Rhona Ezuma, Thiiird
One of the arguments in favour of the print magazine is the way campaigning publishers continue to turn to the format. One magazine doing just that is Thiiird, the annual publication at the heart of the creative platform of the same name.
Rhona Ezuma published the first print issue of Thiiird in 2017. It’s a smart, glossy compendium spotlighting poeple of colour, queer, trans and non-binary people. It presents a defiantly different view of beauty and fashion. We meet her as the fifth edition of the magazine launches.
What are you up to this morning?
To kick start my week this Monday, the first thing I will be doing will be reviewing the previous week. It’s a habit of mine that I’ve been using for years to give my work schedule some routine. This, for me, is essential check-in time, as I’m going to be thinking about what I achieved last week, what I still need to do and I'll write a list of things to do in the week ahead.
A big thing I managed to do last week, with help, was organise the orders we got in through our crowdfunder, and mail out those orders (a colossal task) so it will be nice to take a moment to reflect on that being done.
Since we have opened up, I have been going into my studio in Hackney to work a lot more and on average tend to do 2-3 days working from there. Monday is usually a work from home day for me, but today we have our first IRL event in two years, so I will be going in to prep it from the studio with a member of our team.
Describe your desk and your work space.
My desk is surrounded by cute kawaii and nostalgic things which are indicators of my taste. It faces a wall which has been jazzed by prints, images i’ve collected from exhibitions or printed as inspirations. I have two covers on my wall by other people: Solange’s cover for ES magazine and Princess Nokia for a print edition of NME but the rest of the work is from my own shoots.
Next to my desk there is my shelving unit which has a lot of the magazines I’ve bought and collected over the years for research and pleasure. Then on my actual desk I keep my essentials for the working day - my laptop, post-it notes, writing pad, display folder, a cup for tea and water.
Are you feeling optimistic about 2021?
I am. This year being way more open than last year has definitely helped. I’ve got to see friends and am slowly feeling normal about doing the things that felt oddly scary this time last year .
This year, we have our issue out! Defiant Beauty is here, it’s printed. At one point last year I had no idea how we would even be able to produce another issue, so to have overcome all those hurdles and have the issue here feels like something to be grateful for. To do this we’ve had to work smart and reach out to our community and readers, which we did through a fundraiser that saw us raise 3k on pre-orders of the issue, so I am feeling the most sanguine I have in about a year.
Which magazine do you first remember?
i-D was a massive inspiration to me. It was probably the first magazine I came in contact with that gave me the feeling that I could use style to a form of self expression that was individual and authentic.
I came about it at an age where the sort of magazines I sought out were teen-crush magazines, that you would get free cds and cherry smelling lip gloss with, so I didn’t actually own the copies I am thinking about. They were my older sisters and I would sneak into her room to browse and read them when she was out. I loved the Straight Ups, and the cheekiness of the winks, and I remember reading an edition that was on the aids virus that was very human.
At that time, all I’d only really come in contact with aids via chinese whispers and rumours that were clearly intended to bash the gay community, so I remember feeling like i’d found some kind of gateway.
Which magazine matters to you the most this morning?
That would have to be gal-dem. Obviously they have a wicked online platform, but I love their printed editions. What they stand for is important and watching their trajectory as a media platform has been very inspiring.
Describe Thiiird in three words.
Representation, Diversity, Inclusivity
The print edition of Thiiird arrives annually; describe the other channels you use the rest of the time, and how the print magazine fits with them.
Print is definitely the holy grail, but the other channels we use are our podcast, social media, our online website and, in the regular world, events. Our events are usually linked to the launch or theme of an issue, but last year in lockdown, with the rise of zoom, we started to programme ones which were more about touching on the issues that we explore through the magazine like increasing diversity within the creative industry, and authentic ways to approach intersectionality and representation.
Some of our formats allow us to create content around things which are not so connected to the print. Our podcast ‘Thiiird Waves’, for example, takes prominent issues and lifestyle topics like cancel culture, love and dating, and explores them through our usual lens of connecting activism to culture.
Over the last five years the podcast format has become a very exciting one. I listen to so many! A lot of the ones I love have a similar ethos, in taking a subject matter and looking at it in-depth and highlighting real voices, so it made a lot of sense for us to start one. Ours is hosted by three of our team members including myself, the producer Daniela H Sun and Tryb who also mixes the music for our Soho radio broadcast versions of the show.
Social is also very important for us. It (understandably) gets a bad rap sometimes, but for us it is one of the most effective ways of staying present for our supporters. And it’s a great way to provide value, whether that’s through sharing important information, a meme that gets a chuckle or sending updates on your new content.
Your photo shoots propose different ideas of identity and beauty; have you seen these ideas spread into traditional magazines?
Yes, things have changed. There was a time where finding a black or south asian girl in an issue was very much like seeing a unicorn. Now we have those girls on covers, and we are seeing bigger girls too. So these moments are really great to see. But inclusivity for us doesn’t end there.
For us it’s also about trying to change the structures that underpin how images and stories are produced. Are the teams behind the making of them diverse? How easy was it to get the clothes to style that bigger girl in the cover, especially if she isn’t Ashley Graham
Traditional outlets may have woken up to the demand there is to champion new styles of beauty, but they are still heavily packaged, because they still on some level are about pleasing dominant western standards. I think if you asked anyone who is gender-non conforming, and/or a person of colour, and/or disabled, if they feel they are regularly and positively represented, a great portion would have pointers of feedback.
And I think we still have a way to go in questioning who is given space to create and story tell in these traditional magazines.
How have you coped with the lack of events for your community during the pandemic?
Social media really helped us there. We did some awesome instagram lives during the pandemic which were in-conversations and even a DJ set. Remaining present whilst people were dealing with the new set of restrictions of the first lockdown was really important to us. So simple things like holding weekly polls on our stories and sharing recommendations on our feed, helped fill the void of that peak period.What will be your highlight of the coming week?
The Life Drawing event today at Grow Hackney! Talia Darling, who is modelling, was one of the models in an editorial in the Defiant Beauty issue. I worked with her and she was brilliant. We are hosting the event according to social distancing guidelines, so it’s a limited capacity event, but I’m really excited to meet some of the people from our community again!
The orders we posted at the end of last week will also be arriving this week, so I’m looking forward to people receiving theirs and getting their feedback.