By the motion of the ocean the Bricks Magazine founder reflects on market feminism, independent publishing, and collective catharsis.
I saw a quote you posted on Instagram a while back, which said: “It’s time for the female gaze to be seen as something more than a novelty”. In today’s hyper-transient media landscape, what are you doing to ensure the female gaze endures past its current trendiness?
Hmmm. In my work I try and champion not just women, but everyone. At first I was women-focused, but I feel like the term ‘all-female’ is actually becoming outdated, because it marginalises; it’s not actually equal if something is an ‘all-female’ event, or platform. Because you have trans women or men, or people who identify as non-binary who want to also want to identity with that. So if I do a piece of work around those issues, I want it to be championed and made by someone who comes directly from those experiences. I try and make super honest content; I don’t want to be manipulated by advertisers, or have someone who doesn’t understand that topic write about it.
So the way to endure is to keep things honest?
I identify as an intersectional feminist — I don’t want my content to be made by one specific type of person. At first I did want it to be all-female, but as I’ve grown into the platform I’ve tried to educate myself, but like I said I just feel like it’s an outdated term. So with our content there’s no hierarchy. If a graduate wants to help me, a graduate can help me. If someone hasn’t had experience in writing, I’ll give them an opportunity to write. Like with Bricks Voices — which is a new platform I started at the beginning of the year — it’s basically like personal essays, written in first person, from people who have experienced different stuff. Whether that’s a health issue, or an element of trauma, or their journey through depression, I find it interesting. I don’t want Bricks to be my own voice, I want it to be other people’s voices, written by them. That’s what I see as honest content — giving it to the actual audience and the people who are reading it. I want to see an audience who are actually making the content as well. As involved as possible.
That’s something I wanted to ask about; does Bricks itself have an overt opinion on social politics, or feminism, or is it more of a platform that facilitates conversations and the opinions of others?
Something that somebody I interviewed said — and I didn’t necessarily agree with it — was that you can’t blame a specific gender for any specific issue. Like the #MeToo movement went one way, but actually women can be abusive too. Anyone can be. It doesn’t matter what someone’s gender is, they can still be responsible for those things. So I was kind of thinking, do I publish that? Because I am so strict on these opinions, but the challenge is that not everyone else is going to think the same way as me. So it’s about trying to find a balance myself — should I publish people’s opinions when I don’t necessarily agree with them, or shall I not call them out in the interview but then actually say ‘well I think that’s incorrect’. It’s something I’m trying to learn at the moment.
But there’s a Bricks code of ethics that everything needs to adhere to…
Everything, yeah. Like I won’t feature on a panel if there’s not diversity there. It also comes down to how I position myself in the industry, not just the content we create. Because I have a position of ‘power’, there’s a responsibility to bring some form of education [to the conversation].
A while ago you featured in a prominent magazine, who lauded you as “making [your] way in the fashion industry in a pastel pink haze.” Which isn’t a remarkable comment, given that it’s true, BUT what I found interesting was that in a different article, the editor of said publication blasted the notion of “pink washing” as detrimental to the fourth wave feminist movement. I’m aware of the discourse and I can appreciate why there are arguments for and against — particularly as most good campaigns have a visual calling card. But what are your thoughts on that?
Hah. When I first started Bricks about four years ago, it was a time in my life when I was developing into adulthood. I’d just finished education, I was just figuring out what Bricks was going to be, and we did our first cover, which was pastel pink. And this was before the whole recent DIY publishing boom, (maybe six months or so before that started to happen), but I feel like the whole reason the cover sold out was it was this baby pink. Literally. And I knew what I was doing — like as soon as it went on Tumblr it got so many re-blogs, it went viral in that community because it had that Instagram aesthetic, and that’s why I did it. But since the very beginning the way I branded Bricks was with colour. People see us as pink because of that initial cover, but we also use other colours within our branding. Black, white, peach, baby pink are our predominant colours. But it is frustrating, when it comes to feminism, everyone attaches the word with pink. Or at least white women do. I find it interesting that that’s the way mainstream media is taking it.
