Friday, September 5, 2014

Sarah Kim: Founder / Editor in Chief at By Way Of Brooklyn

The first time that I came across Sarah Kim's By Way of Brooklyn I realized two things: 1) I'd come across something really special, and 2) I was suffering from major borough envy. Each story — all centered around female innovators who call BK home — was unlike anything I'd ever read on Tumblr. The stories were compelling and the images, honest and revealing. It was as if I was reading a cool indie magazine, but in an interactive and digestible way — essentially the best of both worlds.

Fast forward to this summer, when I found out that Sarah was taking BWOB to print. I immediately reached out to her to find out what we can expect from the first issue, her feelings on all things digital, and her tips for mastering the New York hustle.

First things first, give us a little background on you and BWOB.

I started off working for this designer, and then I landed a job at this men’s magazine, Antenna. It was like a dream. Evan was creative director, who is actually my creative director at BWOB, and he would tell us on the regular, “you know this is not a real job, right? This doesn’t happen.” It was a bunch of twenty year-olds. The Editor-in-Chief, she was awesome, she published my first piece. Our Fashion Director had toured with Lauryn Hill — it was just the coolest. The opportunities were crazy — this one week press trips came in for Tokyo, Korea, and Paris. We had to divide the trips up, and I ended up going to Tokyo. And that was my first magazine experience. After that, we folded and I came up with this iced coffee idea that I was trying to pitch. Everyone was like “this is a great idea but we don’t have the money.” Evan just suggested that if no one was going to pay me, I should just do it myself. I was thinking in my head “I would rather contribute someplace where someone already has a great vision and cause. I just didn’t think the world needed another website. But we just did it, and the reception was really warm, so we just kept going.

So you started BWOB by yourself and until now it’s been solely you. How do you make it work while holding down a full-time job?

I feel like it’s different when it’s just you. For a long time it’s just been me. Well me, my Creative Director Evan and our Photographer Minnow. With making the mag now, it’s so many people. Even people who have given to the mag, they’ll ask “when’s it coming out”. I’m sitting on $11K of people’s very generous donations, so it needs to be timely. If I’m only working on it two hours a day — one hour before work and one hour after — and all day Sunday, it’s crazy. But I think that’s New York, there’s always someone doing more. Whatever type of feeling that you’re feeling, it’s easy to see the other side. Someone can always relate.

Having to get people to work for free, who are friends, is really hard. If I’m working on it for an hour before and after work and on the weekends, I can’t expect it to be their top priority. I’ve learned very quickly what I’m good at it, it’s been humbling to have to ask for help.

Historically, media has been male focused, but BWOB only features women. Do you see yourself as a trailblazer for telling women’s stories?

Definitely. It’s like no, we actually care about work and we actually care about telling a story. Whether they’re huge or smaller, it doesn’t really matter. It’s just about women telling stories about women. We even started doing these ‘dude’ videos, these BWOB home videos, and even then, a woman can only talk about a guy in that frame of reference. It’s very different. And so I do think that there’s a fondness in telling our stories. These opportunities to create give us the context to bond. There are so many women that are judged or misrepresented — no one has any idea of what she’s done or had to go through.

In my opinion, it can be quite hard for indie brands to make a name for themselves because so many bigger brands are quick to steal ideas, especially as of late. Thoughts?

That’s a reminder that what you’re doing is right, but it’s rough. You want to share what you’re doing, but it’s tricky. That’s just what happens, huge designers are always knocking off cool smaller brands. It’s fine though, that just means that you’re doing something that matters. I can’t give someone the same eyes that a bigger brand can, so for the women I’m so happy. The thing is, our purposes are always different, a bigger brand is trying to make money, we’re not trying to do that. There’s a complete genuineness to what we’re doing.

You raised $11K for the BWOB mag solely through crowdsourcing. How did you go about that, and do you think that’s the way people will raise money for creative projects in the future?

It’s crazy to me. I was thinking “if we could raise 5K that’d be awesome.” It’s so wild. You know how some people can have money just float their way? Well that’s never been me. So to raise it was just crazy. It was cool, because there was this proof that you don’t need an investor. It’s just the beginning. Now we’re able to have all these different contributing photographers and get to work with people who’ve been there since the beginning. We can recollect and be like “remember that time when we raised 11K?” I mean we’re not trying to sell clothes, we’re trying to sell stories, that’s our number one genuine motive. But we’re also trying to make this magazine. It’s just surreal, I’m really excited.

Going forward, how will you stay genuine and true to your roots as BWOB becomes even more successful?

One thing I wrote in my editor’s letter, is that these [magazine contributors] are people who are passionate about what they’re doing, not because they want to get press for it. These days it’s so easy to be that person who wants to get press because of something you’re passionate about, but it shouldn’t be about that. You should just want to do it regardless of if you’re getting press or not. Those are the people that we’re trying to feature. People who are doing it because they’re just killing it versus someone who’s just doing it, hoping to get famous along the way. If that’s your main thing, something is wrong. All in all, I’m excited for our magazine to come out and champion the people we’re championing and be different from all of these other bigger magazines.