DIY spirit – what it means to be young, Black and doing-it-yourself

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Interaction with zine culture has sky-rocketed in popularity in recent years, with community-driven arts collectives becoming an increasingly sought-out medium for creative expression and collaboration. 

In this blog, Community Ambassador Zoe Thompson and Founder of Sweet Thang Zine, talks about her journey with creating zines and navigating the print industry, sharing platforms that have inspired her  and tips for starting your own!

My personal journey with DIY culture and creative collaboration 

My love for zines and alternative publications started when I made a blog in 2014, which was essentially an online diary where I would document parts of my life through articles or creative writing. 

As a 15-year-old with barely any experience in the field of journalism or writing in general, I was inspired by other young people around me who shared their art, photography and writing. 

The space we took up through our blogs made that corner of the internet feel like a safe, non-judgemental, youth-culture haven! After submitting my work to mini zines, I wanted to start my own, desperate to dive into the do-it-yourself (DIY) bubbles of creative collaboration but also alienated by the fact that there was a significant lack of representation of people who looked like me in those spaces. 

I started my zine, sweet-thang, in 2016, inspired by publications like ROOKIE mag, gal-dem and Sula Collective. Sweet-thang celebrates work by Black women and non-binary Black folks around the world, focusing on themes of resistance, healing and free artistic expression. 

Zines have their roots in DIY culture and are the main creative outlet for me that keeps me grounded in that ethos; using what I have and using my bare hands to achieve it. Zines have a rich history in giving a voice to those who aren’t represented in mainstream media, and traditionally anti-authority, they “redistribute power to those that make them” (Lu Williams, Grrrl Zine Fair). With that in mind, anyone can produce a zine or alternative publication and it can be an act of resistance when created by individuals or groups experiencing marginalisation. Deciding to “do it yourself” is exactly where the power lies in telling your own stories and supporting your communities, because your own creative vision and value-system can be at the forefront. 

Getting your work published and doing it yourself

Whilst it sounds daunting, there are 4 steps anyone can take to getting work published:

  1. Show you have an understanding of the aesthetic and content of the platform: Most independent publications are submissions-based and do official call outs through social media for contributions. When thinking about sharing your work within these spaces, it is important to show that you have an understanding of the aesthetic and content interests of the platform. As a zine maker and editor, something that immediately makes a person stand out is when I can tell that they have looked at the zine’s visual and written content and know exactly how their work will fit in with it. As the saying goes: if you want to be interesting, you have to be interested. 
  2. Learn how to effectively communicate: There are so many incredible collectives and publications that cater to a vast range of interests and art forms, so there is not only time but also space to put that saying into practice. Once you have an idea of who you want to send your work to, the next thing is learning how to effectively communicate. Social media platforms like Instagram make it very accessible to reach out to people, so use that tool to engage with your favourite publications by interacting with their content on a regular basis. There is also nothing wrong with sending an email, but just be respectful of the recipient’s time! If you want to send a pitch for a piece of work to someone, the email should always be short and to the point, unless given direct instructions to write otherwise. You should give a brief introduction to you and your work, any social media links you have, and why you are genuinely interested and inspired by that organisation or publication. 
  3. Work on your pitch: A pitch should be easy to understand, with straightforward links between what you want to explore or create and the organisation’s ethos. Is your idea something that they haven’t yet engaged with? How will this benefit both you and them? Ask yourself these questions before getting started, and you’ll be sure to write an effective and interesting pitch!
  4. Build your networks by contributing: Contributing to zines is a great way to build up a string of networks to eventually help you create your own platform, because you get to connect with other contributors, finding artists and writers you like, whilst also getting a taste for how the zine making and publishing process goes in general. You don’t need fancy software material, just an idea and a way of producing it, whether at home with a pen, a stack of paper and some scissors, or even Powerpoint! Spark and Co have a ‘Creative Industries’ section where you can access a range of resources and organisations to help you get inspired!

Zine communities creating community and healing

Community and healing is a massive part of the zine community. Creating sweet-thang and getting to see a community of creative Black folks grow with the zine itself is not only rewarding but also a comforting source of joy. People of colour are disproportionately represented in the creative and print industries, so when we choose to take creative power into our own hands, be it through podcasts, newsletters or zines, our creations become a resource and safe space for us to engage and connect with other like-minded people from all walks of life.  

On Spark and Co you can find a variety of organisations that offer resources to help you get started in your journey to doing-it-yourself. 

Find out more about Community Ambassador, Zoe Thompson here.