I still feel like no one’s really getting it right. Look at Dior, printing t-shirts for hundreds and hundreds of pounds saying everyone should be a feminist. Like, OK, fair, on one hand you’re giving percentage to a women’s charity, but then I’m like, what fucking feminist is going around spending that kind of money on these things? Why would you push out that slogan to the elite? It seems so anti-progressive if it’s not affordable. Feminism isn’t just equality of the sexes. Feminism to me is equality of race, equality between classes, equality from different backgrounds and different angles. It’s not just one thing. A lot for contemporary feminism feels anti-progressive. And when it comes to pink and feminism it’s the same thing. I mean look at my quote cards on Instagram. I sometimes do them in baby pink and I sometimes do them in black. But the pink ones always do better.
So I guess in a sense you sit on both sides of the fence then? You can use the pink-wash as a way to engage people, but you can also see why it might throw up bigger issues.
Yeah. I mean, gender doesn’t belong to any one specific colour and neither does feminism. But it’s something that’s hard to tap out of when it’s already engrained in people’s heads.
It’s funny you mentioned Dior. The general pattern is when high-fashion touches these issues it’s through an elitist lens. Take Chanel SS15, when Karl Lagerfeld sent sloganeering models down the runway in a staged protest…
It’s hard. If people in power are going to tap into these issues they need to understand them, or they’re going to fuck up, do you know what I mean? If that’s the message that’s going to be pushed out through the media, it’s our voices who are not going to be heard. The elite voices end up overshadowing the marginalised communities because they don’t have the same platform to be heard.
These days there’s no avoiding the fact that socio-politics is interwoven into fashion, and by default with pop culture. Naivety isn’t really an option. It’s hard to envision a Bricks reader who might only be interested in one aspect of the magazine, rather than what it represents as a whole. I guess you’ve encapsulated a lifestyle in that sense. If you’re a typical reader between the age of sixteen and thirty, these are all issues that are inherently part of you day to day conversations. But who is that reader, and what is the lifestyle?
I feel like the Bricks reader is kind of who I was when I was setting it up. In a transitional period where you’ve gone through education your whole life, and you’ve only just come out of it into all these other social constructs but you’re trying to break free from that, so you might feel like you’re on your own. Like, I’ve just left uni and I feel fucking depressed because I don’t know what I’m doing. I always say I kept doing Bricks for a selfish reason, because it was the only thing at the time that was keeping me stable. It started as a uni project, but it was the only way I felt I could continue to collaborate with people — if I didn’t have it I would have felt completely lost. And I see the Bricks audience like that, like they might have just finished their A-levels and are heading off to uni, or they’re leaving uni, but they’re still growing into the person they’re going to be.
I have a relationship with my audience that isn’t elitist. They can message me and I’ll reply. Even if it’s not work related, you know, someone could message me on Instagram saying ‘my boyfriend’s being a dickhead’ and I’ll respond, you know? I try help as much as possible. It’s a young audience — but I also don’t want them just to be my audience, I want them to feel like they’re my mate. Like the people writing for Bricks Voices often have no writing experience, but have maybe come to me saying, ‘can I write about this experience, it might make me feel better’… the whole point is to educate other people on issues that may not have been covered by the very people going through them. It’s almost a form of self-care and community. And that’s so much more important than stats and click-through rates.
You’ve led us to another interesting topic, which is, how do you balance your uncompromisingly independent stance, but still court advertisers and advertising revenue?
Basically ad revenue is a completely new thing to me. When I started Bricks I had no publishing experience, and what I’ve learnt is that as well as print I’ve actually got to grow the digital side of the platform. So it’s only this year I’ve been able to properly step into it and do it full time, and I’m constantly figuring it out along the way.
