Voices At The Table


Food, unlike anything else, has a way of bringing people together. It’s the thread that connects our days and ties us to our identities. Everyone can map their lives through food, from childhood recollections to the first thing they ever made for themselves. It allows for a diverse range of stories and memories. Two women making sure all of these stories and voices are heard and listened to are Miranda York and Anna Suling Masing.

Miranda, a freelance journalist, founded TOAST festival in 2013, which led into an annual food magazine. This, in turn, became what At The Table is today, an illustrated magazine that explores British food culture, featuring essays from food writers, novelists and poets. Anna Suling Masing, a writer, poet and academic, and Miranda co-curate the popular event series Voices At The Table.

Their events combine food, literature, and performance in an intimate evenings around London. We sat down with Anna and Miranda to chat about the importance of new voices, women’s writing and of course, why it's important to talk about food. 

Miranda: When we started we didn’t really think about beyond the first event, we just wanted to bring interesting people together to talk and think about food and interesting ideas like women in food or the future of meat. 

Anna: We’d known each other for years and then I wrote a poem for an issue of At The Table. I ran a theatre company for 7 years, moved into food writing and journalism and then did a PhD in storytelling, with food and identity as the biggest aspects. Miranda and I really connected over on food and what it really means.

Miranda: We really wanted to find new ways to tell these stories. Anna invited me to a play where people were cooking on stage, which I found so interesting. I wanted a way to bring the stories in the magazine into life in an event form, to bring lots of different people together from different worlds, industries and backgrounds together to talk about food in a really relaxed way. It’s all part of the oral tradition of storytelling. Everyone gets up and tells a story. It could be from their novel, from their cookbook or it could be something original that we have commissioned for the event or even someone else's writing that they really have a connection with. It’s like a literary food salon.

Anna: The big thing that we’re both so passionate about across all of our work is being a platform for new voices. The food world needs to be really diverse, the writing world needs to be really diverse. We always commission one or two new writers and pay and financially support new work. That's always the biggest feedback from events, that people find new writers to connect with.  

Miranda: Someone might buy a ticket to come and see a big name but they’ll always leave loving a new voice that we’ve featured. I love that people come and can connect with something that they might not usually experience. Food is what connects everything but it's  much more than food – it’s peoples memories, stories and history. Anyone can talk about food, it’s a great leveller for people to connect.

Anna: Food is also complicated and difficult, which makes it a really important thing to talk about. It’s not all joy and light, it’s complex. If you grew up without a lot of access to food, it affects you. Food is political. It’s gendered. It is really valuable to address it and to give people a space to talk about these things.

Miranda: We just recorded a pilot podcast because obviously events have limits on numbers and we want as many people to be able to hear these incredible stories. We’re so excited to get the stories out there. 

The next Voices at the Table takes place at The Coach London on 25 June. Novelist Sarah Winman, historian and screenwriter Alex von Tunzelmann, actor Kevin Shen and debut novelist Sophie Mackintosh will all be reading, while dining on a three course meal from chef Henry Harris. Visit At the Table for information and more essays on food, culture and why we eat. 


What We're Loving – Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up

Ahead of its opening on Saturday 16 June, we sent Tahmina Begum to view Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up, at the V&A in London... 

 Self-portrait on the Border between Mexico and the United States of America, Frida Kahlo, 1932 (c) Modern Art International Foundation (Courtesy María and Manuel Reyero)

Self-portrait on the Border between Mexico and the United States of America, Frida Kahlo, 1932 (c) Modern Art International Foundation (Courtesy María and Manuel Reyero)


"Disability, Strength, And Documenting Yourself: Why Frida Kahlo Is So Representative Of Millennial Women Now".

There are a few times when walking into a press viewing to an art exhibition that women - in all shapes, sizes and colour – dominate the room. But why was I surprised? This is the first time iconic artist Frida Kahlo’s work has left the Kahlo museo in Mexico. With bated breath, London was ready to receive arguably one of the most influential artists millennial women are looking up to...

Known for her style and beauty, possibly more than her art – the red painted lips, her crown twisted and braided with flowers and of course, her monobrow, these details were surprisingly not the centre of the exhibition. Just like the title suggested, it was about what made up the artist – from the physical to the non-tangible.

