In Jamaican Patois, 'gal dem’ simply means ‘a group of girls'. But the London-based publishing collective, gal-dem, finds its strength in representing individual voices.
Run by women and non-binary people of colour, they skirt around dusty expectations of women in the workplace, creating content and events that bubble with drive, ambition and energy.
In an industry that is 94% white and 55% male, according to a survey by City University London in 2016, gal-dem’s steps into digital and print publishing may seem radical. But, as they proudly put it: 'It's not about the story, it's about who gets to tell it’. Determined to serve a mainstream audience with fresh perspectives, their approach is different by design. We spoke to gal-dem’s Editor-in-Chief, Liv Little, about making their big idea a reality.
How has your journey as gal-dem been so far?
It’s been a lot of hard work. There have been tears and sleepless nights, but you do things because there is a clear want. The demand was a very clear signal that yes, this is really necessary. Our audience wants gal-dem to exist so it continues to exist.
How will your new office space change the way you work?
For a startup it’s important, in the early days, to get things right. There are certain practical things you can do to ensure that everyone’s opinion is valued. An open-plan space is really good for that, it means everyone can feed in on different ideas.
Are there differences working in a women-led environment?
People instantly get where you’re coming from which is one thing that is great. You’re not expected to be the voice of certain issues all the time. There is something incredibly uplifting and powerful about a space that is driven by us.
What were your first challenges starting up?
A lack of infrastructure. We didn't get investment from the onset but it’s been reasonable growth for a company that is only three years old.
Do you think you’ve made an impact already?
We definitely have. If someone had said ‘this little independent magazine that hasn’t had any formal investment would be taking over The Guardian or taking over The V&A’ I would have laughed. Having a platform where people are able to share their stories is hugely significant and those stories have been read by hundreds of thousands of people—that’s amazing.
Has gal-dem ever been afraid to be itself?
No, we weren’t created within the traditional confines of British media. We’re deciding our rules as we go—that’s really refreshing. Our aims are pretty simple: we support and uplift the creative work of women and non-binary people of colour in a landscape that is very unrepresentative. If we always refer back to that message, we’ll be good.
Who has inspired you?
My Mum. She’s really loving but she’s also a ‘go-out-and-get-stuff-done-yourself’ kind of mum and that’s been a useful approach. In history, there are so many. There’s Una Marson, who was the first black woman in the UK to have her own radio show West Indies Calling on the BBC. And then there are contemporary people, like Paula Akpan and Nicole Crentsil that run Black Girl Festival.
Would you have done anything differently?
We’ve done it the best we could and grown organically. I would have said no to more things, but that’s something you learn as you go. You can't be everywhere and do everything all the time.
Do you have advice for people who want to set up their own brand?
Define what you want to do and where the gap is in the market. Is it better than something that already exists? Ask if you’re the best person to lead that business and define who your team and target market is. And try stuff; things will fail and that’s fine.
What was your biggest risk?
Quitting stable employment to make things happen. When I went fully freelance, that was scary. And I see a lot of people I know doing the same to make their dreams a reality. There’s something liberating in it–you have to have a lot of faith if you want a business that is profitable and sustainable.
And your biggest lessons?
In business, trust your instinct. If it feels like it’s something you shouldn’t be doing, then listen to that part of yourself. Also, find your community: you don’t have success without the right people.
What’s next for gal-dem?
We’re scaling up, solidifying everything and taking it to the next level. We’ve also got a book that is coming out in the summer. There’s always something happening.
Article written by: Lola Oriowo
Photography by: Abiola Renée Art direction by: Laura Cumming