We’ve long been fans of Ladybeard, a feminist magazine that seeks to reinvent the women’s glossy magazine format with radical content and platform the voices of those normally silenced by traditional mainstream media. The first two issues dealt with the broad themes of Sex and Mind and they are now in the process of putting together the third issue: Beauty.
Peachy went behind the scenes for the creation of this issue and spied on an early editorial meeting to understand how the magazine gets made. We had a wonderful, meandering conversation with editors Kitty Drake, Sadhbh O’Sullivan and Madeleine Dunningan, arts editor Hannah Abel-Hirsch as well as art director and designer Scarlet Evans. We talked about the editors’ aspirations for the next issue, the way they go about creating the magazine and the growing pains when independent magazines move from smaller print runs to wider distribution.
So, let’s jump right in, what do you think are some of the pitfalls or challenges of independent publishing?
Madeleine Dunnigan: It’s not just the printing, it’s the distribution, it’s the paying contributors. I feel that with independent publishing you immediately don’t value your time, so you’re like OK I’m not paying myself but you end up having all these extra things like paying for travel, paying for a shoot, paying people to come down to do an interview. It costs a lot more than you ever think. If you want to get the full value you have to distribute them yourself, so you have to sell them online, then package them and take them into the post office.
Sadhbh O'Sullivan: Yeah and do you want to have a profit margin? Do you want to be among the really costly niche mags that are £20? But who can buy those? Or do you have an absolutely pitiful profit margin but a wider reach? But then you make 20p on each issue and you’re back to the same problem of having no money!
With this latest issue have you thought about these problems more or less? Have you been more business-minded about it?
SOS: It’s tricky because we want our magazine to be accessible. It’s integral to how we want to do things, which means that often fights with being business minded. What do you sacrifice to make it so that you can afford to do it, and how do you find ways around it other than what conventional magazines do? (Which is huge print runs and fuck-tons of ads). We don’t do either of those things, so we have to eke it out slowly. It’s a long process.
Kitty Drake: I think the short answer would be that we don’t know how to grow the magazine while keeping to the ideals we started with. Frankly as a publication that is our biggest issue going forward. How to grow, how to make it sustainable both time-wise and money-wise. This is a tipping point, this issue, of how we can afford to do this going forward.
Is it a big problem as you guys all must have full-time jobs that aren’t directly relating to this, so you must have to carve out your own personal time to make it?
Hannah Abel-Hirsch: Or looking for full time jobs! I just lost mine, so if anyone out there knows of anything good going let me know. I’m the eternal intern which doesn’t seem to be working for me!
Consider this a call out! So whereabouts are you with this issue, when did you start working on it, did you take a big break?
SOS: Probably too big a break! Wait, when did we finish the last issue?
MD: We basically wrapped up in September.
I still see the last issue (Issue 2 The Mind Issue) around everywhere.
MD: We had the launch event for The Mind Issue in November and following the event there was quite a nice number of spin off events that came from the issue, the Stack Awards, Magculture and a couple of talks. We took a break in December and were meant to start again in January. But... we started at the beginning of March really, and because the magazine is so large and because we don’t want to compromise on its size or quality, it takes a long time to create.
At the moment we are in the process of gathering material on the arts and editorial side and we hope to have all that stuff completed by June. Often who we want to profile and who we want to write for us are not in the mainstream media. So on one side you get people who aren’t journalists and writers writing for you, and on the other you’re getting established people to write and that takes a while to organise.
KD: It’s a mixture of profiling people who haven’t been profiled already, and then also having people who you really respect and who have really shaped your thoughts on the theme. So for the third issue - themed around Beauty - trying to approach someone like Susie Orbach, where you need to do a lot of research and thought before making contact, balanced with “we can’t pay you anything more than a minimal fee”.
MD: And meeting only evenings and weekends adds time to the schedule as well.
It’s interesting because you see some small magazines and think: how can they make this work? Where do they get the time and money to make these amazing magazines appear from!?
MD: I guess if we didn’t have jobs we could probably bash it out in a couple of months!
SOS: Doing this creative stuff though, even in your spare time, is the absolute best bit. It’s the beginning where we are talking about a theme and thinking: OK we can do this or this, this person or that idea - all of the early stuff is just the best.
KD: I guess we are all young people in the creative industries, and as a part of that you do so much shit menial stuff for your day job. This is another reason why it’s so wonderful making Ladybeard and having it as a passion project because you get to do things you would never normally do. It’s a creative outlet you didn’t realise you desperately needed!
So what kind of conversations have you been having about beauty?
MD: Well, you don’t want pieces that directly address beauty - like looking at addressing the theme of beauty and art in general. You think: let’s look at this charity that’s producing incredible make-up for victims of domestic abuse. Let’s look at body hair, but not just have an article like “people should have body hair,” let’s look at people who are doing interesting things with their body hair or people who have different types of body hair. You always find a different perspective.