 Frida Kahlo, c. 1926. Museo Frida Kahlo. © Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo Museums.

Frida Kahlo, c. 1926. Museo Frida Kahlo. © Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo Museums.

Similar to many millennial women, the painter hated being boxed into one category. She understood how dynamic the human condition was and was even famously quoted: “I have enjoyed being contradictory”.

Wandering around Kahlo’s beginnings and belongings not only felt surreal, but there was a strong presence that Kahlo’s spirit was conscious of everything, including life itself. V&A Co-curator  Claire Wilcox said she wanted the kind of ambience to feel almost like you were in a dream, “we didn’t want it to feel like the past or present but that you were within her life”.

Bed bound after a tram accident when she was 18, disability and illness is often overshadowed by fashion, when really it was a key player in how Kahlo viewed the world. From observation, it was rightly the strongest theme throughout the exhibition – after all, it was this constriction that willed Kahlo to take up painting and in doing so, forced the surrealist (who hated being known for one type of art) to really look at herself.

During Tristram Hunt’s speech at the exhibition opening, the Director of the V&A said that though disability shaped Kahlo’s life through the way she “fashioned her own identity”, it was clear the artist “transcended disability”.

It wasn’t that Kahlo tried to escape the reality of her pain, in the words of Wilcox, “everything in her life was deliberate from her art to her furniture” down to the painted crutches and orthopaedic corsets, it was that Kahlo saw herself through many lenses. One included having to lay forcefully in bed, the other was her marriage to Diego Rivera and her affairs, how her ethnicity (she was German, Indian and Spanish) fit into her Mexican nationality and her complex relationships with the United States.

 Frida Kahlo with Olmec figurine, 1939, photograph by Nickolas Muray © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives

Frida Kahlo with Olmec figurine, 1939, photograph by Nickolas Muray © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives

If you didn’t know who Frida Khalo was and did a quick google search, you may look at her paintings and think she was narcissistic - self-centred, even – but really all Kahlo was doing is what is celebrated now: exploring all aspects of her identity and documenting it along the way.

Though Frida Kahlo looked within herself, her feeling was really communal, what other people, other women of colour, those with disabilities felt - she just showed the complexities in how we viewed ourselves and what we thought others saw and mandated everyone around her, even those looking at her craft, to do the same.

In 1944, Kahlo sat for a series of ‘mirror’ photographs in Casa Azul by her friend and photographer, Lola Alvarez Bravo. Though this reminds Bravo of Kahlo's painting “The Two Fridas” it’s as though “there really is another person behind the mirror”. Kahlo is a recent but relevant pioneer in understanding that the way you see yourself is beyond you. Though your “I” is fixated it’s not binary.

This all came down to the clothes - from three piece suits passed down from her late German father she wore to push away gender norms to the rebozo (shawl) across her arms and the huipil (tunic) placed on her body to display her loyalty to Mexican traditions - especially during an Americanising revolution.

 Revlon compact and powderpuff with blusher in ‘Clear Red’ and Revlon lipstick in ‘Everything’s Rosy’; emery boards and eyebrow pencil in ‘Ebony’. Before 1954. Photograph Javier Hinojosa. © Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo Museums

Revlon compact and powderpuff with blusher in ‘Clear Red’ and Revlon lipstick in ‘Everything’s Rosy’; emery boards and eyebrow pencil in ‘Ebony’. Before 1954. Photograph Javier Hinojosa. © Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo Museums

Peering into Kahlo's rouge blush pot and Revlon lipsticks seems surreal but the feeling across the room really is of warmth. The strength that comes from enjoying the blend of life. It echoes poet Nayyirah Waheed’s words: “do not choose the lesser life. do you hear me. do you hear me. Choose the life that is. yours. the life that is seducing your lungs. that is dripping down your chin.” This isn’t just an example of grabbing life but an instruction. Thank you, Frida.

Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up, 16 June–14 November 2018. Sponsored by Grosvenor Britain & Ireland

Elaine Castillo talks America is not the Heart

 Photo: Amaal Said

Photo: Amaal Said

words: terri-jane dow

Elaine Castillo’s debut novel, America is not the Heart, centres around Hero De Vera, a woman who has recently arrived in the United States to start a new life. She is undocumented and an ex-member of the communist New People’s Army. As the novel unfolds, she becomes part of the family, and part of the community, in ways she didn’t expect. America is not the Heart is one of our What We’re Reading picks in our midsummer issue, which you can pick up here. We spoke to Elaine about the inspirations behind her novel. 

Our latest issue explores identity – it seems to be a theme that runs through America is not the Heart.

I don’t know that identity is a huge theme – at least, any more so than it figures in novels that are about people living anything resembling a life, and thus about that encounter between the citizen self and the private self, where we’re at once emotional, animal, historical, political. Of course, there are certain communities of people whose lives get reduced to identity discourse, and people whose lives – and identities – get taken for granted; for neutral; for universal. How often are white authors told that identity is a huge theme in their novels? I certainly read books by white authors and marvel at how deeply white their worlds are, how alien they seem to my particular corner of America, how much a glossary would come in handy – and yet no glossaries get demanded for those books despite the fact that hyper-specific questions and assumptions around identity, particularly around the intersection between whiteness and class, whiteness and gender, impinge upon their characters’ lives on every page. But there’s often a silent coding around words like identity or community, as if these terms are dogwhistles, a racialised vocabulary that only applies to immigrant identity, people of colour identity, and so on. 

Did you always know you wanted to include languages other than English in the novel?

I never thought about it as anything other than perfectly banal and ordinary. It’s important for writers, especially writers of colour, to ultimately claim the space for their own banality. It never occurred to me that to write a largely English-language book that was inclusive of large portions of untranslated non-English language was in any way remarkable: I grew up in a majority-minority town, Milpitas, the town where most of the book is set. Something like nearly 70% of the population speak a language other than English; our mayors have all either been Filipinx or Vietnamese since the nineties [Oh Comely note: Filipinx is used as a more inclusive term than the gendered Filipino/a]. That’s an American reality. That we don’t see towns like that portrayed as American heartlands says nothing about those towns, and more about the paucity of our discourse around what constitutes as American.

I grew up in a house where multiple languages were floating around, piecemeal, and the boundaries between those languages were porous: my mother had her own language (Pangasinan), my dad had his own language (Ilocano), they spoke the lingua franca of the Philippines to each other (Tagalog), as well as the second language of the Philippines (English). It was a mundane reality of my life for my mother to start a sentence to me in Tagalog and end in English or Pangasinan; most of my Tagalog had Pangasinan words sprinkled into it, which would confuse Tagalog-speaking friends – I would have no idea that some word I’d known all my life wasn’t actually Tagalog, but Pangasinan. And I was by no means an anomaly in my larger community. I didn’t include these languages in the book to “add local colour,” which is usually how the inclusion of non-English words in English-language fiction is described, fetishistically or disparagingly. This is simply how the community like the one in the book sounds. These are the material, sensual, granular facts of this particular American reality – and if we’re going to have American fiction that’s in any way deserving of that epithet, then we need to both write and read the fiction in a way that is commensurate to those realities, period.

The title of the novel is a play on Carlos Bulosan's America is in the Heart: A Personal History, [Bulosan was a Filipinx/American immigrant writer, and his semi-autobiographical novel was one of the first to show an Asian American working-class experience]. Could you tell me a bit about that? Would you say that your novel is an update to the Filipinx-American experience; a “Personal History” for your characters?

Haha, to be completely honest, the title came out of a year-long private joke I’d always told myself. Not to make wide cultural generalisations, but being a Filipinx kid, I like a pun – and so whenever I heard Bulosan’s title, especially pronounced with a Filipinx accent, I always misheard it as "America Isn’t the Heart"; it just made me snicker to myself, so I always thought I’d write a story or chapter title with that Isn’tone day, which is why the last chapter of the book still contains the conjunction. It wasn’t this big ambitious intertextual reference or staking out of a literary heritage! Just the kind of dumb joke that makes only you laugh.

