That Mama is Afshan Banu, a fashion executive and mama to a teenage daughter who has lots of thoughts on why it’s so important to put yourself first and chase your dreams
As a parent with two young children, I tend to hold parents of teenagers – especially the ones who actually talk to them! – in a certain kind of awe-inspired reverence. Tell me your secrets!, I implore them. How can I learn to be like you? Today’s That Mama, Afshan Banu is one of those wise women who has managed to stake a successful career for herself – she’s Senior Vice President for Lazada’s fashion platform – while also maintaining a close relationship with her teenage daughter, Hiba (15). In this thoughtful and expansive interview, she track the course of her career and the keys to her success, including a supportive partner, the importance of Me Time, and never losing sight of what your dreams and goals are. Afshan simply doesn’t have time for mum guilt, and after reading her story, perhaps you won’t, either…
Can you tell us a little about yourself, your career and your family?
I am Afshan Banu. I’m 43 years old, I have a 15-year-old daughter, and I have a very understanding and loving hubby who has supported me through my life. I am a successful woman, as a daughter, sister, wife, mother and professionally with an amazing career so far. I currently work at Lazada, heading Fashion as the Regional Senior Vice President for 6 countries across SEA.
In the last 23 years I have worked for great brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Tom Tailor , Guess, GAP, William Sonoma and Victoria’s Secret and now Lazada. I’ve loved every moment of my career as I climbed the ladder of professional success along with being able to have a wonderful personal life.
I’ve always believed that there are no limits in what you can accomplish, except the limits you place on your own self. I started my career, in fact living my dream of being in fashion retail at the early age of 20 and have been on this amazing journey ever since!
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
I was always a very ambitious girl; since college I knew I wanted to work in the fashion industry, specifically on the business end. This clarity helped me decide with what I wanted to study and I started of my career as a merchandiser with a group called Linmark (Hudson Bay company), working for department store brands like Zellers and in the catalogue business for Brylane and Lane Bryant. Then I got an opportunity as a senior merchant at Tom Tailor, a German brand, and was also asked to oversee the office they had in India (Bangalore branch). This is where I got into a lead role and learnt a great deal about leadership at a very early stage of my career. I dealt directly with clients and I was doing sourcing, and it was very important to be managing and working on multiple priorities at the same time. Everything demanded equal importance and required not being intimated by people older than me. It was baptism by fire, but an important life lesson.
At this point I also got married and started a new life, moving from Bangalore to Bombay. This led me to take over new challenge and new job with a company called Hope & Glory, managing brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Guess and others as Merchandise Manager and managing a team of 14 people. I still remember my boss, CEO of the company asking me at the interview, “Don’t you think you are too young for this job?” and I laughed and told him “The reason you got me to be interviewed proves age does not matter.”
I was really having a great career and then my hubby got transferred to Singapore, so we decided to move and I managed to get a job at Gap Inc. And then another big change: I became a mother when I was 28, while I was still working at GAP. GAP was a great learning experience for anyone in the retail industry, but at same time very demanding.
I remember, after delivering my daughter, I had just started on my maternity leave and I had to return to work to manage a crisis. I had to travel to Sri Lanka to settle an issue, but as a new mom my emotions were running high that I had to leave my 6-week-old baby and go while I was still breastfeeding her. This was something very important to me, and I was in 2 minds should I give up my job? am I doing right to my girl? etc. At this point in time my hubby was my strength; he supported and reminded me that I had my own dreams, too, so I needed to have balance. So I didn’t give up I kept doing what was needed, and ultimately managed to breastfeed my girl for 13 months. And I still feel very proud when I think of how I did not give up easily and made sure not to compromise my motherhood.
This was a turning point where I made a big decision – “Yes, a woman can be a mother and also a successful professional if she is determined.”
How did you get back into the swing of things after having kids?
This would not have been possible without the support of my dear hubby, Khalid, who supported me to keep my career dreams alive. The saying goes “Behind every successful man there is a woman,” however in my case it’s has gone both ways – behind me there has always been been – and still is – an understanding and supportive husband.
“Anything beautiful begins the moment you decide to be yourself and pursue what you want to do.”
