The UK Girl-Zines Challenging Traditional Media

From fan fiction to politics to intersectional feminism, the zine has always been marked by one distinctive trait: passion. Originally defined as a "self-published work of original or appropriated texts and images usually reproduced via photocopier", the resurgence of the zine in 2016 looks a lot more polished but they're still a political reaction to the state of mainstream media in the UK today. We decided to track down the women behind the most exciting and challenging zines being produced in the UK today.

All married by a frustration with mainstream content magazines and newspapers, these are the publications saying 'no' to large-circulation media outlets who marginalise and mute subcultures such as the transgender community, feminists, immigrants, nudists, and nihilists. Here are the platforms representing diversity and liberalism. Whether taking discussions that had begun on Tumblr about radical feminism into a (slightly) more formalised place, or championing the immigrant experience in the UK, these zines are forces of opinion and humour (with some rather good quizzes to boot). Over to the editors...
1 of 10

Edited by Bertie Brandes and Char Roberts

Tell us in a sentence what Mushpit is...
Mushpit is an experimental print magazine for women who want an alternative to the corporatised, mundane mainstream. With quizzes.

How did it come to be?
The Mushpit journey started in 2011 when we met and made an A5 zine about Ally McBeal, STIs and council tax summons. It never became boring so we never stopped.

Why did Mushpit have to exist?
Mushpit has to exist because there has to be a relatable and relevant voice discussing issues affecting women which isn't trying to sell them sweatshop trainers in the sidebar. Using humour and experimental editorial we try to engage honestly and directly with our readers, to encourage the politicisation of young women, and to explore how culture can both challenge our values and be challenged back.

How has it evolved?
It's grown literally in size from A5 to A4 (plus 3mm in this issue!) and we've engaged with various issues from employment to self-confidence to sexual health over the last five years. Essentially though, our ethos has always been the same: question everything.

Why is it important to be a woman making a magazine right now?
Because women are both battered by capitalism and blamed for apparently promoting it. Women are buffeted by commercialism in a way that men aren't and the media is, now more than ever before, a battleground for editorial integrity and brand values. It's fundamental that Mushpit is run by young women because we consider our readers young women, not 'content consumers'.
2 of 10
What other zines do you read?
In terms of independently published magazines we love Jean, OOMK, Adbusters, The Gourmand and the International Times. We're also really excited about the Baron team's new magazine Baroness.

Who was involved in the last issue that you're particularly proud of collaborating with?
Eloise Parry shot our cover, which we'd been talking about doing for a while. She's an exceptionally talented and unique photographer and her aesthetic worked really well with what we were trying to achieve with this issue, it's definitely our strongest cover by far. Eloise captures an incredible strength in modern femininity which speaks directly to the feeling we want our reader to leave with when they turn the final page. Our mini-project with architectural group Turncoats who plastered East London with phoney planning applications was also peak Mushpit, and Paul Gorman's brilliant introduction to a selection of archive David Parkinson images is another really special feature for us. Working with Ben Freeman on our art direction has been a revelation as well, he made some really important aesthetic calls which we love plus he has the best cat of all time. What's your favourite feature/spread in the latest issue?
There are too many to choose from, which speaks volumes on the quality of our amazing contributors. Esme Blegvad's cartoon about feeling like a Toxic Garbage Monster is brilliant, Lynette Nylander's satirical review of "Migrant Chic" is excruciatingly funny, especially if you've ever worked in fashion, artist Sung Tieu's fake adverts are beautiful and great and the Prangover Calculator is a must-read for anyone suffering wine woes the morning after.

Who is the Mushpit reader in your mind?
The Mushpit reader is open-minded, critical and not remotely chill. She might want flow charts and satirical fashion predictions one minute but the next she's deep in to a piece on how the Conservative government is cutting back on sexual heathcare for young women. In this issue we cast a group of Mushpit readers through Instagram and shot them wearing New Labia badges as part of our political campaign to get the pricks out of Parliament. They were amazing; fierce, funny, and hopefully not all that different to us...

