OTWO Interviews: yEWth Magazine’s Rebecca Ewnetu

Image Credit: @favsflavours @rabbitfiles @diamond.nx @c_onilla (from left to right) shot by @ethiostarrr at @opoyc_ x @visionlabdublin popup in the soundhouse

Ciarán Howley interviews the founder of one of Dublin’s most exciting up and coming magazines.

Venture onto Sycamore Street in Temple Bar and you might stumble across a striking visual logo on a run-down wall. A large, graphic orb with the letters ‘EW’ planted bang in the middle. And while you might think it’s a reference to the current state of Temple Bar, it’s the title of a burgeoning new homegrown fashion magazine, yEWth

Founder Rebecca Ewenetu, 19, is one of Ireland’s most promising young creatives, hoping to spearhead her vision into a visually innovative new publication, blending fashion, art and photography among Queer and PoC aesthetics. Her inspirations include Nigerian designer Mowalola, image-maker and Aether magazine founder Mia Sakai and the brimming ‘Alté’ counter-culture that’s taken Lagos by storm. 

And while we’re eagerly awaiting its print debut, yEWth has broken out on TikTok and Instagram - an essential outlet for any publication in the 21st century - for its bold visual storytelling with a splash of Y2K edginess. Alongside fashion publications like Viscose and Vestoj, Ewenetu is moving the format beyond glitz and gloss and demonstrates a commitment to sustainability by using only vintage garments and deadstock fabrics in her shoots, as well as inclusivity in the diversity of her subjects. 

Here at OTwo, Ewenetu emailed with us to chat about the exciting new project, the future of Dublin’s creative scene and all things yEWth-ful. 

How did you become interested in fashion? 

“I first became interested in fashion around the age of fourteen years old, after downloading Instagram. It was my first time ever encountering stylists and fashion pages with some of the most unique and eccentric styles. I quickly became obsessed with fashion content creators such as @alvssa_ , @simply.cie and the renowned Irish style icon @kee_mon. I was intrigued at seeing other POC dress up in what I thought were the craziest garms, as this was something I'd never come across and decided I wanted to do the same. I wanted to express myself the same way they did, with their attire.

Soon enough I began to experiment with my style and believe me, I wore some of the craziest fits circa 2016. Unfortunately my newfound interest in fashion led me down a spiral of indulgence in shopping and within a year my closet was overflowing.

Thanks to Keelin Moncrieff, I learned about fast fashion and the impacts it has on the environment, which began to change my outlook on shopping and following microtrends. I also watched way too many documentaries on child labour and the squalid conditions of sweatshops, and in turn became horrified, so much so that I decided to quit fast fashion at the age of 15. I cut back on my regular shopping sprees and since, have only resorted to shopping about once every few months. I've been living 'fast fashion free' for 5 years and now I can proudly say that each piece in my closet is either a hand-me-down, thrifted garment or handmade. Always remember to support small businesses, especially Irish ones!”

Self portrait for yEwth
Self portrait of Rebecca Ewenetu for yEWth

 What inspires yEWth (and you)?

My biggest inspiration behind most of my work and my eagerness to create, is the Nigerian 'alté scene'. Alté is a term that's been used to coin a new wave of creativity in Nigeria, seen amongst the youth. This scene has brought forward some of the most promising and talented individuals I've seen with the likes of the artist @olaoluslawn, the musician @odunsitheengine and my absolute favourite, the designer @mowalola

I was so enthralled upon discovering this sheer punk, queer art and air of rebelliousness coming from youth around Lagos and the neighbouring areas and I knew I wanted to make art like this of my own. I'd never seen anything like this before back in my own country in Ethiopia, and since Ireland is my home too, decided to initiate this movement here. Each shoot I direct and photograph for yEWth usually consists of a loudness and forwardness which is all drawn from the inspiring Nigerian creative scene. I want to cause a commotion just as they are.

I've also had an eye for odd things and fashion editorials ever since I first became interested in fashion, and I would spend hours scrolling through Pinterest, absorbing anything and everything that caught my eye. My interest in fashion photography and editorials was especially piqued upon my discovery of Mia Sakai (@miasakai95), creator of Aether magazine. Her shoots boast such vibrance, which she draws from her Jamaican heritage, and I was instantly in awe of her work. I also noticed most of the models featuring in her zine were POC like me, which made me feel even more of a connection to her work. Sakai first began compiling Aether at the age of 19, and I myself being 19 decided to begin my own movement. And so yEWth was born. Seeing Mia's work inspired me to pursue my own creative endeavours and create a platform where representation is rife. I wish for yEWth to inspire the next generation of creatives just as Mia has inspired me.”