KD: That’s another thing with independent magazines is that the industry is so saturated, it’s the challenge of trying to find something a bit different. One of the ideas we’ve had is to look at the beauty industry. We’re going to go to different beauty parlours and dressing rooms, and photograph them empty alongside quotes from the people working in them. You are trying to set yourself the challenge of thinking, what would I be surprised by?
SOS: We don’t want to fall into the trap of saying very basic feminist or very basic magazine things about beauty and femininity.
Do you see competition with larger more established magazines doing issues dedicated to topics like beauty or feminism? Like Elle’s annual feminism issue or iD’s female gaze issue?
SOS: Oh no we could never compete with them!
Scarlet Evans: If we worried about other magazines we wouldn’t be able to make our own!
KD: We try and do something different from bigger magazines. I read our competitors and it’s actually sometimes very inspiring. Everyone is going to be doing similar things to you, and you have to use that as a source of strength: thinking OK I’ve seen 15 articles about this already, how can we do something different?
I also think a lot of the bigger magazines, because they are time sensitive and have large online audiences, are often tied to things currently in the news. Our strength is that we don’t have the time pressure. We can think and take time, and do something more substantial and interesting. People aren’t looking to our publication for something especially timely so we don’t have the pressure of being constantly relevant or have to hit certain views every week. Also, we aren’t making any money from it, so we have to feel passionate about it!
HA-H: It’s also a different kind of journalism - it’s slow journalism, which is kind of being destroyed by the internet and in a sense is having a resurgence now as people react against that destruction.
SOS: I mean how many people actually read the long online pieces they are sent or do they just share them online?
HA-H: Also a lot of those online articles will just disappear into the web, whereas Ladybeard approaches things from a wider sense. It’s not click baity or time sensitive and is a physical object that will exist for a long time.
SOS: Because we don’t have any money coming in other than the magazines themselves, we don't have a responsibility to get views and shares on our website and can afford to take that slower approach to journalism.
HA-H: I think that even though we are grouped together with those feminist publications, I think we’re actually quite different.
KD: I think the comparison makes you deep digger: yes feminism is ‘in’ now, every piece you read is about it, but it’s so fucking boring isn’t it? I never read those click baity feminist articles, I’m a feminist but I do not want to read that. The fact there is so much stuff out there about feminism actually makes you do more interesting things. We always try to print the thing that isn’t being said. Always with Ladybeard, we want to tell a story that is urgent and just needs to be said but is not being said in the right way elsewhere.
HA-H: There are so many different brands of feminism I feel like we don’t come at an issue with a specifically feminist version of the topic, it’s more like an open perspective.
KD: That’s why the theme helps as well. A lot of the stuff in our Mind Issue wasn’t explicitly feminist - we did a piece on google and how it shapes election results by the way search rankings are displayed and that’s not a feminist piece per se, but we wrote it with a feminist lens. Mainstream media is boring because you hear the same stories and so our radical feminist act is to profile different kinds of stories and voices. It’s a lot more liberating than more mainstream magazines whose feminist remit is “let’s just ask a woman what she thinks about this topic”.
So do you take a feminist approach rather than produce feminist content?
SOS: Yeah exactly, as a team we are very conscious that we don’t write the stuff in the magazine. We interview people and write it up, but the content is mainly written by so many different people.
KD: We have 70 plus contributors to each issue.
How much of your content is based on submissions or you all seeking it out?
KD: We really want more submissions because sometimes the stuff you get from them is golden.
HA-H: Sometimes a submission will make you think about a topic in a completely different way and really change how you look at it forever.
KD: We do ask around, do our research and then and contact people, see where things take off and go from there. One of the best parts of working on the magazine is approaching your heroes and asking them to contribute something.
Creating magazines and working on creative projects has also put a lot of my faith back in humanity, where you get people who are so generous with their work or their time.
MD: I think the way we absorb news and content, trawling through Instagram and online platforms, so much of the things we read now are presented in a way that insights envy rather than inspiration and makes you feel less than, rather than, included. I hope that with Ladybeard, by you buying and reading this magazine, you are becoming part of something that is celebratory. Anyone can write for it and get involved and then you can make a magazine yourself or come to an event, it’s all about trying to make people feel better about themselves and the world around them.
Hear hear! I think that's a good place to end things. Thank you so much for your thoughtful, insightful and honest conversation and we can’t wait to see how the third issue comes out.
Illustrations courtesy of Ladybeard.
For more information about Ladybeard, visit their website. The full Ladybeard team also includes arts editor Tyro Heath and art director and designer Bronya Meredith.