What's it like working with your best mate?

An absolute revelation, although Mushpit hardly feels like work. The whole magazine is driven by a constant conversation between us, which means we can change our minds and develop our ideas in a really natural and clear way. In a way, Mushpit is the physical footprint left behind after we interact with and share information with each other.

Any advice for anyone considering starting a zine?
Know why you're doing it and consider its meaning both to the reader and as part of the wider cultural landscape. Try not to rehash the same ideas and aesthetics when you can re-imagine them but equally don't feel like you have to look slick or read like an activist's handbook to be considered valid. Just do it to be honest. You're only ever going to learn from the experience.

What's next for Mush?

A new issue, an all-expenses paid trip to LA, a month long residency at a 5* hotel in Costa Rica. WHO EVEN KNOWS. Buy our new issue.
3 of 10

Edited by three co-editors: Madeleine Dunnigan, Sadhbh O'Sullivan and Kitty Drake. Tyro Heath is arts editor – joined by new recruit Hannah Abel-Hirch for The Mind Issue, and all design and art direction is done by Scarlet Evans and Bronya Meredith.

Why did you start LB?
We started Ladybeard because we wanted an alternative to the kind of glossy magazines we read growing up. We were all magazine addicts – but we hated the way they made us feel. We wanted to create something which had the beauty and lusciousness of the glossy, but substituted all the destructive prescriptions for gender, sexuality and identity we found in those pages for thought-provoking, liberating content. Working in themed issues, we open up old topics to fresh, feminist perspectives.

How many of you are there involved?
There are seven of us in total. Our editorial team consists of our three co-editors. Tyro Heath is arts editor – joined by new recruit Hannah Abel-Hirch for The Mind Issue, and all design and art direction is done by Scarlet Evans and Bronya Meredith.

How have you evolved since your first issue?
Dramatically! When we started we knew nothing about making a magazine. Our pilot issue was on The Body, and we just asked all our friends to write something about the body that they felt they weren't seeing represented in the mainstream media. With the sex issue we had a bit more experience, but we are still learning all the time.

Why did Ladybeard need to exist?

Ladybeard needs to exist because mainstream media, and mainstream women's media in particular, fuels a culture of self-hate. Predominately, the voices it platforms and the images it celebrates are those of straight, white, size zero, cisgender people. If you don't fit into that box, you are made to feel like there is something wrong with you. Women's media perpetuates myths about everything from sexuality to success, and we wanted to make something that spoke honestly, and platformed the voices of those who live any and every deviation from the (increasingly) unrealistic 'ideal'. We try to take a topic that has been under-represented or misrepresented in mainstream magazines - like 'sex' or 'the mind' - and open it up in unexpected ways. Apart from anything else it's just so boring reading the same stories over and over again!

What has been the highlight of Ladybeard for you?
It has been really exciting to get to talk to some incredibly inspirational people, from Pavan Amara, founder of My Body Back – a project helping victims of sexual violence to reclaim their bodies and enjoy sex again, to the incredible documentary filmmaker Rosa Rogers. Ladybeard has given us the opportunity to talk to some very impressive people, doing wonderful things. On a more selfish note, it was amazing to finally have the magazine as something we could hold in our hands, after months (years!) of working on it. At times it felt like it would never happen!
4 of 10
What features/contributors are you particularly excited for in this issue?
We're all really excited to feature Julia Serano, who's been a longstanding idol of Ladybeard. Alongside this we have a wonderful piece on The Futurists – new AI technology – and interviews that break apart the mind, from advertising with Jean Kilbourne, to masculinity with Michael Kimmel, to community architecture with SHUFFLE.

How long does it take to make and issue and do you have support?

The last one took two years, and this one we're doing in six months which is a little terrifying! We all have full time jobs, so we do it in our 'spare' time. The magazine is self-funded but we only charge cost price and everything made goes back into it. While the process definitely makes us all go a little mad, we have very supportive friends and family.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to start a zine?
Make sure it's on something you care about, because it's a lot harder than you think.

