INTERVIEW W/ NRTH LASS

With the third issue about to be released this summer, NRTH LASS is a print magazine championing women in the North of England. Founded in 2017 by Jessica Howell and Jenna Campbell, the pair are an inspiration to proud northerners. Celebrating women and their achievements is something Sass and Snarl can’t get enough of! We absolutely love it! So, it was only right for us to find out a bit more.

From Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield to Newcastle, Preston and Liverpool and everywhere in between. You can find their prints in selected Stockists like Colours May Vary and Magma or you can always find it on their site. In their magazines and on their socials, you can find features and articles on anyone from pet photographers to female filmmakers. Each have a story to tell and advice to give which is why this publication is so important. 

Read our interview with Jess and Jenna and always remember that it’s not so grim up North!

What made you start this magazine? What was that initial light bulb moment?

Jenna:The moment came sometime in the summer of 2017 as we were sitting in our office kitchen in Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire, working as editorial associates for Reuters and trying to work out our respective career paths. We were looking to find female mentors in the north but found that there wasn’t a great deal of coverage on the careers or achievements of women in the North of England. This got the cogs turning and NRTH LASS was born. We knew these women existed, it was just a case of finding them and championing them. 

Jess:It really was a ‘write what you want to read’ moment. The lack of realistic viewpoints from people, particularly women, at different stages of their careers drove us to pinpoint exactly what was missing for young people, those making career changes, and with that, how this was all being achieved outside of London. It was quite incredible to us that a publication of this sort hadn’t been created yet – we managed to find our niche purely through having a personal problem which we took upon ourselves to fix. It’s been an eye-opening and fulfilling journey seeing so many women at different stages of life connecting to the content and proving at every step that the north has so much to shout about.

Do you think being from the North has shaped you differently? If so, how?

Jess:Being from the north is like being part of a secret society: instead of an elaborate handshake, you only need to hear ‘y’alright’ to know you’re in safe hands. There’s a warmth and willingness to connect with a fellow northerner, a familiarity that you can’t quite put your finger on. There are challenges that we face as a region which we acknowledge but don’t dwell on – we’re not London and we don’t pretend to be. Being from the north has definitely shaped me, mainly by learning to plough on, making my own path and knowing that if I need help, there’s always someone along the way willing to give it.

Jenna:For most people, where you are born and bred has an impact on you and how you see the world. The degree to which this is true varies depending on how good or bad your experience of growing up was and I would say on the whole I had a very positive upbringing. I’m from Stockport, which is just outside Manchester and I am very proud of it; the spirit, generosity and humility. In terms of the bigger picture of growing up in the north, I would say it has definitely impacted my sense of self and my desire to show others what it means to be a proud Northerner. I don’t know if I would be different if I was born somewhere else but I do genuinely think Northerners have an inherent grit, determination and friendliness about them. It’s something I think we both have in us.  

Since starting the magazine, what have been your greatest achievements and what are you proud of?

Jess:There have been lots of ‘big’ achievements to note and I’m proud of every step we’ve made to this point. For me, it’s the smaller moments that have made the greatest impact: seeing someone on Twitter shouting about their fellow creative; having a male business owner email us specifically to promote his female employee; sharing in a celebration of a sale for a female freelancer found through one of our articles. Telling someone that you love their work is nice but being able to share that in print and invite them to join a huge northern collective is the best feeling ever.

Jenna:I’m proud that we have been able to create a community and a platform around the magazine, whilst also giving women in the north the confidence to talk about their success without feeling like they are bragging or being ‘too much’. I’m proud of our team work and running the magazine alongside our full-time jobs and I’m pleased that we continue to highlight the achievements of everything else that we do. 

What goals have you set for yourselves for the next year or two? What are you excited about?

Jess:Due to COVID, and before that, funding, things have slowed for us a little in terms of our print magazine, with our next issue due to be released this summer, a few months later than planned. Before the pandemic, we were looking to branch out into running events, panels, and in-person meet-ups with our readers and contributors. While they’re all still very much in our future plans, it’s been exciting to navigate our online platform and learning what people are most interested in consuming digitally. There are many online publications we love – Aurelia, Creative Boom, Madhat Girls – and we’re conscious of the valuable space available and being able to offer content that hasn’t been given a platform. Even though NRTH LASS has been established for a while, we’re learning and planning our next steps every time we publish a feature – there’s never a boring day!

