Posts in INTERVIEWS
KATHRYN FERGUSON, FILM DIRECTOR
 
Kathryn Ferguson

I first discovered filmmaker Kathryn Ferguson’s work when I came across Four Tell, a short film commissioned by Selfridges for International Women's Day in 2013, which explores the successes and achievements of four female role models. Beautifully shot and impeccably styled, Four Tell is undeniably gorgeous, but its depth – like all of Kathryn’s work – goes far beyond its aesthetic appeal. An intimate portrayal of a quartet of creative heavyweights (the ‘four’ the film takes its title from are none other than Bella Freud, Sharmeadean Reid, the late Zaha Hadid and Caryn Franklin), it’s full of genuine pearls of wisdom about work, creativity, and personal fulfilment. I watched it three times, before sending a flurry of exclamation-filled WhatsApps to the friend who’d originally sent it my way.

As Selfridges’ Resident Film Director, Kathryn directs and oversees all moving image content for the brand, making fashion films that often examine female identity, beauty, and power – themes frequently explored in her other work, which include award-winning films for fashion designers, international brands and musicians such as Chloé, Vogue, Nike, Sinead O’Connor, and Lady Gaga. Hers is a body of work that unshowily put forward a modern, inclusive version of womanhood, one that’s celebratory of the female form, and – importantly – the female mind.

Having balanced her film-making practise with curating exhibitions for the British Council and the Birds Eye Film Festival, as well as lecturing at Central Saint Martins, the Royal College of Art, and the London College of Fashion (where she is now a Fashion Film Research Fellow), Kathryn is a treasure trove of insights on how to make it work within the creative industries. Over a glass of wine we talked about what it takes to succeed as a female creative, operating outside of your comfort zone, and the messages she wants her films to convey. Over to Kathryn...

 

PUTTING IN THE WORK

I think social media and the Internet make it appear that success happens overnight, but of course it doesn’t. I’m amazed at how hard-working my peers are – I don’t know anybody who’s done well that hasn’t worked incredibly hard to get there. London can be particularly hard for creatives because it’s such a saturated market, so if you want to get ahead you’ve really got to put the time in.


"The most important thing I think female creatives need to have is resilience."


STEPPING OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE

I was 25 when I first started working in film, and one of the very first things that happened was being asked to show one of my early films at the Birds Eye View Film Festival. As part of the film screening they asked all the filmmakers to take part in a post-screening Q&A but I was so low in confidence that I wasn’t going to go to the screening, because I hadn’t ever had any experience of talking about my work – and I’d only ever made this one film. But then my mother, a strong Belfast woman, just said, “Are you joking me? You’re gonna go, and you’re gonna do it, and you’re gonna keep doing it until it doesn’t bother you anymore. Just get over yourself and get on with it”.

That was a huge landmark because I’d been about to talk myself out of a really great opportunity, and instead I just went for it. And then I did it again and I was a tiny bit better, and then I did it again, and slowly it got a bit less excruciating – I think I even got a bit of a kick out of it!

 A still from  He, She, Me , a film commissioned by Selfridges as part of their Agender campaign, and soundtracked by Dev Hynes and Neneh Cherry.

A still from He, She, Me, a film commissioned by Selfridges as part of their Agender campaign, and soundtracked by Dev Hynes and Neneh Cherry.

 

ON HOW SHE GOT STARTED IN FILM

I studied fashion communication and promotion at Central Saint Martins, which is where I made my first film. I really enjoyed the course, but I left with no real skills. I got a real taste for film during my final term there, and begged my tutors there to teach me what they could – there wasn’t a film component to that course at the time. After leaving, I went into two solid years of freefall: of not really being able to get proper work, or knowing where to position myself. I was doing fashion assisting at magazines, a bit of art direction on films, all assisting jobs or internships. I really wanted to make films though, so I started experimenting and created short test films in my free time, just to try things out.

 

BIG BREAKS

The most important thing that happened was that I submitted my graduation film into Birds Eye View. It was chosen for their UK shorts programme at the ICA, and ended up touring around various film festivals that summer. After that, the CEO of BEV asked me to curate a strand of fashion film for them, and we ended up launching the ‘Fashion Loves Film’ element of Birds Eye, a programme that ended up running for six years and celebrated female directors working within the emerging genre of fashion film.

Back in 2008 fashion film was so new that I really struggled find ten films, so for that first screening so I had to create a chronological programme of films that went right back to 1998. Over the course of the following six years, I was massively inspired by all the superbly talented women that began experimenting with fashion film – for us, it was our music video, and our way to break into film in what was traditionally a very male dominated industry. I took this first screening and subsequent new role from BEV as a positive sign that I should try to work in film, and decided to quit everything else that I was doing – which was scary as hell, but it was the best thing I ever did. It was an experimental and financially tough time, but I was 25 and thought ‘what have I got to lose?’.