What's next?
A holiday?

Who are your stockists?

We sold The Sex Issue ourselves online, as well as it being stocked by MagCulture and Artwords. We're keen to add to our stockists for this issue – we sold out pretty quickly last time so we didn't get much of a chance!
5 of 10

Edited by Ione Gamble

Why did you start Polyester?
I started Polyester as a second year uni project for which we had to come up with publication concepts. At the time I was really sick of people's attitudes towards the artists and fashion designers I loved; people only seemed to consider them in a 'fun', 'kitsch' way and never discussed the politics behind people like Arvida Bystrom or Molly Soda's work. It seems kind of ridiculous to say that now feminism is everywhere, but I saw all of these amazing political discussions being facilitated on my Tumblr dashboard and didnt understand why that wasn't being reciprocated in the media at large.

Sum Polyester up in a sentence...

Polyester is an intersectional feminist, queer publication aiming to bridge the gap of URL cyberfeminism with the IRL world.

Why are female editors important?
Female editors are so important because so much of the media is still controlled by white, upper-middle class men.

Why did Polyester need to exist?
I'm not sure if Polyester did/does need to exist, but I wanted to provide a platform for the artists I loved to legitimise their own practise in an environment removed from the clickbait fuelled world of publishing. I also wanted to present an alternative to the agenda pushed out by most fashion magazines, and show that the unrealistic expectations still championed by the mainstream fashion industry were just that: unrealistic and ridiculous.

What features/contributors are your favourite?

It was amazing to have Tavi Gevinson and Gogo Graham as our joint cover girls for issue four; they both individually embody Polyester's ethos Also working with Meadham Kirchhoff after their final SS15 show for our second issue was incredible and still a highlight.

How has the mag evolved from issue one?
Polyester has definitely become more political. As an editor I've become more confident to communicate the messages I feel important or interesting without worrying about how it will be perceived more widely in the media or fashion industry. We've moved away from straight up adoring fashion to becoming more critical and nuanced in our discussion surrounding it, accepting that personal/visual identity is extremely important to the female or queer experience but critiquing the industry that exists alongside it.

Your highlight for the zine, to date?
The first birthday party was a great moment, like a day time grown up sleepover club with everyone discussing intersectional feminism while making tiaras out of pipe cleaners. Without sounding too worthy or too much of a dickhead, it really made me realise the sort of community surrounding Polyester and a sense that it doesn't just exist among pages or on a screen.
6 of 10
How long does it take to make an issue and do you have support?
It can take us anything from three to six months to complete an issue. We stick to our own schedule based around our other work commitments (we all work full time as well) and occasionally throw an exhibition event or party in between releases. I think its more important to release sporadically and ensure the content is completely true to us rather than stick to a time schedule that would cause us to rush. We have no commercial support whatsoever as it stands and Polyester is purely non-profit. Every penny we make goes back in to covering our costs for the next issue.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to start a zine?
I think girls are often told or taught that their ideas aren't as important as their male counterparts, which put me off starting something of my own for a long time. Writing for other zines built up my confidence and generally meeting inspiring women doing their own thing taught me it was possible for me too. If it doesn't work out the first time it doesn't mean it won't work out the second, third, or fourth and as long as you're up for the amount of work then you have everything to gain.

What's next?
Working on issue five, hopefully taking Polyester across the pond and possibly working on throwing a Polyester prom party.

Who are your stockists?
We're stocked at the ICA, Tatty Devine, South London Gallery, Alt Space in Brooklyn, Standard Bookstore in Japan and through our website.
7 of 10

Produced by a three-strong female collective.

Why did you start Sister?
It was my [Beccy, one of the editors] final project in my last year of university studying fashion journalism. I guess, simply, I felt that there was nothing out there publication-wise which spoke to me. I had plenty of femme zines and high fashion glossies but nothing which combined the two. I also wanted to create a platform which championed new female talent.

