Assistant music editor Grace Shutti; politics editor Leah Cowan; chief sub-editor Kuba Shand-Baptiste. Photograph: Yves Salmon for the Guardian
Arboine says she grew up “in a very multicultural, beautiful bubble, where I was used to learning about all these amazing black people”, only to experience the shock of racism at university in Aberystwyth. “I had never felt so othered in my life.” Reynolds moved from London to Suffolk at the age of 11. “I had been at primary school in the city of London, in an insanely multicultural area, then I came to Ipswich and people were like ‘Because you’re a bit black, you’re quarter cast.’ And I was like, ‘That’s not OK.’
“I remember crying once when someone said the N-word in a joke,” Reynolds recalls. “And people saying, ‘It’s fine, black people aren’t being killed any more’, and stuff like that. It all has an impact on how openly you talk about race.”
Little, meanwhile, went to private school, the result of her mother’s determination to provide her daughter with the best education she could. “My mum is a very hardworking woman who nearly killed herself to pay for my education,” she says. “She found a way to make stuff work. I’ve always worked, too. When I was at Bristol, doing my dissertation, I was a nanny, I was also working in a burger restaurant. My hair started to fall out because I was really stressed. We have all pushed ourselves to extremes to do this.” There’s a sense among all the team that this was both an incredibly tenacious choice, but also not really a choice at all, so certain were they it had to be done.
Gal-dem attracts the audience it does, and the brands desperate to resonate with that audience, because of what’s often described as “authenticity”. But the gal-dem team see it in less grandiose terms, as being true to their own experience. One of the magazine’s most popular features was Arbione’s Letter To My Younger Self: Your Body Is Yours And Yours Alone, which she – and thousands of others, it seems – still turns to now. “I was in this weird limbo part of my life. It just started out as a letter. And then it just kept going and going.” The letter is searing and sweet, but painful, too. “In the nicest way possible, you look a bit like one of those Lego men. Your hair was never meant to be straight and that’s all right,” Arbione writes. “There’s no right way to be black… black is who you are, not what you do.”
This honesty is a simple commitment, and gal-dem will not be apologising for the success it has delivered. “At the beginning, when you get offered loads of stuff, you are gassed and feel really privileged,” Little says. “Now I feel like these institutions are really privileged to have us in their space. And that is the biggest piece of advice I give to anyone now when I speak: know that you are so valuable. What you have, they don’t have. And that’s refreshing.”
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