That year I started to make a lot of films, mainly for UK fashion designers, and started getting more and more work as a result of putting my work out into the world. I also decided to apply for a two-year masters at the Royal College of Art, which gave me something to focus on. During that period I got an exciting commission from Dazed to work with Lady Gaga, via Susie Lau (Dazed’s then Digital Editor, more commonly known as style blogger Susie Bubble). That was a big break. That film came out during my first week at the RCA.

 

ON MENTORSHIP

I found my first year at the RCA hard, as I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go down the art route or down the commercial route – but that’s kind of what the RCA is for, you’re meant to explore. In my second year I sought out Julie Verhoeven [the legendary British designer and illustrator] who was one of the tutors on the fashion course there, and asked her to be my mentor. I’d shown her work at one of the Birds Eye Views screenings the year before, so she knew me already – but even still, she was wildly generous, meeting me for tutorials even though she didn’t have any obligation to! We’d meet maybe once every six weeks, and she’d hire out films for me to watch on her staff card. She was amazing – someone I could really communicate with.

 A still from  Incredible Machines , featuring (L-R) Sharmadean Reid, Michele Lamy, Naomi Shimada, Ruqsana Begum and Charlie Craggs.

A still from Incredible Machines, featuring (L-R) Sharmadean Reid, Michele Lamy, Naomi Shimada, Ruqsana Begum and Charlie Craggs.

 

ON FILM AS COMMUNICATION

I came out of that MA with a piece that still means a lot to me, called Máthair, which is Irish for ‘mother’. It was very much a visual exploration of my own mother’s story – I was trying to explore where her femininity sat within Ireland, and the structure of how it treats its women. It was a very experimental film, and the best thing about it for me was that it was the first time where I could take the visuals of a fashion film, but apply them to something much more personal, that communicated something much more real. It was a really important step as I realised I wanted to keep making work that is visually striking and draws people in, but also packs a punch with whatever you’re trying to say. If you can aesthetically draw people in, you’ve got more of a chance of them engaging with what you’re trying to say.


"I realised I wanted to keep making work that is visually striking and draws people in, but also packs a punch with whatever you’re trying to say."


  Kathryn with Michele Lamy on the set of     Incredible Machines.

Kathryn with Michele Lamy on the set of Incredible Machines.

LANDING HER SELFRIDGES GIG

After I left the RCA in 2011, I joined a production company where the reality of trying to work within the commercial film industry really hit home. I realised very quickly how saturated and competitive the market was, and had to work extra hard to try win pitches and communicate my ideas. I had to take on other types of work to financially support myself, so that I wasn’t solely relying on film for an income. 

For a couple of years after graduating I worked as a film curator and workshop mentor for the British Council and was lucky enough to travel around the world with them curating fashion film exhibitions and running film workshops. I also began teaching at the London College of Fashion. I would have been in dire straits if I didn’t have these other roles bubbling away at the same time as trying to working as a freelance director.

Around that time I was invited to give a talk at an International Women’s Day dinner for the W Project, and the creative director of Selfridges happened to be there with two of their creatives. They came up to me afterwards to tell me they’d enjoyed it, and I didn’t think much of it beyond that – and then six months later they got in touch about a project, which turned out to be Four Tell. So I’d just encourage people to go and do everything, and meet everybody – you never know who you’re going to meet.

 

TEACHING OTHERS

I enjoy the educational side of what I do, and teach occasionally – I did a lot of teaching for three years, which was tricky to balance with my filming schedules, so I moved into research [at the London College of Fashion], which allowed me much more flexibility. I’ve met some amazing students who’ve really affected how I see things, like Charlie Craggs [trans activist and creator of Nail Transphobia] who used to be one of my students. She was so talented, and we really bonded.

 

HER FUTURE PROJECTS

I’d like to make more political work. We're heading into an interesting – and worrying – time, and more than ever female voices need to be loud, and to be heard. I moved to Margate this summer, and I've just shot a film about an amazing tidal pool that was built there in 1937, and the diverse community of swimmers that use it. I started swimming there with an old friend from Belfast (who also happens to be a journalist) the week after Brexit, and we kept meeting all of these interesting characters there, and realised – against the backdrop of Brexit and a changing Margate – what a beautiful, diverse, free space it was… somewhere for all to enjoy. So together we decided to create this film about wild swimming, community and how people are feeling in a post-Brexit UK. We're hoping to release it in early 2017.

 

THE BEST BITS OF THE JOB

I love the variety and not really knowing what’s coming. It’s quite terrifying in some respects – but also very thrilling because I always have the sense that something amazing could be round the corner. I love that I can communicate to people, and that feels really great for someone who definitely struggled to express myself and communicate when I was younger, especially as a teenager. It feels powerful, and empowering for me.


"I want people to see themselves in my work, and to feel empowered, not reduced."


I hope a lot of the work I make is speaking to younger girls and making them think about things in a different way, because there wasn’t a lot out there when I was a teenager that gave me much guidance. I want people to see themselves in my work and to feel empowered, not reduced, as a lot of fashion and advertising imagery can do that. There’s still a long way to go but I’m going to keep chipping away at it. 

