VIA MEN'SNEWSWOMEN'S

Camila Batmanghelidjh talks to Reiss

19.07.12

This week’s Grazia magazine showcased the launch of this year’s Reiss/Kids Co. Internship scheme – an initiative between Reiss, Kids Company and Grazia which sees four young people from challenging backgrounds gain a role as a Reiss intern across our press, visual merchandising, womenswear accessory design and menswear design departments.

We had an exclusive chat with Grazia Editor-In-Chief, Jane Bruton, on Tuesday, and we’ll be introducing the four interns – Chikara, Charlene, Ben and Albin – over the coming weeks, but today we’ve been lucky enough to grab some time with Kids. Co. founder, Camila Batmanghelidjh, to hear her thoughts about the project and also what drove her to set up Kids Co in the first place.

What is it about the fashion industry which makes it a success for the Kids Co mentorship?

The fashion industry is extremely generous, and made up of very diverse individuals, who have worked hard to become successful in the industry. Many of the individuals have an empathic understanding of challenges faced by vulnerable young people. They therefore tend to be very patient and encouraging towards interns, without sentimentalising them.

What can the mentors and mentees expect to gain from the scheme?

Research shows that in compassionate exchange, the brain functioning of care giver and care recipient is enhanced, with ‘good mood’ chemicals being released. So as well as acquiring skills, facilitating the flourishing of another human being is the shared gift.

What experiences did you have as a young adult which has helped to shape your career path?

One of my most formative experiences was as a 20-year-old on work experience with the NSPCC in Oxford Gardens. The unit used to assess men who had abused their children, to see whether they could be rehabilitated. My responsibility was to assess the men from behind a one-way mirror, whilst the therapists worked with them in the room. I saw men described as ‘perpetrators’ break down and cry as they described having been sexually abused as children themselves. I learnt the most formative lesson of my life: abuse is sadly cyclical; left without caring intervention, the victim goes on, often to harm themselves or others. It dispelled the myth of random evil people; instead I saw the potential shift someone can make from victim to perpetrator in the service of revenge.

Was there one defining moment that made you realise that this was the career for you?

Sadly, I would describe myself as fried by a vocation aged nine. I told my parents that I wanted to devote my life to running an orphanage. I reckon my path in life was sprinkled with pre-destiny and ample humour. And a fat bum!

Can you give us a snapshot of your typical day?

The morning begins with some teenager screaming down the phone extreme insults, because they’ve had a night terror and maybe wet the bed, but they’re too ashamed to discuss it, so they vent rage over something silly. That’s when I take a deep breath. No need for yoga or meditation – I’m summoned to it at the end of the mobile phone.

Then I get up chirpy, having survived the tornado, to consider how I’m going to bring joy into my life with a psychedelic outfit. Of course, by this point I’ve hallucinated the 5K run – so no need to do it for real. And I’ve munched a suitably anorexic muesli in support of my super-thin comrades (God bless Victoria Beckham – I’m forever reaching out to her, but she just won’t share my cake).

I waddle down to Peckham, past greetings from the local drug dealers (we never talk, but there is an understated respect. They leave me to get on with pulling boys away from their trade and they’ve agreed not to shoot me dead – yet.) From the sublime to the ridiculous, I might end up at a cocktail party in a posh gallery. The pictures are winking at me, but I only have a wink for a funder. On a lucky day, they meet my eye and donate. When I get money, I’m so happy, because it means my team can restore some dignity to a child who’s been denied it. We have five hundred children on a waiting list: they don’t have beds. The children’s needs drive me into the evening. And even when my eyelids are gluing together with exhaustion, I respond to an email, grateful to be at the receiving end of some stranger’s kindness. I go to bed happy and devoted to my pillow.

What skills do you think are essential to be successful in your role?

Happy to be insulted, lethal on behalf of the children and a doormat to any donor!