I love reading other blogs. You often come across things you knew nothing about whether products, services or concepts. Recently I learned about girls’ magazine Kookie which aims to inform and empower our daughters. I contacted the inspirational woman who is the UK editor straightaway and she sent me some lovely copies of her fantastic magazine. I wanted to know more about the woman behind this girls’ magazine with a difference.
Tell us a little about your childhood and teenager years
I was born in Kenya and grew up in Botswana. It was an idyllic childhood in many ways, and I consider myself very fortunate to have adventurous parents who took us around the world. When I was 11, my family moved to the Seychelles and I went to boarding school (which I hated). After three years, we moved to Hong Kong and I went to school there (which I Ioved). It was an excellent place to be a teenager — dynamic, exciting and safe at any hour of the day or night. You have the bustling city full of excitement and diversity and energy, but you also have amazing beaches and beautiful country parks to escape to — plus the weather is hot and sunny most of the year. I ended up living there for 30 years (both my children were born there) and although I left nearly a decade ago, I still consider it to be my “home” in many ways.
What was your first job/career? What did you learn from this?
After I left university, I got a lowly job on a magazine in Hong Kong. Honestly, I didn’t really know what I was doing but I found myself writing (and being published) straight away. From that, I got a job on a fashion/ lifestyle magazine and so my career in magazines began. What I learned is that you can do pretty much anything if you set your mind to it. Hong Kong has a really entrepreneurial spirit and I think that has rubbed off on me.
What led to you setting up your business?
I have two daughters (now aged 15 and 18). They loved magazines when they were younger, but they and I were disappointed with the kind of magazines available to them, which were almost without exception pink, plasticky and mostly about shopping, celebrities and make-up. That wasn’t what my daughters were interested in but there didn’t seem to be any quality alternatives. And at the same time, I was reading reports (such as those by Girl Guiding) which showed how girls’ confidence plummets as they move into their teenage years, which I think is connected with the narrow stereotypes they see in the media.
Nicky Shortridge (one of my best school friends and the co-founder and editor of our Australian edition) and I had talked a lot about these issues and we started to think about how we could create a magazine for pre-teen girls that would be a positive pushback against this media onslaught by championing female role models, encouraging them to learn new skills, and amplifying their voice.
What makes your magazine different?
We have no advertising, fashion or beauty in the magazine so Kookie is a quite radical departure from traditional girls’ magazines, but we believe it addresses the needs of an under-served audience — pre-teen girls who want (and deserve) a magazine that is empowering, engaging and encouraging of their talents and ambitions.
Kookie is a magazine by girls, for girls, about girls. Almost half of the content in the magazine is created by our readers. Whether it’s interviewing someone like Darcey Bussell or Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, or contributing to the debate feature, engaging on environmental issues, writing letters, creating artwork, sharing their problems or sending in pictures of their pets, our readers’ voices are an integral and valued part of Kookie.
So we set our mission to celebrate all a girl can be, whether she’s interested in science or sports, art or astronomy, history or hip hop. As one of our readers put it: Kookie is about what girls can be, not what they should be.
Each quarterly issue features powerful stories of inspiring girls and women alongside original fiction and comics, topical debate, environmental issues and book reviews, as well as plenty of fun stuff such as pets, puzzles and embarrassing moments. Every issue is the collaborative work of a team of women and readers.
Why do you include comics in the magazine?
Because who doesn’t love comics? I remember as a child getting my Twinkle magazine every week and my favourite part was the Nurse Nancy comic. As an adult, I still love Calvin and Hobbes! Comics are an engaging way of storytelling for all kinds of readers, including reluctant ones.
How can readers get involved in the magazine?
In many ways — at least 40% of the magazine is contributions from readers and that’s very important to us. From the Letters page, to the topical debate, engagement on environmental issues, most embarrassing moments (always a favourite), book reviews, problems (answered by our in-house counsellor, mindfulness teacher and parent, Cathy) to sharing picture of their pets and art submissions, we want girls to feel their voice is valued and celebrated in Kookie.
How do you want girls to feel when they read your magazine?
That anything is possible for them. We fervently believe that girls need to ‘see it to be it’, so we celebrate great achievements and quieter ones in the pages of the magazines, from girls as young as our readers to women striding the world stage. Above all, we want girls to feel they have ownership of the magazine, which we hope will translate into a greater confidence in themselves and their place in the wider world.
What do you want girls to do after reading your magazine?
Anything and everything! We want them to be inspired, engaged, excited by what they find in the magazine and then go out into their world and act on that energy and belief in themselves. Giving girls a voice in the magazine is important because it shows them that what they have to say has value, that their opinions count, and that we are listening. Empowering girls with a sense of autonomy and independence, that they are valued and valuable, will translate into a sense that they have control over their destiny — that’s really important to us.
What tip would you give to someone who wants to set up a business but lacks self-belief?
That it’s hard work but it is possible. It can feel like everyone else knows more than you, but if you find something you are passionate about and you surround yourself with good people, there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t do it. Nicky and I are working from opposite ends of the earth with often quite onerous demands on our time, but we love Kookie and we are so rewarded by this work that is absolutely worth it.
How do you ensure you look after yourself properly? What do you do for self-care?
Well I try to go to bed early (sometimes), I try to swim and do yoga (occasionally) and I find meditation helps when I’m really stressed out. Failing all else, a hot bath (and a glass of wine) works a treat.
Who supported you as you set up your business?
Kookie wouldn’t have happened without a wider community of supporters. We launched the magazine in December 2017 through a crowdfunding campaign and the support of those early believers in the project was crucial to getting it off the ground. Friends and family all pitched in to help — from financial support to helping us make our video to building our website and sharing our story on social media — and it’s that wider community of women and men who want to give our girls a bigger, brighter view of their world which has made Kookie what it is today.
If you could recommend ONE book to women what would it be and why?
I don’t read a lot of business or self-development books, but I did enjoy Arianna Huffington’s Thrive. Personally, I’d recommend Mary Oliver for the sheer beauty of her writing and her ability to distil the human experience into poetry.
If you could recommend ONE website (to women, what would it be and why?
One website that I check every week is Post Secret. It’s the largest ad-free blog in the world and there’s always something very human and beautiful on there, much like Humans of New York.