Photo by Amy Pinard
A couple of years ago I was at my neighborhood nail salon, The Today Show was playing in the background. I was distractedly watching when I noticed a poised, articulate, and wildly stylish version of my childhood friend Hitha Prabhakar discussing Black Friday shopping with Carson Daly. The last time I saw Hitha was probably on an elementary school playground in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but this had to be her. A quick google search confirmed that this glamorous powerhouse was the Hitha I once knew. She is now enormously accomplished, living in New York, and married to comedian Seth Herzog.
Hitha is the Chief Research Officer at H Squared Research LLC, a research firm for investment advisors and is also the Executive Producer and Co-host of the podcast “Divided States of Women”. She has been featured in Vogue India, New York Times, Shape magazine, Glamour magazine, Marie Claire, Oprah magazine, Lucky magazine, The Daily Mail, Style.com, Forbes.com, Huffington Post. She was recently named by Forbes as “one of the most influential South Asian women in the United States.
Her television appearances include NBC Nightly News, The Today Show, Fox Business, MSNBC, Bloomberg TV and CNBC. She has written for Time magazine, MSNBC.com, nymag.com, Today.com, People magazine, People.com, and ELLE India. She advises start-ups in Silicon Valley, Parsons The New School of Fashion incubator XRC Labs, and teaches a class on social commerce.
Hitha is also dedicated to raising awareness about criminal activity linked to the black market and counterfeit products. She is the author of Black Market Billions: How Organized Retail Crime Funds Terrorists and created an app to help people identify and spot counterfeit merchandise sold on the black market. What an honor to reconnect with this remarkable woman.
Your career is strikingly wide-ranging. You are an investigative journalist, teacher, retail analyst, fashion icon, and the wife of a famous comedian. On your website you describe that you live in a world “where fashion, retail, finance, investigative journalism and data research all co-exist in perfect harmony.” How do you balance these disparate interests and roles, and why is it important to you to lead a life of such contrasts?
When I was in graduate school, a professor told me as a journalist, it wasn’t enough to compartmentalize your skills. Meaning- in order to be successful we had to know how to write and edit, shoot video, record on radio, be in front of the camera, etc. His words really stuck with me. I developed an expertise in a specific beat (retail) and was fortunate to be able to liaise it into so many different mediums that all work together. On paper it looks like a big contrast, but in real life it’s more like being a conductor of an orchestra.
Your book Black Market Billions is an in-depth investigation of retail crime rings and how counterfeit goods fund organized crime. How did you become so engaged in this issue, and what was it like to dive so deeply into this world—going so far as to risk personal harm to interview some of the criminals themselves?
I had randomly received an email from a former colleague at a magazine I was working for asking if I wanted to buy a very inexpensive but very “real” Givenchy handbag. We were talking $400 for a $2500 piece. Wary of how sketchy this all was, I asked him why the bag was so inexpensive. He told me it was stolen via an organized retail crime ring at a major luxury store. My investigative senses went off like a blaring alarm. I decided to follow the story, which lead me to the creepy world of black market of counterfeit and stolen goods. My editor at Financial Times Press loved the idea of this becoming a book, so she gave me nine months to write it. Doing the interviews was terrifying at times. At one point, I was following the trail of stolen and counterfeit car parts going from Albuquerque to Palomas, Mexico. The Albuquerque Police Department told me which criminals were involved and what I should be looking for. But for obvious reasons (me being by myself in my mother’s car were a couple) had some reservations about going. Seth [Herzog] was the one who convinced me to go by saying “What would Bob Woodruff do?” So I went. I was terrified but the experience brought the entire book together. As of today the counterfeit industry is a $460 billion industry, and the more we shop online the more we are susceptible to purchasing fake, potentially harmful merchandise. It is so important people know this as they shop, click, swipe away on their phones, computers and tablets.
As of today the counterfeit industry is a $460 billion industry, and the more we shop online the more we are susceptible to purchasing fake, potentially harmful merchandise. It is so important people know this as they shop, click, swipe away on their phones, computers and tablets. If I can help raise awareness in any way, I’ll do it!
You have clearly led an extraordinary life and are enjoying a tremendously successful career. What have you not yet done that you have always wanted to do? What is next for Hitha Herzog?
Ha! It doesn’t seem extraordinary at all! I am so lucky to do what I love. Each day is different and I can’t imagine it any other way! I would love to write a novel or a script for a movie maybe based on the novel I would potentially write. Fiction is such a different beast than non-fiction. You have to use an entirely different more creative part of your brain. I have this ongoing fantasy in my mind where I take off one day, set up in Marfa, TX, do retail research for half the day and write for the rest.
Fiction is such a different beast than non-fiction. You have to use an entirely different more creative part of your brain. I have this ongoing fantasy in my mind where I take off one day, set up in Marfa, TX, do retail research for half the day and write for the rest. Not sure what the comedy scene is like in Marfa, so Seth and I will probably be in NYC for the foreseeable future!
One More Thing...
Who do you think is doing the most innovative, interesting, disruptive work right now and why?
Wow. There are so many people I could name here. I think the obvious choice is Elon Musk, but Bjarke Ingels is a genius and has completely changed the NYC skyline in the most amazing way. In fashion design, Alessandro Michele completely changed Gucci’s profitability by making street wear aspirational and there are the genius co-founders of ADAY, Meg He and Nina Faulhaber. These women have completely changed the landscape for activewear/workwear crossover apparel that looks fabulous.