 

kathrynferguson.co.uk

@Kath_Ferguson

 
VICKY SPRATT, JOURNALIST AND PRODUCER
 
Vicky Spratt Journalist The Debrief NTS Radio

If there’s a common thread to Vicky Spratt’s work as a journalist, it’s that she tends to focus on human-interest stories that give a voice to the marginalised and underrepresented, covering everything from politics and feminism, to gender and sexuality. After cutting her teeth as a political producer at the BBC, where she worked on flagship current affairs programmes including Newsnight and Daily Politics, Vicky is now Features Editor at The Debrief – where she’s undertaken the oh-so-small task of spearheading their #MakeRentingFair campaign to ban exploitative letting agent fees (about frickin’ time). And then there’s the radio show she recently started presenting on NTS Radio, a weekly exploration of people's attitudes to sex and sexuality. In between campaigning for renters' rights and delving into the sex lives of the British public, she found a bit of time to tell me how she maintains a sense of balance, and why she does what she does.

 

ON HOW SHE GOT STARTED AS A JOURNALIST

I think I always knew I wanted to write – it's the only way I’m able to make sense of life. When I'm not writing everything feels kind of out of sync. After university I tried to get several jobs as a journalist, applying for all of the grad schemes etcetera  – and didn't get any of them. I kept writing for different publications whilst doing a whole host of other jobs... and then one day the balance kind of tipped and journalism was my main source of income.

 

JOURNALISM AS STORYTELLING

Writing is really where I get the most satisfaction. I love crafting a piece, getting each sentence right. Interviewing people from all walks of life is a real privilege and I try to get their stories right. I enjoyed my time in TV and radio as well for the same reason, and you'd be surprised at how similar TV, radio and online are – it's all about finding stories, crafting narratives and getting the right visuals to support them.

 

CURRENTLY WORKING ON…

As always, I’m probably what most people would describe as 'over-committed' right now. This year has been a big year at The Debrief, as we've been working on a campaign to get letting fees banned for renters in England, as they are in Scotland. The attention it's received has been phenomenal – I've been on BBC News to talk about it, and the Lib Dems have also got behind it. One of their peers, Baroness Olly Grender, has included the campaign in her Renters’ Rights Bill, which is currently going through the House of Lords. I've also been asked to speak alongside the current Housing Minister at the Conservative Party conference this autumn, which will be…interesting. 

Another project that I've been working on has recently gone live – I started recording a documentary style chat show with my friend Rose Payne for NTS Radio almost a year ago, and it's now in full swing. It’s called Talk Dirty and it's all about sex and sexuality, the premise being that sex is one of the few things that all people have in common, and yet we still find it so difficult to talk about it. We spoke to people of different genders, sexualities and backgrounds about issues ranging from identity to the politics of porn and their day-to-day relationships (or lack thereof). 

 

HER HIGHLIGHTS REEL

The best bits are the people I meet every day - from the talented women I work with, to the people I interview. I do this job because I believe in the power of other people's stories and the importance of telling them - I'm endlessly fascinated by people and by life in all of its complexity.


"I do this job because I believe in the power of other people's stories and the importance of telling them."


I've never really thought about having a 'female network', because I've always been lucky enough to be surrounded by incredibly talented women – they are the people who’ve stayed with me through school and university, and into adult life. You tend to gravitate towards people who are similar to you, who bring positive energy to your life and with whom you have a lot in common - networks form quite naturally in that way, I think.

 

WORDS OF WISDOM

I do think there's something to be said for success without struggle - not just in your work life, but in everything you do. Things can be tough, and I believe in pushing for what you believe in – but equally, I do think that if something’s turning into a battle that becomes draining, it's worth taking a step back and asking yourself why you're fighting it.

 

MAINTAINING A SENSE OF BALANCE

This is something I have to work at every week. I try to keep one day at the weekend as a phone-free zone. It's important to be connected, but it's equally important to be present in the moment, and remember that you're no good to anyone if you're spread too thinly and trying to do a million things at once. No matter what, remember to carve out alone time to reflect and regroup – because you'll never be as productive as you can be if you don't. It's easy to feel that you should be working all of the time, but down time is equally important.

 

@Victoria_Spratt

The Debrief

Listen to Talk Dirty on NTS Radio

 
SERENA GUEN, FOUNDER & CEO OF SUITCASE MAGAZINE
 
Serena Guen Suitcase Women Who

It’s hard to know where to begin when listing Serena Guen’s accomplishments. I could start by telling you that she’s been described as the “Mark Zuckerburg of publishing” by Bloomberg, or perhaps by telling you that at twenty-six years old, she’s the world’s youngest magazine proprietor. Or maybe I’ll just lead with the wildly unexpected fact that she started SUITCASE magazine whilst she was still a student, somehow juggling launching a magazine with her third year as an undergrad at NYU.

