How To Make A Zine For The Internet Age
With publication Born N Bread, five south London girls explore food, fandom, and black British identity.
“We wanted to represent ourselves as the missing voice in media,” says 25-year-old Londoner Adelaide Lawson, one of the founding members of London’s Born N Bread collective, explaining why she and a group of childhood friends originally decided to start producing a zine in 2014. “A lot of the time, in magazine culture, or just in this society, you’re told to be looking this way, told to be dressing this way, to talk this way—and [we were] like, ‘bun that, that’s long. Just do what you feel!’”
Zines are DIY magazines that come in pretty much any form; their popularity exploded with the punk scene in the ‘70s and riot grrrl in the ‘90s, as radical subcultures used them to give a platform to the voices and interests they didn’t see reflected in mainstream press. Once everyone and their uncle began expressing themselves through a billion carefully curated Twitter timelines in the '00s, it seemed like self-publishing was no longer a novelty, and the form might die. But now, the tide is turning again, and the internet is making it easier than ever before to promote and distribute your own revolutionary—or just plain cool—pamphlet (even Frank Ocean is doing it). Besides, as 26-year-old Born N Bread member Stephanie Sesay puts it, “Because we're so immersed in a digital space—Instagram, Facebook—people want something else. It's quite refreshing to write something down again and print it.”
Reading the Born N Bread zine is like reading a collective diary. Its loving, hilarious tone makes it obvious that it’s created by a group of lifelong friends: namely, Lawson and Sesay, together with 23-year-old Abigail Jackson, 25-year-old Olivia Udoyen, and 26-year-old Chika Wilson [all pictured above]. The first issue, “Black,” was about “trying to shine a light on a lot of black artists,” featuring up-and-coming local talents. Their second issue “N.Y.C. Diaries,” released earlier this year, focused on a group trip to New York. It contains an FKA twigs lyric page—a la ‘80s/’90s U.K. pop music magazines like Smash Hits—live music reviews written like religious epiphanies (“by the fourth song I was in another world,” writes Sesay of a Jesse Boykins III concert), anecdotes about creepy guys, and cut-outs of beautiful, intimate Instagram moments.
“With a zine, there’s no limit,” says Sesay. “It’s like, ‘[the upcoming third] issue’s gonna be about African culture in Western society.’ That’s it—you take it from there, and there’s endless ideas that you can bring to the table.” Each member of the collective gets her own double page in the zine to do whatever she likes with. They each create a collage of text and pictures by hand, before scanning their pages into the computer and taking the files to their local print shop in Peckham, south London. Once the pages are printed on A3 paper, they fold it up and staple it themselves; then they distribute it both online and in select cafes and shops (including record stores YAM and Rye Wax) in the area.
“There's no rule of how it should be!” Sesay enthuses. “[Zines can] come in every kind of color, size, typeface. It’s amazing.” But more than the creative freedom, this radical form of self-publishing offers a political opportunity to make yourself heard. “That’s the whole point of zines, these people have voices that might not be heard in certain places or in the world, probably, or they’re coming from a different angle,” says Sesay. “That’s why they choose to talk to you through a zine.” If you want to get in on the conversation, here are the collective’s most essential tips for getting your own publication out there.
Read other zines
“Before I joined Born N Bread," says Sesay, "I read a lot more skate zines, because that was the crowd I was in.” Lawson cites Sniffin’ Glue—a ‘70s punk zine that she calls “an amazing piece of art”— Polyester, a London-based feminist/queer zine, and even zine-like, hyper-personal teen magazine Rookie as big inspirations. Reading others’ work might give you creative inspiration, but it also opens your eyes to a whole bunch of issues and voices overlooked by more mainstream media—like British Values, a new zine by journalist Kieran Yates that Lawson admires. “She’s talking [about] her Asian friends and her Asian community, which is amazing.”
But don't compare yourself to them
“The whole thing about zines is that they’re meant to be different,” says Sesay. “Everyone’s got a different style. I have a skater friend and her zine is mainly illustrations; Polyester is very political. Just don’t compare yourself to other zines.” Lawson adds: “Don't follow a trend, just follow what you want to do.”
Know what you want to say
Born N Bread started with an aim: to honor the community they grew up in and how it shaped them, even as it changes under the pressures of gentrification. “You can tell that we really love our community,” says Sesay. “We really care about the scene in Peckham; everything stemmed from Peckham.” It’s important not to go with trends, but to write about what’s honest and real to you. “You have to know what you're talking about when you're doing a zine.”
Be ready to get your hands dirty
Lawson tried using InDesign software when she first struck on the idea of making a zine, but, she says, “It was just crap.” Instead, she decided to go down the route of scrapbooking, something she’s been into since childhood—and the result is a zine that's tactile, personal, and messy in the best way. Each member makes her contribution by cutting and sticking words and images onto a page, and only scanning it into a computer to be printed when it’s done.
“It's just so cool to physically do something,” says Sesay. “Whatever [else] you do is digital. It's just such a good feeling to actually cut something out and stick it down. [When making the zine] the only time I'm on the computer is when I'm writing.”
Get your name out there
As well as producing a zine, Born N Bread have a monthly show on NTS Radio, DJ at various London events, and have spoken on panels about zine culture. This hustle helps the zine survive. “Exposure will help us get funding,” says Lawson. “[Right now], we fund it ourselves. That’s the only thing that’s difficult for us, because we’re doing this independently. We’ve been doing a lot of [DJing], which has been really helpful because a lot of people have been getting to know us.” The crew also know the value of a good social media presence—as you can see all over this page. “Networking and using different social platforms is key to getting your message across to a wider audience,” advises Jackson.
Know your worth
The Born N Bread crew started off giving their zine away for free. But then, as Lawson puts it, “we saw how it flew off the shelf.” When they saw how popular it was, they knew they could charge £3.50 for their second issue, and re-invest any profit in making the zine even more banging. “We would like some help to print the next issue,” says Sesay. “But we're not in it to just make money.”
Be picky with contributors
The appeal of making a zine with your mates is that it’s inclusive, laid-back fun—but as your zine grows, more people will want in on the action, and you shouldn’t be afraid to turn them down if they’re not on your wavelength. “Go back and see what they’ve been writing about or what they stand for,” says Sesay. “It’s in print; there’s no going back. Your name is stamped on that. So definitely do your research and know who you’re working with.” Lawson adds: “If it feels right, do it. If it doesn’t, don’t force it. Sometimes saying no works.”
Find good role models and mentors
“We were so complacent with the first issue,” remembers Lawson. “Then we went to one of Sharmadean [Reid, founder of WAH Nails]'s power lunches. She does these really good talks about how to start up your own business.” Afterwards, the girls got chatting to Reid. “She was like, ‘You're gonna start off a zine? I hardly see any females’ zines and girls doing things like that anymore! Give it to me in a month.’ And we're like, ‘This is a deadline! Let's do this!’ And then we went back to her [with the zine], and she was like, ‘Oh my gosh you actually did it!’ I remember she wrote some nice post on her Instagram like, ‘this is what it's about: girls starting their own businesses, doing what they wanna do with nothing holding them back.’”
But mostly: just do it!
“Just get it started—what are you waiting for?” asks Udoyen. “If you believe in the vision, someone else will eventually.” The joy of a zine is you don’t really need anything but the idea to make one. “Even if it’s on A3 paper, even if it’s just a tiny little booklet,” says Lawson, “if you just do it and feel confident in what you've done, people will believe in you. We wouldn't be speaking to you right now if we hadn't."