Sum up Sister up in a sentence...
I always find this a tricky question! Women’s issues are at the centre of everything that we do, but we are a visually orientated and often tongue-in-cheek independent magazine aimed at those who identify as female.

How many of you are there involved?
On a day to day basis it’s me, then my friend Hannah who I have known since I was 12, and Laura who I met at university. James, who I also met at university, helps out with the music side of things as well as the content.

How have you evolved since your first issue?

Massively! The first issue was a university project, so everything in it
was written by me. I also taught myself to use InDesign and Photoshop on the job, so it wasn’t the most fine-tuned piece of graphic design. But you know these things come with time. I wouldn’t have had it any other way and we all have to start somewhere. That issue still got us stocked in the Tate Modern! I really feel like Sister has grown into itself. We’ve really honed an aesthetic and a tone in terms of the topics we cover and are constantly building on that. We also get submissions from all over the world which is pretty crazy.

Why did Sister need to exist?
Well I needed to pass my degree…not that the grade it got given was much help! But I think I needed to continue developing Sister because I knew so many amazingly talented people who either couldn’t get a job post-university, or settled into non-creative roles for an income. I felt Sister provided, and still does, an outlet for us all to have free creative rein. To write about what we care about, what we’re interested in and what change we want to see in society. I also wanted to provide an alternative reading option for young girls. Growing up, I remember that magazines really pigeonholed you, and I hope that I’ve managed to liberate our readers from that mindset.

What's been the highlight of Sister for you?
There’s been so many. We held our second zine fair at London's The Shacklewell Arms last Sunday and I just felt completely overwhelmed at one point. I was looking around the garden, seeing all these people with their zines talking and laughing and connecting, and I was like 'we did this!' We brought all these creative, amazing people together. Also when Ashley Williams messaged me on Instagram saying she loved our Swag Issue cover, that was great – I’m such a fan of what she does, and as a designer I imagine you want your clothes to be styled in line with your vision. So that made me really happy.
8 of 10
What features/contributors are you particularly excited for in this issue?
Our current issue is really our best yet – I feel like I say that every time one comes out, but I guess that means we’re always moving forwards right?! We’ve got an amazing shoot with rapper Girli – I got to interview her as well so that was a lot of fun. One of my favourite pieces is ‘Huns That Hustle’ where we interviewed three self-made women, about how they got to where they are and the steps they took to get there. One of them was Rebecca Vincent, who’s tattooed me and Laura several times, and she’s completely self taught and totally inspiring. Rosie Brand has also done a very helpful comic on dealing with cystitis. You’ll have to buy the issue to see what else is in there!

How long does it take to make an issue and do you have support?
We publish twice a year, so spend all the time in between putting it
together as well as organising events. It’s entirely self funded; in fact,
this issue has been the only one to date where we’ve made a profit – which will be put straight into the next issue! I work full time, and can’t afford not to, so the dream would be to be able to support ourselves through the magazine and publish more regularly.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to start a zine?
Be passionate about the subject. Actually, be angry. I think being angry about something is the best place to be in when starting a zine. You want it to have a purpose, and a mission statement for change, otherwise it won’t resonate with people. I would also advise that you won’t make any money, it will be costing you money, so that’s always a factor to consider. And to just be yourself and be genuine – no matter how weird and bizarre your idea may seem, your people are out there waiting to read it!

What's next?
We’ll be putting on a zine workshop this summer. We did one last year at the Feminist Library and it was so much fun to bring girls together and create. We’re also launching our website imminently – it’s something I’ve resisted for a long time, but I’m actually really excited to have an online destination for content which we can’t work into print. Then our next issue will be launching in September, so keep your eyes peeled for details.