In the four years since its launch, SUITCASE has grown into a fully-fledged travel platform, with the print magazine distributed in over 35 countries and complemented by a slick digital offering - not to mention a forthcoming expansion in the form of a separate magazine launching early next year, focusing specifically on destination weddings and honeymoons.

Still, being the boss of a travel magazine isn’t all jet-setting and awe-inspiring Instagrams (although there is plenty of that). Over the course of our conversation, it becomes clear just how much hard work - and how many late nights - it’s taken to translate the wanderlust inspired by Serena’s international upbringing into a cutting-edge travel brand. Over cocktails at The Hoxton (a stone’s throw from SUITCASE's Holborn office) we talked about how she’d successfully launched a print magazine in a digital age, the challenges of managing a team, and how she manages to stay one step ahead of an ever-changing industry.

 

ON WHAT INSPIRED HER TO LAUNCH SUITCASE

There just wasn't a travel magazine for women of my generation, and I spotted a niche for that audience when I was studying in Paris [and looking for recommendations]. I wasn't a backpacker, I wasn't going on my honeymoon, I didn’t want to eat at Michelin starred restaurants every night. I wanted something in between and a bit more local… and just fun! Part of the reason I wanted to launch SUITCASE as a print magazine is because there's so much crap out there on the Internet. I wanted to cut through all the noise and make a statement – that this was the travel source you come to.

Fashion is so creative and exciting, and it's such an easy access point to any culture, so I decided to incorporate that by doing shoots on location. I thought it was a cool angle because part of the problem with travel magazines is that a) they weren't representing cultures properly, and b) they’d become so boring.

 

HER BIG BREAKS

I talked to everyone that I knew, asking if they had any contacts that worked at magazines, and if I could talk to them. I also cold-emailed a lot of people. One of the people that I cold-emailed was Anna Harvey (then VP and Editorial Director of Condé Nast, and responsible for launching Vogue in new markets) not expecting anything back.

I sent her quite a concise email, which I think is really important - I get a lot of emails now from people starting things, but they're often very longwinded. The idea behind SUITCASE was quite different - there wasn't a travel magazine for women of our generation, so she responded well to it and emailed me back two days later saying “I think what you're doing is a great idea. This is what you should do”. She gave me advice for the first issue about advertising, airlines, people to contact – and said I could use her as a reference, which was amazing.

START-UP FUNDING

We just did a ‘friends and family’ funding round to print the first issue and throw a launch party. I decided I didn't need to raise a lot of funding for what I wanted to do, and I wanted to keep control of my project. The model that I built meant we grew quite slowly. Some magazines start a lot more quickly because they receive investment early on – but I was still learning and thought 'imagine if I get loads of money but don't know what I'm doing, and just spend it all!' These days, the majority of our revenue comes from partnerships, although we're very picky about who we partner with.

 

FROM EDITOR-IN-CHIEF TO CEO – A TURNING POINT

In the beginning I was wearing every single hat you could wear – and I still obviously am, and will be for a while. But the end of last year was a real turning point because my team were so competent – they each have their area of expertise and are really good at what they do. They were really good at running the day-to-day, and better at commissioning content, writing, and photography than I was. Plus, me doing that just took up time and meant I couldn't focus on anything to do with business development or marketing. I didn’t even have time to make a proper growth plan, because I was so caught up in the day-to-day of deadlines.

Last year I got really sick in the Philippines - I got E.Coli from eating shrimp, and it knocked me out for about two months. I didn't go to work for 7 weeks, which is ages! But my team were so good that I didn't even need to tell them what to do - they just knew. They came up with innovative concepts as well as keeping the day-to-day going, and I realised that I'd built a really strong team who were really passionate about what they were doing, and that actually it was time for me to step back so I could push things along in a different direction.

 

PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE

I want to focus on the print magazine first, because that was our flagship product. I think of it almost as a really expensive business card, as it's in all the shops for people to see. But obviously the first thing anyone does when they go away on holiday is look things up on Google, so another one of our main focuses for this year is improving our digital platform - we want to make it as practical as possible so it’s really functional and easy to use, whilst also making it more personalised and social. It's important to be an authority, but people need to be able to tailor things. We're aiming to become the #1 travel source for people with a creative, tech-savvy, nomadic mind-set. 

Something else we’re working on this year is finding a charity partner, and incorporating a social aspect to what we do. We're carbon neutral and print on recycled paper, but it would be good to do something proactive as well.

 

Serena Guen CEO Suitcase Women Who

DEALING WITH DOUBLE STANDARDS

I'm quite lucky that the industry I'm in isn't that prejudiced towards women. The only sexism that I've encountered is a subconscious one, and it's not just to do with my industry - it's to do with working women in general, and the fact their success is always linked back to their family life. For guys, no one ever really asks if they're married or if they've got kids – but for women, once you're over 30, if you're not in a serious relationship or you don’t have kids, you start being portrayed as cold-hearted.

