Melanmag: a new digital magazine for women of colour

“Melanmag is for women of colour. The magazine is also for anyone with an ‘appreciation’ for women of colour – be it our fashion, food or culture.” Joy Joses, founder of a new digital magazine, talks business, media and race with The Early Hour…

Joy Joses, founder – a digital lifestyle magazine for women of colour – is “the wrong side of 40” and lives in east London with her husband and two sons – aged 10 and eight.

What were you doing, career-wise, before launching Melanmag?
I have worked in the communications industry for almost 20 years, first in the charity sector, specialising in internal communications and latterly within the NHS. I have always veered toward roles where I felt like I was ‘making a difference’. That is very important to me. I have huge respect for frontline staff, but I really believe every role contributes to the smooth running of an organisation.

What journalism/editing experience do you have?
I have an undergraduate degree in journalism from City University (2000). The course provided an excellent start to my communications career. Almost immediately after graduating I was hired as the deputy editor at the NSPCC (children’s charity), looking after the staff magazine and the volunteer newsletters. I was part of a much wider 100-strong award-winning communications team. The talent, experience and work ethic of many of my colleagues was inspiring.

Prior to leaving, and having risen to editor, I led the team that won a CIPR award for ‘Best Internal Newspaper/Magazine’ in 2006, something I’m quite proud of. After 12 years, I left to join the NHS. The NHS has no time for specialisms, you are expected to have the full range of communications skills: from press/media, internal communications, design, event planning etc. I was able to hone all of these areas of expertise and this experience has been incredibly useful to me now.

Why did you decide to go at it alone and launch Melanmag?
It didn’t occur to me to do it any other way. From my early teens I knew I wanted to run a magazine and I guess my career up to here was preparing me to do this. It’s not easy to break into the magazine/publishing industry. As a young graduate I toyed with the idea of approaching some of the mainstream publications but I was impatient and wanted to write on my terms.

melanmag - for women of colour -

Starting a business is never easy. I knew there would be a lot of hard grafting and the returns wouldn’t be forthcoming initially and I couldn’t really see anyone who would want to take the journey with me, as a partner. However, I don’t really feel alone, as I have had amazing support from my family and friends.

Who’s it for, and what gap is it filling?
Melanmag is for women of colour, I leave it up to the reader to make the judgement on whether they fit that category or not. In a nutshell, anyone with natural ‘brown skin’ whatever shade that might be. The magazine is also for anyone with an ‘appreciation’ for women of colour – be it our fashion, food or culture.

With the advancements in technology, the world is getting smaller and smaller so it doesn’t make sense to limit our focus to just one colour in the spectrum. Having said that, as the editor and a black woman, and just like the mainstreams, there will likely be a focus on what I know and am familiar with.

There are a couple of well-known publications I respect, such as Pride Magazine, and over the last few years there has been an explosion of bloggers aimed at the woman of colour. But as far as I can see, there isn’t a lifestyle magazine that covers the length and breadth of interests of a sophisticated and modern woman of colour – be it fashion, beauty, health and well-being, travel as well as women’s business networking, we cover it all.

Women of colour are extremely creative and huge consumers of fashion, generic beauty etc

When did you first notice how few women of colour there are in the existing women’s magazines?
In my early teens when I started reading women’s magazines, although I’d noticed even earlier the lack of representation on mainstream TV programmes etc. As I grew older there hasn’t really been much change. Yes of course you have your Naomi’s and Tyra’s etc, but they are too few and far between. Today, there are more women of colour in the magazines, but not enough in my opinion.

Why are so few used as models/case studies?
I honestly don’t know the answer to that question. My opinion is that the publications are mostly white-owned and run, and in life you kind of go with what you know, right? I have also heard it mentioned that when women of colour are featured on the cover the publication doesn’t sell as well? I don’t know how true that is though.

As a woman of colour yourself, how does it feel to be so underrepresented in mainstream media?
It’s all I’ve ever known so I don’t feel any particular way about it. I really feel that it is up to us to create our own publications and create our own narrative, the same way that existing mainstream media operate. Only then can we have the power to effect a change and influence our future and how we are represented. I’m a doer and at heart, I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur and I relish the challenge to be responsible for making a change. Women of colour are extremely creative and huge consumers of fashion, beauty etc. It’s a shame that our image is not more reflected in the media.

You’re working with a small team – who have you hired and what are their roles?
I work with a small team of freelancers. At the time of writing Melanmag has only been online/live for seven weeks so it’s still very early days. The core team is me as editor, an associate/brand development editor, fashion editor, entertainment editor and a number of contributors that cover each of the magazines many areas. For many of the team, Melanmag is a passion project with many contributors giving their time and expertise because they want to see it succeed, this only drives me to work harder.

What it the business model for Melanmag?
Advertising, but we are very new and so we are building awareness at the moment.

What challenges have you faced so far?
Containing my enthusiasm and pacing myself. Rome wasn’t built in a day. It’s also rather lonely as an independent publisher. A number of associations want you to be operational for a minimum of a year and earning a certain amount before they will let you join, something I find perplexing, as surely it’s the early days that you need support most?

Anyone who has started a business will know that you put your personal life on hold for quite a while

And what accomplishments?
We are constantly being complimented on the ‘look’ of our site and the thought-provoking articles. We’re only just getting started, there’s so much more coming. For me the biggest accomplishment is the incredibly positive feedback and comments from our readers, who tell us that they value having a lifestyle magazine that puts them first.

What is your dream for Melanmag?
I would like Melanmag to be a household name and the go-to publication for women of colour, the world over.

And your personal life?
What personal life? Anyone who has started a business will know that you put your personal life on hold for quite a while. I eat, breathe and sleep Melanmag at the moment. My family and friends all understand though and have been brilliant. I knew it was going to be this way though so it’s no surprise. It can get quite intense though and so I normally head to the gym for a workout, always a great de-stresser for me. I’m also really looking forward to a holiday to somewhere sunny.