/ Hitha Prabhakar: Fashion Cents

Hitha Prabhakar: Fashion Cents

Jun 10, 2013

The newly minted Bloomberg TV correspondent is proof that a career in economics doesn’t have to be all business

When Bloomberg Television came to Hitha Prabhakar with the offer to be a full-time reporter, she said “Yes.” And why wouldn’t she? She’d already done just about everything else. A retail reporter for Bloomberg Television, Prabhakar currently spends her days tracking the dealings of major retailers as well as the spending habits of consumers. While finishing up her graduate degree in New York, she served as national style editor for Metro newspapers and has been in high demand as an industry expert (on both the financial and “Oh my God, who are you wearing” end of things) for publications as diverse as Forbes, Time, People, CNN, and the E! Channel.

Before that, she spent a couple years as an analyst at the now-defunct Bear Stearns bank (that whole collapse thing? Totally not her fault) and founded a consulting firm called The Style File Group, which advises hedge funds and other parties with holdings in retail companies. And somewhere along the way, there was a stint as an MTV stylist and editor, where she sculpted the look of celebs like Britney Spears, M.I.A. and Weezer. If someone were to toss out the term “renaissance woman,” they wouldn’t be shouted down for hyperbole.

“I think like any young, interested person, you have a lot of interests everywhere,” Prabhakar reflects. “When I was in college, I really had a focus on international relations. But in the back of my mind, I always wanted to be a writer. I’d always been told that there were only three career options: one being an engineer, the other being a doctor and the other being a lawyer. Since I wasn’t going to be any of those three, I thought, ‘Well, finance was the next best thing.’ And I was very interested in business issues, especially on the international front.”

After all of her financial fancy-book-learnin’ at Smith College, Columbia and the London School of Economics, banking seemed like the obvious choice. But while she classifies her brief time battling it out on the trade floor as an invaluable experience, banking was just not a life that appealed to her. “I’m a curious person,” she explains. “I like to ask a lot of questions. And when you work in an environment like that, it’s very linear. And I think a lot out of the box.”

It’s a combination of that inherent curiosity and a devotion to the ethical responsibilities of her journalistic trade that led to her first book, Black Market Billions: How Organized Retail Crime Funds Global Terrorists, a piece of work that she classifies as a “call to arms” for consumers trying to save a few bucks by picking up discount (read: stolen) designer goods. “A former colleague of mine who ran the IT department asked me if I wanted to buy a handbag. He told me that he had a friend who worked at Barney’s and there was a ring on the inside that stole items from the warehouse. After I found that, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh; this is crazy!’

Working with US law-enforcement agencies she made the jarring discovery that, from designer bags to simple beauty products, $38 billion worth of merchandise is stolen annually from retailers and put on the black market, with the proceeds quite often funding such nefarious activities as human trafficking and terrorism. “When you actually put the puzzle pieces together and track the money, it is extremely shocking. During the recession, a lot of people were trying to save a buck, which is important, but there are ways to do it without hurting the greater good. That’s why I wanted to write this book. I didn’t think people realized that this is what’s happening.”

In conjunction with Cerebral Itch Creative Agency, Prabhakar is also rolling out an iPhone app called (appropriately enough) Black Market Billions, which can be used by consumers to tag locations they suspect of selling stolen merchandise, warning other shoppers about potentially shady operations. “I’m so excited,” she laughs. “I think I’m more excited about the app than I am about the book.”

So you can add author and software publisher to her already eclectic resume. But as a new chapter in her journalistic career kicks off, it’s something a touch more personal that Prabhakar reminisces most fondly about. Back in her MTV days, she was tapped to be a mentor on the reality show MADE. She spent six weeks in a small town, coaching a floundering young woman who was 75 pounds overweight and flunking math. “For me, for so long, it was very much about how I was going to grow my business or how I’m going to perpetuate my career,” she recalls. ”And for six weeks, I had to slow it down and put the focus on this young person who really needed help. It was a really amazing experience. I think, out of everything I’ve done, that was the most powerful. Because I helped someone very specific; I turned her around 180.”

Very admirable stuff, and yet another job she’s apparently awesome at. Clearly Hitha Prabhakar can do just about anything she wants. So what’s next? Scientist? Ice-road trucker? Nah, she’s just fine where she is. “This career path is made for me,” she assures. “I can’t imagine myself doing anything else that would make me as happy. I was meant to be a journalist.”



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