 

ON STARTING OUT YOUNG

In terms of being young, the biggest challenge was being inexperienced, and I was so naïve… I didn't think I was inexperienced at all! I didn't think my age would be an obstacle. It just meant that I had to teach myself everything, and sometimes I made really stupid mistakes - you don't know what you don't know. But once you've made those mistakes, you’ll never ever make them again. Also teaching yourself everything from scratch means you'll be so much more experienced than people who've just come in to a specific role and progressed within the industry.

 

ADVICE FOR BUDDING ENTREPRENEURS

The one thing you really need to know before starting a business is yourself. You need to know your limits, and how far you're willing to go. You're going to have to work really hard - do you have that in you? Is this something you're really passionate about? What are your strengths, what can hold you back? Once you know all these things, you won't be so naive and you won't end up moving in the wrong direction.


"The one thing you really need to know before starting a business is yourself."


You also definitely need to figure out your priorities. When you're starting out, nothing seems more important than your business – but at the end of the day, your business might not work out. When you're really stressed out your family are the ones who are going to be there for you, and the friends that stick around when you're starting a business are so valuable - the ones that understand are gems. They're the keepers.

There's now this huge culture of supporting young entrepreneurs - all these workshops, and networks… things that didn't exist until recently. Young people's ideas aren't dismissed as easily.

 

ON MAINTAINING A HEALTHY WORK/LIFE BALANCE

One thing I've introduced which made a huge difference is I've started exercising again – I work out 3 or 4 times a week. I have to wake up a little bit earlier, but it just makes me feel so much better. You need to do something that makes you not think about work for a bit, and exercise really helps. If you don't spend time away from work, you'll never get the perspective you need to make really good decisions. So the two things I always try to do are: sport (or at least walk a certain amount in the morning), and have a bath in the evening where I'll put my phone away and read a book or a magazine.

 

ON THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECT OF BEING THE BOSS

People management. It's something I really wasn't expecting - it's not something people talk about that much, and it's not something that you're taught. When you're managing people you need to inspire them, create an atmosphere that you like, make sure they're all happy and that everyone is doing their job. I try to lead by example - if I want everyone to work hard, then I need to show that I work hard too.

 

WORDS TO LIVE AND WORK BY

Question everything.

 

FURTHER READING

Lean In really inspired me - Sheryl Sandberg was so vocal about what women's rights should be. 

Creativity Inc. by Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull. It's his own story, interwoven with advice for running and starting a business. It's like a case study for starting a business.

Loop Tail by Bruce Poon Tip, who started the first truly social travel business, in the sense of being ethical, sustainable and benefitting the local economy and population. It has a foreword written by the Dalai Lama (!)

 

suitcasemag.com

Twitter @serenaguen | Instagram @serenaguen

Twitter @SUITCASEmag | Instagram @SUITCASEmag

All photos by Matthew K. Firpo.

 
ROSH MAHTANI, FOUNDER OF ALIGHIERI
 
Rosh Mahtani Alighieri Women Who

My conversation with London-based jewellery designer Rosh Mahtani hits a stumbling block pretty much straight away. We can’t decide on what her title should be, which wouldn’t really matter except for the fact that – to be quite honest – I need something to put in her caption. Designer? Creative Director? Photographer? Writer? Rosh is one of those awe-inspiring creatives who's intuitively able to apply her eye for visuals to lots of different mediums, from photography to illustration – and the nature of running a business means there are very few jobs she doesn't do.

Still, it’s her talent for creating show-stoppingly beautiful jewellery that’s seen Alighieri, the luxe jewellery brand she launched in 2014, so readily adopted by the fashion set, garnering features in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar (where she once interned) and adorning the ears and hands of the chicest bloggers. We caught up in her studio to discuss how starting her own business gave her a sense of purpose, as well as the challenges of being an entrepreneur. These are the bits you don’t see on Instagram.

 

THE LITERARY INSPIRATION BEHIND ALIGHIERI

I fell in love with Dante Alighieri's work whilst reading French and Italian at Oxford University, and after I graduated I found that I wasn't able to let it go. I spent some time in Australia, and I had the Divine Comedy with me and wanted to explore it further. It's fair to say I've always been really into jewellery - I love jewellery, and I very randomly took a one-day course in wax casting. I started making things and thought, “how great would it be to create one piece for every one of Dante Alighieri's canti?”. It's such a visual text, and so much art has been based on Dante's texts, so I wanted to tell the story somehow - and it happened to manifest itself in jewellery. It's funny – I actually bought the domain name for Alighieri a couple of days after I did that course. I always had it in my mind that I wanted to create something from Dante’s work.

 

HOW STARTING HER OWN BUSINESS GAVE HER A CREATIVE OUTLET

After I graduated, I had no idea what I wanted to do – I always knew I wanted to do something creative, and I think I always knew I wanted to start my own business but I never had a 'thing'. Lots of my friends had acting or writing as a 'thing' and I quite liked everything, but I'd never excelled at any one thing. I interned in the fashion industry, at Harper's Bazaar, and worked at Avenue 32 as a Visual Merchandiser during its early stages. I liked fashion but I never wanted to only do that.


