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gal-dem wearing Levi’s 501 Skinny
gal-dem wearing Levi’s 501 SkinnyPhotography James Robjant, styling Ben Schofield

How to create an award-winning indie mag

The women of gal-dem break down how you can remaster the power structures of mainstream media like them – all for our Levi’s 501 Skinny series

Winning press awards and taking over the V&A, it’s hard to believe that gal-dem wasn’t started all that long ago. A grassroots platform tackling the lack of PoC voices in the media, gal-dem has long since been defying those that still like to label it a ‘blog’. Instead, it has always been a powerful collective of like-minded women of colour, creating a space for their experiences – of all subjects, not just racial, because WoC do have opinions on other things besides race, thanks. It just so happens that this collective is now made up of over 70 main contributors and countless other women, trans, non-binary PoC who are sharing their stories to the world. Expanding into a print issue for their first birthday and hosting panels on topics from music and film to dating, gal-dem are remastering the existing power structures of a media landscape predominantly populated by middle-class, heterosexual and cisgendered white men. For this, they were an ideal choice for our current Levi’s 501 Skinny series, itself a redefining of the cult classic original Levi’s 501 cut. Their movement is an acknowledgement that, for too long, these have been the voices society has programmed us to believe are the norm – but that now, our fringe narratives are finally able to take centre stage. Here’s how you can make your voice heard like them. 

NOW IS THE TIME TO DO IT

“I would say right now is the perfect time, if you are interested in it, to go do it,” says assistant arts & culture editor Mariel NO. Social media has been a key part of gal-dem’s growth, the girls readily admit – and we’re increasingly getting our news from these new sources. While this gave us the unfortunate, world-altering post-truth phenomenon of fake news and alternative facts, for her at least, these are all the more reason to push back and stake your claim in these new spaces. “It is actually a perfect time for people to be saying that actually, ‘Look, we’ve got a crisis in the media, we need to start taking action and producing what we see is missing.’” Don’t let it stay a pipe dream, head of video Ifama warns: “I knew a lot of friends that would talk about something similar, but never got round to it...Honestly, just do it. It’s as simple as that.”

CONNECT WITH LIKE-MINDED PEOPLE

It’s easier than ever to connect with people who want to talk about the same things as you, so capitalise on that. Mariel NO herself talks about how she got involved with Facebook groups with other black women talking about their experiences even before gal-dem came to be, and part of the fun when starting gal-dem was seeing how many mutual friends they all had that were engaging with it. “Put out calls and collaborate with people, the more the better,” says music editor Antonia Odunlami. “There are so many amazing different pockets of DIY things going on at the moment,” she continues, “everyone’s just being mobilised – it’s really affirming.” So, get your friends together or reach out and make new ones – the best thing about gal-dem is that they’re “work(ing) together to make a woman of colour revolution,” says Ifama. “We’ve got each other, that’s all we need.”

“It was an opportunity for a kind of archive thing to say, ‘We’re here, this is our contribution, you can’t ignore it anymore’” – Mariel NO, gal-dem

PRINT ISN’T DEAD

It isn’t all just about doing this online, though – for their first anniversary, gal-dem expanded into print. “People had asked,” says Ifama, “because we’d call ourselves a magazine and then we had to be like, ‘We’re an online magazine.’” An organic development of wanting to have something physical as a testament to all their hard work so far, the result was more book than magazine – overflowing with articles, illustrations and other contributions from their growing network. With a second issue on the way, gal-dem’s print venture is evidence for the argument that print isn’t actually dead, and can be an important record of the power of creative collaboration in raising the voices of those usually sidelined.

MAKE YOUR PRESENCE KNOWN

This sense of “taking these things that are online, offline,” is really important for gal-dem – and part of this is putting on really great events. Nowhere was this more evident than at the collective’s takeover of the V&A, which brought together all the different interests and projects featured on the site, under the historical roof of a museum, traditionally a space where white narratives prevail. Hosting a “big ol’ turn up,” in these usually quiet halls, the significance was not lost on the girls. For Mariel NO, “it really felt like it was an opportunity for a kind of archive thing to say, ‘We’re here, this is our contribution, you can’t ignore it anymore...We’re a magazine, we are an archive. We are a cultural collective of people who are staking a claim.’” Where’s next? “The world,” says Odunlami.

DON’T BE AFRAID TO CREATE A DIALOGUE

“You can’t expect the news we read to be as objective, or as informed and broad-ranging if it only comes from one point of view,” NO says of the motivation of challenging the dominant voices that shape our worldview through the media. Equally, that filters into how things operate within gal-dem too. Dedicated to making sure all perspectives are given a fair chance, the site offers op-eds from both sides of issues that are divisive even within this community, such as their recent series on skin lightening. Contrary to tokenism in the industry, gal-dem are here to prove one PoC’s response is not representative of all PoC perspectives. “We’re not just publishing for one audience,” Mariel NO is keen to emphasise, “our work comes from women of colour, and we’re very selective in that but it is content created for everyone and is meant to be read and critiqued by everyone.” By creating a dialogue, rather than a monologue, we get much closer to understanding each other as a society.

Head here to shop the new Levi’s 501 Skinny collection