What is it like setting up a magazine in the digital age with platforms like Instagram and TikTok? Is it a help or a hindrance? 

“Setting up a magazine while also living in the digital age may just be about the most ideal thing ever! Within six months of setting up an Instagram page for yEWth, the account had accumulated over 1000 followers which led me to start a page for the project on Tiktok too. Sure my RTE interview only came about because people were tagging me in the comments of the interviewers account! Social media is the best tool for gaining widespread support and creating some sort of noise. It's allowed for other artists, poets and designers to discover the project, and it's also here where I receive the most opportunities. Social media is a must for me, as yEWth is a collaborative project and I'm accepting submissions from other young creatives who wish to contribute towards the zine. Instagram and Tiktok have definitely been a help throughout this whole procedure of making a mag!”

What kind of cultural conversations in Ireland do you want to create with yEWth?

I've been seeing a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment on the increase throughout the nation, which is very upsetting being a second-generation immigrant myself. I've always identified as Irish seeing as I was born and raised here for most of my life, while also still identifying as Ethiopian, my ethnic background. I've also lived in Ethiopia for about five years too. 

It's extremely unpleasant to have people challenge you about your identity and tell you that Ireland is not in fact your home. I've also received hateful comments on social media about yEWth, discussing how some of the youth involved aren't Irish at all and such. I constantly see and hear the question of 'who is actually Irish' being raised and I aim to combat that silly sentiment with yEWth. yEWth is representative of all Irish youth. It shows people you can be black and Irish, Asian and Irish, Slavic and Irish and so on. It's a simple message and it shouldn't even have to be reiterated in this day and age but unfortunately we're living in some pretty shambolic times. I want people to open up their minds and reconsider what it means to be Irish.”

@jessodemena & @sxneadd wearing tooth gems by @theeiceefairy shot by @ethiostarrr

Designers and brands you're obsessed with currently? 

Mowalola Ogunlesi is my all time favourite designer and creative. It's not very common to find prominent black women in the fashion industry but Mowa is well on her way to becoming a household name. Her designs are based around Nigerian and London youth culture and her models are almost always African or of that descent, which I'm so taken by. I'm so smitten with this brand because of the combination of queer, Afro and punk, (the holy trinity I'll call it). If you love sporting statement pieces this is the brand for you! Rashiiid (by Irish designer Rachel Maguire) has quickly worked its way up on my list of favourite standout brands. As a lover of ridiculously oversized fuzzy hats, faux fur and chapkas, her brand is a heaven of sorts to me. I still have yet to purchase a Rashiiid hat, but I have my eye on a few I'll definitely be copping for my birthday. Rachel's hats are all handmade by her in her home studio which makes her brand all the more authentic. I'll definitely be looking to style her pieces in future shoots for yEWth and I can't wait to flaunt mine soon enough!

Tell me about your dream collaboration with Yewth. Who is it with and why? 

My dream collaboration for yEWth would be with my first and foremost inspiration Mia Sakai. Her zine encapsulates British youth culture and so I'd love to work on a sort of mini crossover project between British and Irish creatives and youth. I've always been keen on British youth culture and art, and it's a dream of mine to shoot around London. Mia's visuals are so potent and I feel like I could learn so much from working with her. I'm very intent on working with other black women to create art that's fresh and new. Instead of fighting for a seat at the table, I say we make our own (a whole new table, that is).

I consider myself very much an amateur when it comes to photography but once I improve my skills, I'd also love to collaborate with Mowalola in the future. An opportunity as such would definitely be enough to send me into cardiac arrest, I am unashamedly her biggest fangirl. I'd like to think that together we would produce the sickest visuals.

How do you feel about the role of print today - is it a dying art or do you think there's still value to physical publications? 

Print is unfortunately a dying art, which I hate to admit being a page turning, perfect bound, zine and book loving person myself. Everything's turned digital and modern day society have turned away from all types of physical print publications to scrolling on luminant screens instead. Digital zines or 'E-zines' as they're now called have replaced print magazines, Kindles have replaced books and the news is broadcasted to you through your phone in place of your local or national newspaper. I find physical publications much more tangible and realer than digital pieces and books, and I hold them to a high regard, but unfortunately it doesn't appear to be the same amongst the masses. I hope for yEWth to bring back a flare for physical print within this generation.