"Starting Alighieri really gave me direction and allowed me to do all the things that I wanted to do."


I knew I wanted to write, I knew I wanted to take photographs, but I felt like I was neither a writer nor a photographer. I didn't really feel like I had the 'right' to be writing or taking photographs and putting them out there. Starting Alighieri really gave me direction and allowed me to do all the things that I wanted to do. It felt like all of a sudden I had a reason to write and a reason to take photographs – creating this brand and telling the story allowed me to do all the things that I loved.

Alighieri_Warrior Collection
Alighieri_Warrior Collection

 

(IM)PERFECTING HER CRAFT

The wax-carving course I took was very technical and precise and I thought, "I don't want something that's precise" – I liked the imperfections. I never felt like I was learning a trade, I felt like I was creating things and seeing what I liked and what I didn't.  I'm always really hesitant to describe myself as a ‘designer’ because I'm not technically a designer – I didn't study design. But also that's not what I love most about Alighieri – I like designing, but for me it was always about telling a story.

 

ON HER DAY-TO-DAY ROUTINE

It's very varied. A lot of my time is spent at my caster's in Hatton Garden. It's a male-dominated, family-run business and it was quite intimidating at first - they're quite straight-talking, and you have to be quite assertive. A lot of my time is also spent packaging up orders - I spend a lot of time at the Post Office, sending out press samples etc. I have two other jobs as well, so I'm constantly flitting between everything. I save emails and admin for the evening because that's when other people aren't at work.

 

ON BEING A ONE-WOMAN ARMY

Part of the game of creating a successful brand is the social media aspect, and how you market it. It needs to look effortless - but that's an illusion. I often have people email me saying “Please will you pass this on to your accounts division?” or “Please pass this on to your marketing person”, and very few people realise that it's just me! I love it though - I wouldn't be doing anything else.

 

HER FAVOURITE PART OF THE JOB

Making a sale! It never gets old - every time you get an email saying so-and-so has bought an item, it still is such a kick. Actually I lied - that's a really great part, but the absolute best part is working with my friends, and meeting so many amazing women. I've made a lot of amazing friends through Alighieri. There's this creative buzz and energy where everyone's helping each other, and I've built up a circle of friends, and I love that.

Alighieri_Warrior Collection

THE CHALLENGES OF RUNNING YOUR OWN BUSINESS

The money aspect is 100% the most challenging part - the constant barrage of bills can be pretty stressful! Other challenges are… wanting to do a lot of things, and not necessarily having the manpower to be able to do them. I have all these ideas, and I want to do everything to the best of my ability – so sometimes you just have to reign yourself in. I find that hard because there's so much I want to do. I have to think one step at a time, and set myself manageable goals.

 

TAKING A BREAK

My time to switch off is with my camera. Taking stills, or travelling alone with my camera - that's my therapy. I find I can completely switch off and zone out, so that brings me a lot of calm.

 

ADVICE FOR OTHER BUDDING ENTREPRENEURS

If you're making something, make something that you'd like, or that you'd want to wear - and then just go for it. Personally I go on instinct with most things and sometimes I get it right, sometimes I get it wrong. It's all part of the process, so don't beat yourself up too much about the mistakes that you make.

Also - just hustle.

 

alighieri.co.uk 

@alighieri_jewellery

 
ZING TSJENG, BROADLY UK EDITOR
 
Zing Tsjeng Broadly Women Who

Given that Zing Tsjeng grew up reading Jezebel and Vice magazine, it seems only fitting that years later she was chosen by ex-Jezebel veteran Tracie Egan Morrissey to be the UK editor of Vice’s female-focused channel Broadly. It probably helped that Zing's pre-Broadly CV reads like a who's who of the coolest media titles around - she earned her stripes as a journalist and editor at the likes of Wonderland and Dazed, before being snapped up by Broadly when it launched a year ago. As you'd expect from someone at the helm of one of the slickest feminist platforms around, Zing also gives off the air of a woman who - to be blunt - has her shit together. Maybe that's because she’s so relentlessly vocal about the most pressing issues affecting young women today - or maybe it’s just because of her signature leather choker. Read on to get her advice on negotiating your salary, and to find out which Nicki Minaj quote helps her get into a bossy frame of mind.

 

HOW SHE GOT INTO JOURNALISM

I didn’t even consider journalism as a career, even though I dicked around plenty on my student newspaper at university. I wrote on a very weird, expansive range of stuff — one week I would interview Tracey Emin’s ex Billy Childish and the next week I would hang out in artist squats. I won the Guardian Student Media award for Best Features Writer in my second year and that was when I thought, “Hmm, maybe I could give this a shot.” I ended up doing my MA in magazine journalism and was like, “Well I’ve spent money on this degree so I guess I actually need to be a journalist now.”