When it comes to ad revenue I like working with brands that let me have a voice within that content. So if a brand comes to me and says, ‘hey we have this idea’, I like being able to pick the team and make content that works specifically for the platform. But there have been times when I’ve been completely broke and taken things that I know don’t sit on the channel but I desperately need the cash — and that’s the hard part of being freelance, is having to compromise and do things just for money. But of course I’ve also turned things down — there was [a brand] who asked me to put something up, which I didn’t, and then I saw another publisher had picked it up and got absolutely slated for it, for the exact reasons I didn’t touch it.
But ultimately I feel like I will have failed if my audience read Bricks content and feel like they’re being bought. So, when the time comes I’ll just… get a part time job. Hah!
I did some work with a company the other day, who I didn’t really think was cool, style wise, or relevant even. So I was like, hmm not sure, but then I found out the founder of that company had just pledged one million pounds to the campaign to get a second [Brexit] referendum. So I was like, do you know what, that’s fucking sick. So I did it. They put their money where their mouth is.
On the flip side, given the power of independent publishers right now, do you think there’s a chance for you to educate brands — even if it means working with brands you may not feel a particular allegiance with?
Oh absolutely. As long as a brand is open-minded and has similar ethics to me then I don’t mind working with them, even if they’re not ‘cool’, per se. I’ve always said this: the greatest tool we have is to educate people. And we have the opportunity to communicate with each other but it’s so often ignored. How can we expect to develop and bounce around new ideas if we’re not open to working with people who can challenge you, or change them?
But to be honest, the media landscape is, by and large, a wee bit cowardly — at least in the lifestyle sector that we operate in. A lot of editorial panders to a formulaic conversation because they don’t want to scare off brands, or the chance of a paid press holiday. The end result is so often dialled down.
Oh, 100%. Growing up outside of London, and studying in Bristol, I had this very narrow perception that, like, the fashion industry was so rebellious, and carefree, and political, but then you realise when you go and work with big brands that, actually, no, the big magazines are like ‘well, Louis Vuitton have just given us a shit tonne of money so they’ve got to go on the cover this month’. And so they lose their creativity, because those decisions are no longer theirs to make — they’re being manipulated by whoever is supplying the money.
It’s essentially lobbying in the fashion sphere…
Yeah, it’s literally that! I just don’t want to get to the point in my career where that’s who I have to answer to. I answer to myself — I built my brand. Where I’ve worked in the past, at certain companies, it’s weird, like, the staff just didn’t last long. Because they were employing creative staff but not letting them be free with their ideas. And that’s why I think people are starting to move on from big publications, like Vogue, and Look, who at one point had a lot of clout but are now losing their cult following because everyone understands marketing now. We’re not dumb, it’s not the sixties, we understand what they’re trying to do. And so there are people who are investing more money — and rightly so — into young creatives and places they work. And that’s giving us more leverage, as we still have cult followings. I’ll only work with brands who trust my decisions. And it’s not like I’m hard to work with, but I understand my audience — I built the channel, there was no one else to tell me what to do.
Basically you lose what you built in the first place when you start answering to people who have more power in the fashion industry than you. You lose what you’ve built.
Totally, hence the power of indie publishers today and the rise of publisher agencies [which give or take is a also a flawed model], but publishers are essentially audience experts. They know their audiences better than anyone.
You were telling me on the train earlier about FLAPS. And I thought it was cool that you’ve started building a body of work, but you’re only going to come back to it and finish it when you’re in a position to do it completely independently. Can you expand on that?
Yeah. So, at the time when I started building FLAPS it was because I was becoming very interested in sex positivity. Well, actually, it was because my little sister has a best friend who is gay. And at their school, sex education was only taught from a heterosexual angle, nothing else. They only teach the basic functionality of how to make a baby and how to avoid catching anything in the process. They’re not teaching you how you’re supposed to feel in your body, or the benefits of masturbation, or understanding your body. It’s more about scaremongering. And my little sister’s best friend has to sit through all of that and not feel like it’s for him. And that’s so important — if you’re not going to educate the youth then how are we going to progress as a society?