Who are your stockists?
Online, Urban Outfitters
London: Tate Modern, Charlotte Street News, ICA, Rough Trade (Shoreditch)
Brighton: Magazine Brighton
Bath: Magallaria
Margate: Plinth
Bristol: Arnolifini
Newcastle: Whosit & Whatsit
Japan: Standard Book Store
9 of 10

Edited by Philomena Epps

Why did Orlando need to exist?
The seeds of Orlando were sowed when I was studying for my MA in history of art. I took a special option that focused on questions of feminism, identity politics, war discourse and protest, and I was immersed into a world of international, critical and engaged writing, brilliant ideas, and bold artistic production. It was the antithesis of mainstream media, which I felt was disingenuous, hierarchical and exploited stereotypes. I wanted to create a magazine and platform that dispelled these false binaries in favour of a united readership. The name of the publication is indebted to Virginia Woolf’s infamous androgynous protagonist - it is a signifier for multiplicity, the collective and to promote an open vernacular of cooperation and inclusion. I believe that the logic behind gender theory or queer discourse can be used to tackle the effect of any rigid or stigmatising politics. It is a critical language and mindset in which to question the inequality of the world we live in. Committed to the consistent evolution of thought and action, Orlando exists in order to provide a fluid and evolving intersectional environment where people can come together in order to think, write or create.

Sum Orlando up in a sentence...
A polyphony of voices approaching art, culture and sociopolitics.

How have you evolved since your first issue?
The theme of the first publication, Issue 0, was proto. It was a prototype in both style and subject - designed to provoke engagement and test editorial and artistic ideas. I wanted to represent contributors who were at the emergent stage, and give them space to talk about their work-in-progress or significant formative interests. After Issue 0, it felt appropriate to reflect on the past, believing that sometimes we need to go back to go forward. The overarching theme for Issue 01 is deliberately broad in order to provide a scope of content surrounding ideas of history, memory and the future. Although Orlando is still dedicated to providing a platform for new voices, it has been important for this issue to consider the voices of older generations. This collision of temporalities, the notion of trans-generational politics, is particularly key to a collective notion of the future.

What features/contributors are you particularly excited for in this issue?
The whole issue is particularly focused on the role of art in the space of social change and political engagement. I interviewed the artist Mary Kelly for the issue, whose work I had looked at while studying for the MA which inspired Orlando. I’m really proud of that conversation. It is also fantastic to see someone like the established artist Patricia Cronin, whose work Shrine for Girls was critically acclaimed at the 2015 Venice Biennale, side by side with emerging artist Georgia Horgan, who is currently exhibiting at Glasgow International 2016 as part of an on-going research project into the intersections between industrialisation and witch hunting in the 17th century. Through the issue, I have met some brilliant London-based artists and activists, such as Jade Jackman and Poppy Jackson, who I hope to collaborate with again.
10 of 10
How long does it take to make each issue?
Orlando is a passion project that I undertake alongside my working life. It is a non-profit pursuit and so there are no ‘official’ business targets or deadlines to be met. The strength of the issue is due to the fact that the content built gradually, and I could see the organic connections between each piece. I actually interviewed Mary Kelly when she was in London in May 2015. That aside, it is difficult to determine when this issue ‘began’, but I have been working on it solidly for the last six months.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to start a zine?
Be prepared to work hard and for free. Be confident in and dedicated to your artistic or editorial ethos. Don’t compromise your vision due to current ‘trends’. Be willing to learn. Don’t chastise yourself for making mistakes.

What's next?
I’m hosting an event at The Book Club in London to celebrate the publication of Issue 01 on Tuesday April 19. Aiming to bring the content off the page and into an intimate public forum, I am being joined by three of the issue’s contributors and we are running an evening of film screenings, art interventions and collective discussion. It will be the first opportunity to see the issue, fresh from the press, and everyone will receive a copy on entry. Book tickets here. I’m also going to be exhibiting at the DIY Cultures zine fair on 29 May 29 and at the Radical Bookfair on May 7 and the DIY Cultures zine fair on May 29, which I’m really excited about. The Orlando website has been designed to create an ongoing interdisciplinary conversation, and I am always accepting submissions on a rolling basis.

Who are your stockists?
The full list of stockists for Issue 01 can be seen here. The stockists for Issue 01 are still pending, but in the meantime you will be able to buy directly from the Orlando website.

More from Books & Art


R29 Original Series