How do you maintain an identity separate from your child?
A woman constantly plays different roles. It’s important to differentiate between each of your roles, as it brings clarity and focus to what you do when you are in one of your roles, and it’s perfectly fine to find, have and utilize your ‘Me Time’! Remember, kids learn most from what they see and observe — if you are constantly demonstrating yourself as an individual, you are giving your Child(ren) a great lesson for life.
How has having a child changed the way you define work?
It hasn’t, really, it’s all about finding time together and balancing quality over quantity. As a mom and daughter we have bonded since her birth but, it’s been more than just Mother-Daughter bonding ever since she was 2 years old. We’ve involved her in everything we did as family, she followed me and my husband to play golf as we used to take her to greens, and today she is pursuing golf as a hobby. We go shopping together and spend time exploring various cuisines be it a food court, hawker centre or fine dining among.
I really believe it’s only you, as a woman, who can stop yourself from pursuing your dreams. Don’t give up, try to find the required support from your family to be successful if you are determined.
How do you save time? What are your organisational tricks and tips?
You have to pick your priorities sensibly. Be prepared to say NO to things that are not important — or delegate them. Try using the 80-20 rule: put in 20% effort on things which give you 80% returns. As a leader you have to let things go, meaning delegate to your team; enable, energize and empower them so you have the time to work on bigger, strategic elements of work. Practice mindfulness and ‘Be here now’: basically being in the present, focussed on the NOW, listening and responding and doing things at the right time. And just being organized helps, too
I wish I had more time for…
Golf, a sport I love but don’t have much time for. As your kids grow the priorities change and I spend more time bonding with my teenage daughter.
I always feel saner after….
A cup of tea, time with my besties, time with my sisters and time with my hubby and daughter just chilling. And of course, shopping. 😊
What part of Singapore do you live in? What do you like about it?
East Coast. We are close to East Coast Park; it’s all about sun, sand and sea with greenery, calm and peace.
Favourite kid-friendly activity in Singapore?
It depends on personal choice as Singapore has a lot to offer, for us its always been Golfing, beach and Forest Adventure.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurants in Singapore?
There are so many, I’ve never felt I had to search for one.
Favourite family-friendly holiday spot in Asia?
For me the best spots in Asia for a family-friendly holiday are Bali and Langkawi.
Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?
There’s banter and there are quarrels – the spice of life – but it’s important to set your ego aside and bury the differences. It doesn’t matter who is right or wrong, what matters is you resolve the problem and that you are there for each other and keep that flame burningGive the required space to each other — every individual needs some Me Time.
Do you have any tips for working mamas in Singapore?
If you love life, life will love you back. Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated. I strive to keep it simple in all aspects and that is probably one of the secrets to a successful career so far, and hopefully more to come.
Go on live your life, pursue your dreams. When you are happy everyone and everything around you will be happy.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
More than an advice I would say watching my mom bring up 5 kids taught me a lot. My mother was more of a guide, mentor and friend to me, and I have taken the same approach forward to bring up my daughter.
Give us your essential new mama advice that might never occur to other women:
Children are curious and to be successful as an adult curiosity is key, so when your little ones ask questions and go on with their Why, Why, Whys? never shun them or give them some silly answers. Take time, explain, and then ask them to repeat what you explained and you will see your little ones blossom into wonderful individuals and adults.
As a mama I wish I were better at…
As a working mother its important to have self-awareness and also be aware of your kids’ age, times are different than when we were kids. There are times when I treat my daughter as a little girl and things sometimes end up in an emotional situation, and I am learning to manage my emotions in these situations.
What’s your favourite family ritual?
Golfing as family and chilling over the weekends.
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about….
Well, I love my sleep and I sleep quite well.. and sleep is something very important for both mind and body and of course you have to keep shining ..
My favourite moment of the day is…
When I get back home from work and relax together with my family, either at the dining table or in my media room, just chit chatting about our day with some healthy banter, leg pulling and my hubby’s silly jokes.
Thank you so much for your wisdom and perspective, Afshan. And a huge thank you to the uber-talented Irina Nilsson Photography for the gorgeous snaps of Afshan and Hiba.