Jenna:We’re now just a few weeks away from launching issue three, which is themed around trailblazers and the women making a difference in their communities by creating a space for a more diverse range of voices to be heard and expressed. This is something we are translating into the digital space as we continue to grow our website and populate it with lots of new content, including our Women in The Workplace series, which takes a closer look at how women forged their careers. It kind of comes full circle in that sense. As Jess said, there are more women, of all backgrounds that need to be given a seat at the table and we’re very keen to promote that and make it happen as we keep growing. 

When building NRTH LASS, what hardships did you have to tackle? How did you overcome them?

Jess:Primarily, our biggest hardship was the creation of the magazine, both physically and strategically. The physical copy of our first issue was so exciting to see in person for the first time. Neither of us have design backgrounds and at that point, we hadn’t even had our writing published in big publications so bringing writers, photographers, designers and a printer together to create pages of content we’d spent months getting just right was a huge challenge. Strategically, we hadn’t looked further than getting the first issue out, so we had to play catch up for a few months while putting together our second issue. Even now with a few years of experience behind us, at times we’re very much learning as we go, and that daily pressure can take its toll. Putting together a solid editorial calendar has been a great step toward organising our content, social media posts, and most importantly, time for a break. We both work full-time alongside the magazine so finding some space to talk about anything other than grammar, and graphics, and who’s sending out the next Tweet is a must!

Jenna:I think we’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of moral support from our families, friends and those in the indie publishing world and for that I’ll always be grateful. I guess at the start it was sometimes difficult to get some people to buy into the concept, perhaps simply because it hasn’t been done before or people were sceptical because it was quite niche. Getting it off the ground financially was always going to be a challenge as its been predominately self-funded by the two of us. We’re lucky though that three years in we were able to raise some of the money for the third issue through crowdfunding and I think that show just how far we have come and the support that we have garnered. 

Introducing a magazine all about talented women must mean that you have heard some amazing stories, what has stuck with you?

Jenna: Definitely! There’s a lot to pick from but I would say the ones that have had the biggest impact on me have been the articles that broach the topics of mental health and wellbeing. Our interview with Anna and Sophie of House of Raglan, a wellbeing brand which focuses on promoting self-love through unique clothing and apparel is one that sticks out. Their sustainable-shirts and jumpers help to tackle the subject head on by donating a percentage of their profit to mental health charities. Kimberley Robinson of Keep Real has also featured on our online platform and she is doing amazing things to support better mental health in young adults in the north. Linked to mental health, in the third issue, I was fortunate enough to speak to several women about the link between self-worth and body image and I often refer back to that when I’m feeling slightly wobbly.

Jess:Two interviews stuck with me for quite similar reasons. One was with Hannah Maia, a filmmaker who used cold water swimming to move closer to body acceptance, and the other was with Emily Nicholson, a pet photographer. Both passionate and truly dedicated to their work, but neither with any knowledge as to their own talents. They’re not racing to be the best of the best, they just love their work and in putting their time and energy into it, have created impactful work that expands further than the images or film they produce. 

Has creating this magazine helped you with your personal growth?

Jess:Massively and not just in terms of the skills I’ve picked up along the way. Professionally, the magazine has been a huge driving force in allowing me to reconsider areas of work where I find the most enjoyment. It’s opened doors purely by being a talking point in interviews and provided me with so many opportunities to connect with people across different industries who I wouldn’t have usually come into contact with. Like many, one of my biggest fears from a young age has been public speaking and although I still can’t say it’s my favourite part of the magazine, having a topic I’m so passionate about is such an important tool to properly convey my thoughts and connect with people across industries.

Jenna: It’s given me the opportunity to really pursue my passion for journalism and opened so many doors into the industry, which has in turn allowed me to positively impact others and share even more stories. On a personal level, it has shown me that I need to slow down a little bit and try and do fewer things so not to burnout. When you start something like this you don’t have a crystal ball and you don’t quite realise what the impact might be and your life but I wouldn’t change any of it. The process has made me more resilient and better at taking feedback but also given me a new perspective on what matters and where I want to focus my energy and time.