I’ve always worked on the digital side of things, even when I was working for magazines like Wonderland and Dazed. I like how fast it is — you’re able to react very quickly to current events. I’m impatient by nature, and I’m not used to print deadlines that are months away! Also, when you write and commission stories, you want as many eyeballs as possible to see it. With overall print circulation declining, that doesn’t happen if a story only exists in print.

 

ON THE BEST PARTS OF BEING AN EDITOR...

People drop great stories in my lap all the time – important, funny, intelligent, perspective-altering stuff. And I get the chance to read that before anyone else, so how lucky am I?

 

...AND THE MOST CHALLENGING

Balancing all the different aspects of being an editor – whether that’s working on video or text, commissioning photos, speaking to sources, working on longer investigations, editorial strategy etc. Leaping to and from all those different duties is a fine balancing act.

 

HOW SHE MAINTAINS A GOOD WORK-LIFE BALANCE

I’ve had to learn how to switch off and not look at my phone, especially when I’m out with friends. Unless I’m working on something urgent, or waiting to hear back from someone – no one’s going to die if I turn off Slack notifications on my iPhone. Also, just going out and being physical and in your body. I live so much in my head (and in words and emails) that I sometimes forget that I need to take care of my body. Just go out dancing to dumb, mindless music one night, or work out, or take a long bath or walk where you’re not looking at your phone or listening to a podcast or music. Just literally be in your body with zero distractions. It’s hard!

 

A RULE OF THUMB FOR NEGOTIATING PAYRISES

One thing I’ve found really useful is sticking to the 20% rule (or at least that’s what I call it). The next time you negotiate a salary or payment, ask for 20% more than you think you deserve – because you’ve almost definitely been undervalued, whether (unconsciously) by yourself, or by the people paying you.  So just go for that extra 20%. You will feel like the world is going to explode because you’re daring to ask for more, but it won’t. Maybe your employers go for it, maybe they won’t – but you’ll definitely feel better for having tried. And once you’ve tried it once, that makes it easier to do it again.


"Ask for 20% more than you think you deserve."


STANDING HER GROUND

There’s an interview with Nicki Minaj where she talks about being ‘bossed up’ and standing up for herself, saying: “If I had accepted the pickle juice, I would be drinking pickle juice right now.” An old colleague and I turned that into our mantra. Every time we went into a meeting and we knew people were going to try and walk all over us, we would whisper, “don’t drink the pickle juice” to each other. Personally, I found it very helpful.  

 

HER CURRENT (AND FUTURE) PROJECTS

I’m working on a few documentaries to be filmed in the UK and Europe, which is exciting. Broadly has become known for great, in-depth documentaries on everything from revenge porn to maternity leave, so I’m really excited to bring that focus closer to home.

I’m also semi-seriously working on a book about my family in Hong Kong, who basically lived through almost every major historical event in the Asia Pacific that you can think of. My great-granddad was a socialist revolutionary for Sun Yat-Sen, my grandparents lived through the Japanese occupation in WW2, then through more decades of British colonial rule, which was insane in its own way. My family tree has opium addicts, alcoholics, gamblers – at one point, my aunt’s nickname was the Mahjong Queen of Kowloon.  It’s Joy Luck Club meets Indian Summers on steroids. My life is intensely boring in comparison.

 

ON HAVING A STRONG FEMALE NETWORK

I’ve always had a lot more female friends, but even more so now. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised that women are able to support women in a way that is uniquely affirming and helpful – especially career wise.

 

broadly.vice.com

@misszing

 
LIV SIDDALL, EDITOR OF ROUGH TRADE & CONTRIBUTING EDITOR AT RIPOSTE
 
Liv Siddall Rough Trade Riposte Women Who

Launching a magazine for a music institution like Rough Trade isn’t a task for the faint-hearted - the record store-turned-label has a loyal global following, and is revered by industry insiders and music-obsessed teenagers alike. Brought on board earlier this year to distil the essence of the iconic 40 year old brand into a 64-page magazine, Liv Siddall has produced a charmingly eclectic monthly volume that’s true to Rough Trade’s slightly anarchic roots – with the most recent issue selling out entirely. No doubt her experience as Contributing Editor at Riposte, the ‘smart magazine for women’ (and a Women Who favourite), which she’s worked on since its inception, came in handy. Formerly Online and then Features Editor at It’s Nice That, Liv also occasionally writes for magazines including Another and Dazed. Read on to find out about life as a freelance writer, what it’s like to launch a magazine, and how she basically manifested her dream job.

 

ON HOW SHE GOT STARTED AS A WRITER

I got into writing totally by chance. My teacher at university very kindly awarded me a one-week placement at It’s Nice That when I was in my second year. I didn’t even know what It’s Nice That was back then, but when I walked into their teeny office on Rivington Street I realised that it was my dream come true.