So I started thinking about that, and about taboos, like how for women it’s so taboo to use the term ‘wank’, but men can openly say ‘aw I’m going home for a wank’ or whatever, but if a woman said it you’d be like, ‘ummm’. So I started thinking about what sex education would look like if you started giving people their own voice, if you gave it to normal people and asked them. That was the concept for FLAPS. And it needs to be very untouched, so I don’t want to give it to brands, or consider things like clothing credits, or whatever. It’s all street cast, with people who want to talk about sex education. And so many people wanted to do it, I was really surprised. And their answers were so good, they were all discussing the same set of issues. It fascinates me that almost everyone has sexual experiences in their life, we’re all experiencing similar things, but we’re being told different things. I just wanted to build a massive… mass, like a research project, and then put it into a book. But I only want to close it when I feel like I’ve learned enough, which is maybe never. I don’t wanna put a timeline on that either though because it’s necessary and important but also untimely.
Did you ever read the Anonymous Sex Journal? It was this little zine filled with anecdotes and memories about sexual experience, all submitted anonymously. And in a sense it was doing the same thing, like you realise that we all experience similar things, we can all relate. And sometimes people just need a new platform to come along and address it in a slightly different way. Anywayyyy… why did you bring us to Margate?
Haha. I’ve only started coming to Margate since I’ve been with my new partner. It was actually one of the first dates we went on outside of London. We’re both from small areas and have this similar relationship with London where we love it but it also sometimes stresses the fuck out of us. And it’s just one of those things where like, Brighton’s so busy, but we both have this desire to be happy and at peace by the seaside. So it reminds me of my partner, of coming somewhere where we can just calm the fuck down, haha.
Would you ever move out here?
I think so… we’ve been talking about it. Only because it’s so much more relaxing, it’s better for my mental health, I’m literally quite happy just sitting and staring at the sea. It’s therapeutic. And I never come here with a plan, I just roam about, it’s my calm place. Plus it doesn’t take long to get here.
How many London-based creatives does it take to gentrify a seaside town?
Not many, haha! It’s already happening. But it wouldn’t be happening if we could actually afford to live in London. I mean, London is already predominantly stressful, but when you add in the cost of living it’s sometimes impossible. It’s easier to come out here. People here are opening their own studios, their own shops, and they’re like, ‘I’ve just moved here from London, I can actually afford to work here and do what I want to do’.
Do you think there’s a solution for that within London?
There’s just so many issues. Like we’re not being paid a living wage, we’re being paid a minimum wage. I know people who are working full-time, and after paying their rent, paying their travel, they’re actually working to have £100 left over each month. It’s depressing. You could just live here, do less, pay less, not be stressed out.
People feel like they have to live in London though, when they don’t really.
They totally don’t. As long as you have the internet and are willing to travel a bit, you can pretty much live from anywhere. I mean as an example I ran Bricks from Bristol for the first two years. London’s great if you want to meet like-minded people, but so much needs to change there. There needs to be some kind of rent cap, there needs to be a living wage, travel needs to be way less expensive, there are so many factors. I don’t think it’s going to change anytime soon.
Surely we’re about to see a global exodus from cities, at least in some capacity. People came for the boom and they’re going to leave again.
I mean, look at central London. All the space above the shops, like 80% is just sitting empty. People are buying from abroad and just keeping it there as, like, a savings account, with better interest. And it drives up property prices which are absolutely wild. How can you expect to keep your creative population whilst at the same time creating conditions which are pushing them out? I’m going to have to move out of my studio next year because they’re knocking it down to build luxury housing. And there are about five hundred artists in there, it’s massive. Where are they going to go?
That sucks. But on that note, what’s next for you?
We’ve got the new issue of Bricks which has two covers — Munroe [Bergdof] on one, which is so exciting because this is the Future issue, and she’s such an amazing voice for the future — and then Desmond Is Amazing on the other one, which is also really exciting. And then I want to become more involved in politics and social issues. I want to have more conversations about feminism with people who aren’t ‘stereotypical’ feminists, in order to share new views. People who you wouldn’t necessarily have these conversations with, in order to make more of a difference. But I haven’t really planned for 2019 — I don’t like having targets!
Enjoy The Moment!
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