When building your branding, what did you want to convey?

Jess:NRTH LASS has two aims: to promote talented women, and to prove that the North of England can provide the opportunity for that talent to thrive. For us, our contributors and the women we feature aren’t just people we choose for a fleeting article. Every person we come into contact with becomes a part of our collective and we’re constantly looking for opportunities to connect people with each other. We’re not trying to construct our own idea of the north; we’re reflecting the north through our content. We’re always open to new voices, diverse talent, and realistic viewpoints and our hope is that our brand is built upon that foundation.

Jenna:As a print magazine there is so much you can say even without words and we’re very proud of the work of Katie (our designer) has done to convey the aims of our publication; to champion women in the north and dispel the myth that its grim up north. We tend to not dwell of stereotypes and tropes but reflect the narrative that we see in action in the north and the branding reflects that. Contemporary, realistic and with subtle nods to feminism and equality, every part of our brand is about coming back to our mission statement and shining a light on other women. 

Describe NRTH LASS in three words:

Jess:Realistic, impactful, encouraging.

Jenna: Empowering, brave, celebratory.

How have you promoted your magazine? Do you have any tips on Self Promotion?

Jenna: We built our community predominantly through our website and on social media and we now have a good-sized community and following on Instagram and Twitter. I think it’s difficult to grow an organic following without being on your phone or computer all the time so it’s a bit of a catch 22 situation. I personally go through bursts of inspiration where I’ll be really on top of it all and we will do shout-outs and collaborations but having worked in marketing and social media I know that it comes down to regularly posting and sustained engagement with your followers. Given that we both have busy full-time jobs, we still do really well. My advice would be just be honest and true to yourself, a little bit of hashtag research doesn’t go amiss either. 

Jess:Our main promotion streams are through our website and social media. Having a routine when it comes to promotion is a great place to begin, particularly when just starting out – that can help you stay on track and ensure you’re getting your content seen through the right platforms. If we post an article online, we then need to follow that up with a post on Instagram and Twitter. Knowing your audience is also a key point in self-promotion. As we’ve got a wide-ranging audience (anyone from the age of 16 – 65 and across varying backgrounds), a lot of our content does extremely well on Instagram (if we’re sharing a graphic designer’s work, for example), but if we’re discussing theatre, that content always does better on Twitter. 

How do you network in the North? Is it all social media-based? Have you been to any events? etc.

Jess:The north is fantastic for networking events, it’s perhaps a little too good because there’s not enough time to make it to them all! We try and make as many in-person events as possible – even just being in the room with so many other creatives, entrepreneurs and game-changers makes it impossible to leave without feeling empowered to keep pushing forward with the magazine. I think the pandemic has opened up those events to a much bigger audience, primarily if money and accessibility have been factors in not attending in the past. I hope as a creative community we’re able to keep that momentum going to make networking more available to all. 

Jenna:We do a mixture really and I would say getting out and about, doing talks and panels is a really good way to spread your message and promote a cause. I am quite comfortable presenting and public speaking is a large part of my full-time job as an editor for another magazine, so I feel more at home on stage talking about a cause that really matters to me than I sometimes do when trying to craft a perfect post for the grid. Speaking for Manchester and Leeds there are loads of brilliant ways to network and meet new people, from events like Glug, Design Recovery, Pechakucha MCR and Ladies Wine and Design, there’s so much going on. The creative community in the north is brilliant, supportive and always willing to lend a hand.

The best and worst things about working in a partnership?

Jess:A partnership is like a lifelong skill swap. At our core, we’re both writers so we’re comfortable with the content we produce but outside of that, we both have more experience in different areas. Being able to utilise our different skills and lean into the areas we each find more enjoyable makes us a really strong team. Living in different cities is a plus point for us too because we can cover more ground but it’s also a downside; having to find time to communicate in a way that’s most productive is a constant struggle and means we can’t push forward with a lot of our tasks until we’ve had that conversation. 