The task in hand when I began working there was just: bring stuff to the table that you like, and then tell other people about why that thing is great. Blogging, essentially. I’m a real enthusiast for all kinds of crap, and at the time I was obsessed with album sleeves, comics, illustration, graphic novels, music videos – so the chance to tell people exactly why they should be into that stuff too was easy and genuinely fun. At that stage I couldn't “write,” necessarily, but anyone can gush about stuff that they’re really, truly passionate about. It just happened that there were people willing to employ me to do so at that moment in time. At the end of my third year, when my whole world was crashing around my ears and all my pals were going off to get design internships (I studied Graphic Design, and was terrible at it), It’s Nice That emailed me and asked me to come in for a ten-week internship. I stayed for four years and ended up working across the magazine, podcast, online, and events. It was like a dreamy finishing school, I loved every minute of it.

I never went out into the world and said, “I want to be a writer!” And I still don’t think I’m a writer. I still only write about stuff I’m super into, and I fully, fully believe that anyone else who tried their hand at that could do it too. Anyone can check your grammar and make sure your sentences aren’t too long, but if what you’re writing about is coming from a pure place, then you can’t go wrong. There’s a reason why I was never any good at writing paid-for content or advertorials. As soon as the passion was gone, my writing reverted to being like that of a lazy GCSE student.


"If what you’re writing about is coming from a pure place, then you can’t go wrong."


HOW FREELANCING COMPARES TO BEING A STAFF WRITER

It’s different for everyone, but personally I find it very pleasurable being part of a team, working with colleagues together on something. When I was at It’s Nice That, I was fuelled by a desire for the company to do well because I believed in it, therefore I couldn’t slack off. With Riposte I worked on it from the very beginning and am very close to the Editor-in-Chief and Art Director, so again, I was driven to work hard to make it good. When I was freelancing, dotting about places and having a week here and there, I didn’t have any kind of loyalty to the companies I worked for so found it hard to really care, and in turn my writing and work ethic floundered a little.

I sometimes like to imagine that being at Rough Trade is like being on a big, wonky, barnacle-covered old ship. Everyone is working overtime to make sure it stays afloat, no one really knows where it’s going, but if you slack off then everyone’s in jeopardy. If you’re the kind of person who can just turn up, get the job done and leave, then freelancing could be great for you. For me, turning up somewhere every day where you know everyone super well and you have in-jokes and close relationships with people you work with is invaluable. I need to be depended on, and I need to believe in what I am doing. Freelancing didn’t work for me because I found it so easy to let myself down, and, fundamentally, I had no one to muck about and make in-jokes with.

 

THE BEST PART OF BEING A WRITER

Editorial work is certainly not driven by a lust for money. I guess the best bit, and the bit that gives me the most pleasure, is meeting people and talking to them all the time. The feeling you get when you walk out of interviewing someone is when I am at my happiest. Unless of course the interview was shambolic, in which case it’s the worst.

 

GETTING HER DREAM JOB

I was in my flat with my ex-boyfriend and I was like: “My life is shit. I want to work in a team again, I’m lonely, I want to move to New York and I want to make my own music magazine.” The next day I got an email from the director of Rough Trade, saying he’d found me on LinkedIn and wanted to talk to me about potentially making a music magazine, going to New York a bit, and working in a fun team. What are the odds? I must have done something very good in my past life to have deserved that stroke of luck. I went in for a meeting that day and had the job the next day. So, the answer to how I got the Rough Trade job is: luck, and LinkedIn.

RoughTradeDPS
RoughTradeMagazines

THE CHALLENGES OF STARTING A MAGAZINE FROM SCRATCH

For me the most important thing was making something the Rough Trade staff could enjoy and be part of. Making friends here took months, because I was just this random woman who had been brought in to make a magazine about a shop that some of them had worked in for 20 years. Now a few issues in they kind of get what it is, and a lot of them contribute regularly which makes me so, so happy. The staff at Rough Trade are some of the most knowledgeable, passionate people – it would be insane for me NOT to want them to be in the magazine.

One big challenge is getting feedback. Sometimes I see a customer reading it and I have to control myself so I don’t rush over and ask what they think of page 12, and whether or not they like the pink background on the cover. I’d say getting honest feedback out of people, which you desperately need to help you progress, is very difficult.

In terms of the content, that’s always easy because there are always a billion stories and things to put in there. Each month I promise Bruce (the design director) that the next issue will be way less full, but each month I let him down as I always have way too much stuff to cram in there. Sometimes the lack of budget is tricky, but I’ve taken to just photographing stuff for it myself to save money.

 

ON MENTORING OTHERS

I really like giving lectures and workshops to students. Recently I helped some students in Nottingham on a six-month project to make their own magazines. When I saw all the magazines they made – some of which are so good – I was pretty overwhelmed. I really like it when I talk to students about what they’re going to do when they leave university, and I can actually reassure them that if they are friendly, open and passionate, they will be fine.

 

SOME SAGE ADVICE

If the fun stops, stop.

 

www.livsiddall.com

@livsiddall

Rough Trade magazine available in-store or online.