While the publishing industry at large has been grappling with declining subscription numbers and shuttering legacy titles, a crop of smaller magazines have been disrupting the landscape — and offering a group of women who have not seen themselves represented in fashion media the chance to create their own narrative. The key? To hone in on a very specific demographic thirsty for representation in a honest yet beautiful way. Last year, president of Hearst magazines David Carey told The New York Times that “sentimentality is probably the biggest enemy for the magazine business.” But for these three glossies, it's a mix of the two that have allowed them to crack the code.
Earlier this month, Zarna Surti introduced Tonal, a bi-annual printed journal comprised of 288 pages of interviews, personal essays, photo stories, poetry, and more, all celebrating women of colour. “One of the reasons why I wanted to do a print publication is to have a book that anyone can have sitting on their coffee table,” Surti tells Refinery29. “Your little cousin can pick it up, your grandma can pick it up, and see themselves in.” She continued: “I think its so important for young girls to be able to open up a book and identify with women because I didn’t have that experience. And I think a lot of other women of colour can relate.” The response, she notes, has been “incredible.”
“I think people just crave something tangible,” Lindsey Day, the editor-in-chief and co-founder of CRWN magazine, says of the decision to start a print lifestyle magazine in 2014. “People are collecting vinyl records and cassette tape. There is a market for everything but I think particularly, [black women] never saw ourselves in print like that. There is something about seeing ourselves in the permanence of print, and we deserve it. We crave seeing that.” Day’s bi-annual offering aiming to create “progressive dialogue around what it really means to ‘be natural’ in America through thoughtful commentary, hair inspiration, and resources.” CRWN tells the world the truth about black women by showcasing a new standard of beauty.
Qimmah Saafir, the creator of Hannah magazine, also considers herself an analog girl; she has a collection of hundreds — maybe thousands — of magazines. “I knew I wanted Hannah to be something you can hold in your hands, that you can save and something that can serve as a time capsule when looking back on that season or that year,” she says. “I also knew that I wanted to create a keepsake, a love offering for black women specifically, as we’ve always been the afterthought for a lot of media outlets. So Hannah is a keepsake.”
With over 10 years in the publishing industry, Saafir saw firsthand how advertising dollars can dictate the lifespan of a magazine. “A lot of mainstream magazines that were geared toward trying to please everyone, or white women, rather,” she says. "However, I was able to see that when you speak specifically to a target demographic and you create something for them, they are going to support it.” According to the magazine’s manifesto, Hannah is meant to be a safe space for readers to simply "be;" it's an unapologetic celebration of black women.
“There’s a new energy in fashion right now where the younger generations are pushing to create their own spaces and demanding a seat at the table,” Alexis Noelle Barnett tells Refinery29 of why she created Neu Neu, a magazine for and by black people in the fashion industry. “We’re tired. We’re tired of seeing the Jenners and Hadids of the world do the same shoot for Vogue. If you want to sell magazines, maybe stop putting out the same shitty content.”
For readers over a certain age, Tonal, CRWN, and Hannah recall Suede magazine, a multicultural title produced from 2004 to 2005 as a joint venture between Essence magazine and Time Inc.; it folded after four issues. The glossy, which featured high-fashion stories with predominately black models and celebrities, felt fresh at the time because otherwise, the representation just was not there. To now see publications being made by and for women of colour, especially at a time when racism still blatantly exists, reminds us that black women have the power to truly invoke change.