Jenna:I’m a bit of a worrier and working with Jess means I have someone to share my thoughts and concerns with. It’s good to be each other’s sounding board and have one another’s backing and support. It’s also very nice to be able to share a project with someone who is very much aligned on the mission we set out on. I guess the challenge is living in different cities and not always being able to meet and put plans into action as often as we would like. 

To young journalists who are wanting to build their own printed magazine, what advice would you give and what challenges might they face that they won’t have necessarily thought of and might surprise us?

Jenna: I think start by working out how much time and resource you can put into the magazine alongside your other commitments. I think I dived straight in, which I don’t regret as sometimes we end up talking ourselves out of these projects, but I have at times found I have bitten off a bit more than I can chew. Do lots of research, ask yourself why you’re doing it, is there an audience out there for your stories and look into the costs of print. Also, be organised, buy lots of post-its, make editorial calendars and keep the faith that what you’re doing is important. Oh and coffee always helps. 

Jess:I often find that the biggest challenge is having the confidence and self-belief in the first place to put work in front of an audience. There will always be an excuse – too young, not enough experience, too many other publications – and there’s never a perfectly ‘right’ time to get started. I love a plan (my desk is littered in post-its and detailed lists) but starting a venture will always have an element of disorganisation to it. Embracing that and seeing it as a process of ‘learning as you go’ is imperative – you can’t fix something that hasn’t been created yet. 

How can people get involved with NRTH LASS?

Jess: We accept submissions all year round to our print and online platforms. The easiest way to contact us is through email at info@nrthlass.com. It’s just the two of us at NRTH LASS so we’re always on hand to receive messages and comments on social media. We’re always open to writers, photographers, designers, and of course women who’d like to be featured (or can recommend someone for a feature).

Jenna: We’re always encouraging people to put themselves or someone they know to be interviewed or featured. Similarly, we regularly accept pitches from women who are from, or live and/or work in the north and we would love to keep hearing their stories.

Does having a strong northern accent make a difference when networking and going for job interviews?

Jess:Nine times out of ten, when I tell someone I’m from Bradford, it’s followed up with “I’m sorry”. A few years ago, I started telling people I was from Leeds – a quick 12-minute train journey further afield and I was suddenly being swamped with positive comments about the city. During University, I spent a long time altering my accent so the thoughts and ideas I was communicating weren’t lessened by a Yorkshire accent. Somehow, I thought my own knowledge could be dampened by the accent that accompanied it, and that in itself made me feel like a fraud.

I’m so proud of being from Bradford – a frontrunner during the Industrial Revolution, the firstUNESCOCity of Film, not to mention, Curry Capital for six consecutive years – and having the representation from different regions is so important in all areas of society. Having people relate to you is such an underestimated force and an accent that represents your roots, your city and the community that comes with it is something to be proud of, so don’t shy away from it. I’ve made some great connections just from someone hearing my accent across a room! However, what’s more important is your passion, willingness to learn, and ability to help people from the very start of your business – those things don’t need an accent to be understood.

Jenna:I think in the past, a Northern accent could present a challenge when trying to work somewhere other than the north. Sadly, this prejudice still exists to some extent in many sectors. There is also a degree of cashing in on a regional accent, an element of tokenism that no one wants to pay lip service to as a journalist from somewhere other than the south. I do think this is gradually changing though and writers such as Jess Evans of The Freelance Sessions, who helps women from working class backgrounds secure work in journalism, has spoken about this a lot and I’m really pleased to see women from the north say, “enough is enough”. Where you are born and bred and your accent should never stop you from pursuing a career in any industry and it’s important to not feel like you have to change yourself to fit in or be more “palatable”. Your talent will shine through and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. 

I have to ask, do you have any music recommendations?

Jenna: I’ve been listening to a lot of Clairo, Little Simz, Joy Crookes, Arlo Parks and Olivia Dean recently. The lyrics are so beautiful and impactful. I would say I have an eclectic taste but I always return to artists like Khruangbin, Tame Impala, DRAMA and Maribou State; anything that makes me want to get up and dance around the kitchen.

Jess:I will forever be a Phil Collins fan girl, but my go-to artists are Vance Joy, Lord Huron, and Bear’s Den. You can also usually find me blasting out showtunes in my Peugeot. 

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