Ibrahim Kamara’s new job presents a unique challenge. The stylist, known for his experimental take on high fashion, has been charged with keeping indie fashion bible Dazed relevant in an increasingly digitised and fast-changing cultural landscape.
Kamara, who was born in Sierra Leone, raised in The Gambia and lives in London, is in part representative of this change. His work weaves together a plethora of styles to explore the nuances at the intersection of Blackness, sexuality and gender.
His approach is “about bringing new people into the conversation that haven’t been given opportunities before, bringing in different lenses and being more daring, being able to dream, being able to not look at London, New York and and LA as just the centres of culture,” said Kamara.
His appointment as the magazine’s editor in chief in January is part of a wider reshuffle within the UK’s youth-focused style titles, a coterie of magazines that helped define the language and traditions of the genre. They include publications like The Face and i-D, which were both born out of underground cultural movements in London’s nightclub scenes in the early 1980s. Dazed adopted a similar focus on young club kids when it was founded a decade later in 1991 by Jefferson Hack and photographer Rankin during their time at London College of Communication.
For generations of cool hunters, publications like Dazed, i-D and The Face have served as authorities on new and emerging trends and talent. That “insider” buzz that helped make these titles so powerful is falling out of style amid a wider youth culture transformation that values inclusivity in addition to access. That’s forcing a generational shift within the sector, as publications scramble for relevance, reach and advertising spend in a rapidly changing market.
That “insider” buzz that helped make these titles so powerful is falling out of style amid a wider youth culture transformation.
“Our audience is 80 percent Gen-Z,” said i-D managing director Lucy Delacherois Day. “[They are] much less focused exclusively on your kind of inner circle community or even just the kind of world that you live in… it’s very much about being part of a global community and a genuine interest in the wider world.”
Kamara is joined at Dazed by former i-D and Teen Vogue deputy editor Lynette Nylander, whose efforts to make i-D’s fashion coverage more diverse and analytical gained her a spot on Forbes’ 30 under 30 list. The pair have already overhauled their team, with an eye on “dismantling what a traditional fashion magazine structure has been,” said Nylander. “If there are stories we want to tell, [it’s about] finding the right person to tell it... not like five of us sitting in an office outwardly channelling what we think a magazine is.”
Their challenges are not just cultural. The space occupied by fashion’s style bibles is more tenuous now than ever before. Young people are spending more time online than with print magazines, undermining the entire industry. Covid-19 accelerated the trend with between 46 and 51 percent of US adults reporting they were using social media more during lockdowns, according to a 2020 survey by Harris Insights & Analytics.
Competition is mounting, too, not only from slick digital titles with close connections to brands, like Highsnobiety, but also local print-only “quarantine zines” that have gained traction alongside email newsletters. And mainstream fashion magazines are picking up many of their trends, hiring their fashion directors and emerging photographers and embracing a more experimental approach.
Catering to New Readers with New Leaders
The British style bibles are banking on recasting their editors and contributors to set a new tone and retain a cultural currency with younger readers who increasingly expect authentic, representative storytelling.
At i-D, recent appointments include: Jamaican-American hairstylist Jawara, known for his collaborations with Cardi B, FKA Twigs and Solange; Russian stylist Lotta Volkova, best known for her past work with Vetements and Balenciaga; and American stylist Sydney Rose Thomas, who has worked with i-D, Supreme and Saint Laurent.
“Youth culture is mainstream now,” said Jeremy Leslie, founder and creative director of design studio and magazine shop MagCulture. And it’s no longer controlled by the Western capitals. “It’s not just about what’s cool in London.”
Meanwhile, The Face has chosen to rely on a roster of creative advisors since it relaunched in 2019 after a 15-year hiatus. These include No Vacancy Inn’s Tremaine Emory and Acyde, designer Grace Wales Bonner, music executive Grace Ladoja, marketing consultant Zainab Jama and, before she was appointed editor of Vogue China, Margaret Zhang. Its mission remains to reclaim its spot at the centre of London’s youth movements, with as much of a focus on music as fashion.