Before I give some advice, I'd like to delve into what makes people unsure of what to wear in general. We're surrounded by microtrends and fashion influencers, in turn dictating us all on what and what not to wear. Parachute pants are in one day, they're not the next, then it's crochet statement pieces and so on. It's so easy to get swept up in keeping up with trends and subscribing to certain 'aesthetics' which really begins to scramble your brain and leaves you wondering, what the heck AM I supposed to be wearing? My best piece of advice would be to unsubscribe from all the outside noise, meaning unfollowing all your favourite fashion influencers (I've done it myself, I KNOW IT'S PAINFUL) and stop liking those Goddamn Tiktok’s from fashion forecasters of what the next upcoming trends are! Once you begin to follow these two staple pieces of advice, you'll be free to dress however you wish and develop your own style! Charity shopping will always leave you with some of the most insane statement pieces and there's plenty of vintage and kilo stores in Dublin too! This way you can build up a new wardrobe filled with unique pieces that you yourself actually like, uninfluenced by anyone else.  I recommend playing around with the pieces you have in your closet and styling them in various ways you normally wouldn't, and before you know it, you'll be sure of yourself, your style and you WILL know what to wear every morning after.

 What makes yEWth different from magazines like Dazed, the Face or Hunger Magazine? 

The main difference between yEWth and magazines like Dazed and Hunger is that yEWth is based on much more of a local and national level, while other zines focus on an international fanbase spanning multiple nations and age groups. Because these zines are meant to appeal to the thousands, they generally feature well known celebrities and pop stars, and some of society's most prominent figures. Yewth on the other hand, is essentially a compilation of photoshoots I've directed and shot myself, photos documenting Irish youth taken by me and other young photographers and also art and poetry submissions from creatives all over the country. Yewth was made to empower young people across the nation to create, and also give artists the opportunity to see their work in print and further establish themselves. It has a much smaller reach than the other magazines but its purpose is of utmost significance and I'd like to think it serves the people of this generation well.

Fashion and teen magazines also tend to promote unrealistic beauty standards with supermodels starring on their covers, and they lack diversity and realness too which I aim to combat with yEWth. yEWth is filled with real people; people of different sizes, from different ethnicities, religions and sexualities. I aim for yEWth to be an acute representation of modern day Irish youth so it can be relatable to everyone across the board.

How do you feel about growing concerns over fast fashion? Is that an issue yEWth will try to tackle ? 

I am completely opposed to fast fashion, full stop. I've ensured that sustainability is central to the entire yEWth project. Each piece I style in a yEWth shoot is either sourced from my own closet or a friend's, from a charity shop or lent by independent Irish designers towards the project. I'll soon be partnering with deadstockvintage in Dublin, (@dead_stockvintage on Instagram) to style youth in the next few upcoming shoots, in a bid to encourage people to shop more sustainably. I'm always working to promote small independent Irish brands which will hopefully in turn lead others to shop from independent designers and stray from shopping fast fashion. Speaking of which, you should definitely check out @love.lago , @damaged.dublin and @glidersbbb!”

What's next for yEWth in 2023? 

I'd be lying if I told you I know what's next for yEWth this year! Everyday I wake up to new opportunities and prospects, not to forget an ever growing number of zine submissions. I've currently taken a break from shooting this past month while I work on my portfolio for art college, but I'm preparing to launch myself back fully into the project soon. I'm working my way slowly but surely through the zine and I have about a quarter of it complete already! The process is excruciatingly slow as I'm a one woman team, but if all goes according to plan, yEWth will be released just before Summer. I intend to host a launch party for the zine to raise funds for the cost of publication and also just to celebrate a year's worth of work. I'm also looking to purchase a camcorder or any sort of video camera soon, so I can start documenting Irish youth through film too. 2023 will definitely be a great year for yEWth as the project will finally be brought to completion. I'm so excited to launch the project and cast this generation of Irish youth in a new light. There's so much great things to come from this generation and I'm truly blessed to be the one unveiling it.

Follow @yEWthmagazine on Instagram and TikTok for more.