Jason Gonsalves, brand director of The Face, said that enlisting a diverse group “helps us to really be able to spot talent in the most unexpected places.” That means turning to contributors from outside of traditional media for a fresh perspective, according to managing director Dan Flower.
Competing for Attention
The real test is whether advertisers will buy into the publications’ new directions, particularly in an increasingly competitive market. A handful of commercial deals, which can range from white-label creative work to special projects like sponsored “zines,” keep these publications going each season.
Last year, when the pandemic first froze the fashion industry, luxury brands cut their advertising spend by as much as 80 percent, according to a report from agency Digital Luxury Group. And while some of that spending bounced back in the second half of the year, the fashion industry is not expected to recover until at least 2022.
The real test is whether advertisers will buy into the publications’ new directions.
The pressures have forced changes in the wider media market. Last year, many titles, both mainstream and independent, scaled down the number of print issues they published, shut down international offices, or laid off and furloughed staff to try to survive. Some went on indefinite or temporary hiatus.
Despite this, there are indications that British style titles still have a valued place in the market for readers and advertisers and efforts to adjust to the shifting market are bearing up.
The Face, whose revival is funded by former Emap executive Jerry Perkins’ parent company, Wasted Talent, decided to skip the publication of its summer issue. Wasted Talent also closed its US office to cut costs. The publication has a print circulation of 100,000 and said its revenue grew 50 percent year-over-year in 2020 despite the pandemic.
Dazed, which is led by co-founder Jefferson Hack, made digital versions of its Spring/Summer 2020 issue free online and announced a round of layoffs in October 2020, citing pandemic-induced disruptions as the cause. The magazine receives 3.2 million users on its site each month, up more than 100 percent in the last two years, according to a spokesperson.
And i-D, which was acquired by Vice Media in 2012, is getting more resources from its parent company following the end of its relationship with Garage magazine this spring. Despite the wider pressures, timely issues like a lockdown-themed edition last summer and a limited edition “zine” to celebrate Black creatives in September have helped boost its online readership. The magazine, which has a print circulation of 150,000, said its web traffic is up 50 percent year-over-year in 2021.
On the other hand, external figures portray a more mixed performance. Last year, The Face’s Instagram account generated $300,000 in earned media value, a measure of the marketing value generated by social media content, as compiled by social media analysis firm Tribe Dynamics which analyses the publication’s posts containing major brand names. The figure was down 34 percent from The Face’s first year back on the market in 2019.
Similarly, EMV on i-D’s main Instagram account fell 11 percent in 2020 to $3 million, while Dazed enjoyed a 12 percent boost year-over-year on its main account to generate $4 million, Tribe Dynamics found. Such figures are increasingly important as advertisers look to digital reach to dictate marketing spend.
Rethinking Revenue Sources
Now British style titles are looking beyond traditional print advertising to keep business growing, accelerating a shift towards white-label creative services and other brand-friendly features ongoing even before the pandemic.
Dazed Media is renovating its office space at 180 The Strand in London, with plans to turn it into a co-working hub. That’s intended to bring in its own revenue stream, but also boost the core business by fostering a deeper sense of in-person community.
“If we want to do an exhibition, if we want to do a concert series... we are already amazingly equipped to be able to [do that in] our space, which not a lot of magazines can say,” said Nylander.
In March, The Face launched a talent agency for TikTok stars, designed to help brands understand the social media app and tap its burgeoning teen stars for marketing opportunities. The magazine already has projects lined up with brands including Moncler, part of broader ambitions to provide consulting services.
To support such efforts, The Face also added an e-commerce shop at the end of last year, which is designed to be a way to gauge “what people want and how they buy,” said Gonsalves. “It’s a strategic capability about anticipating where the world is going.”
Brands and readers are equally interested in a more global approach. This year, i-D is aiming to expand its coverage in the US, too, and launching a Korean edition.
“We’re trying to tap [different markets] to get that kind of footprint across the world that we feel [makes us] culturally relevant,” said i-D’s Delacherois Day.