But of course, Bulosan’s book remains a seminal text read in high schools and colleges all over the States, mostly in Filipinx American Studies and Ethnic Studies, though obviously I think it should be required reading for American history – for its stark depictions of the miseries and realities of early immigrant life, particularly Filipinx and Mexican migrant labour on the West Coast in the 1930s, its lacerating portrayals of white supremacist discrimination, racist mobs, police brutality, economic deprivation. It was also the first book I’d ever seen depicting the rural poor from Pangasinan, the same province from which my mother comes; Bulosan’s descriptions of the region ring true to stories my grandmother and mother used to tell (when they would tell stories at all; mostly they were silent for years around the subject of their abject poverty back in the Philippines). To read books about Filipinxs that were not necessarily wealthy or educated, or Manila-based, or cosmopolitan – that was a gift. But the dubious accompaniment of that gift is the profound misogyny that is threaded throughout the book: scene after scene of women brutalised, beaten, raped, disappeared. Bulosan’s autobiographical narrator often expresses sympathy and pity towards these women, in a kind of ‘Nice Guy’ fashion, but there’s a conspicuous failure to connect the oppression of those women to his own, and that failure needs to be discussed and indicted more than it is. 

So in some way, sure, the fact that America is not the Heart [AINTH] expressly centres the granular details of women in their fullness – immigrant women, undocumented women, queer women, women who exist in the narrative not merely to be tragic foils or victims of brutal violence – in a way that AINTH simply doesn’t could be considered the beginning of a conversation. But luckily there’s a healthy community of Filipinx American literature that doesn’t need to be “updated” per se – that would sound pretty presumptuous! The history there is long and rich and various, thankfully (though perhaps less known by the wider reading population than it ought to be); and let’s work so it continues in that vein, so we can keep reading different types of Filipinx stories, from different people, classes, genders, regions, universes.

How does America is not the Heart’s relationship to the idea of ‘family’ play into those stories? 

There are a handful of genres that are usually spoken about dismissively, as if they occupy some lower rung of the artistic echelon: the family epic, the immigrant saga, the domestic novel, the romance. No surprises that these genres are often written by and about people in some of our most marginalised communities; no surprise that they’re also often genres, especially the latter two, that centre people who identify as women. It’s always funny to me how quick literary discourse is to absorb certain genres into critical discourse – works of science fiction and fantasy adopted for their larger metaphors around dystopia, state brutality, marginalisation, etc. Or even in AINTH, the parts of the books that often get politicised tend to be the episodes of what we might call legible historical weightiness, things like dictatorship, the NPA, the American genocides in the Philippines at the turn of the century, all of which are of course at the core of how we think about both Philippine and American statecraft, but they’re also not the only sites for thinking through characters as political animals as much as emotional, historical, social.

I often think of both love stories and family dramas as being the sites for some our most urgent and radical political dramas – and yet we don’t offer confer that kind of critical analysis or legitimacy on those types of stories. But why not think through the ways in which a queer undocumented woman meets another queer working-class immigrant woman and gets introduced to romantic manga? What might she think of those stories? Why not think through the ways in which a bi woman who’s been disowned by her parents would have to learn how to be a decent family member to a younger cousin; what the love of extended family members might mean to someone with as fraught a relationship with family as Hero?

One of the things I always say is that for me, I’m not interested in the portrayals of trauma that function as portraits, rather than landscapes. Which is to say, one person in the story has trauma, and everyone else is a handmaiden to that trauma, in the classical sense of literary tragedy. That’s just fundamentally not how I grew up – everyone in my family and extended community had their baggage. And I think that’s how I necessarily come to write love and family and queerness: that people live at the vectors of all these parts of their lives, and all those parts inform the whole. To write about a bi woman, who is also undocumented, who is also living in political exile and has lingering disability from her time in a prison camp, who also has to show up and be responsible for a younger cousin, who also has to be there for a new girlfriend, who has been disowned by her parents, who has to have an adult reckoning with a relative she loved in childhood – who has to be a person in the world, in other words. I think it’s particularly vital to think through those vectors – love, family, queerness – when you’re writing about this kind of community embeddedness, because I’m also, fundamentally, writing about queer suburban people. In my burgeoning youth as a bi kid of colour, I read and loved a lot of queer fiction that mostly centered suburban flight: that you had to leave the town, the community, in order to be fully realised as a queer person. It’s a flight I know well in my life and have huge, abiding love for: but I also know it’s not the end-all be-all of queer stories. 

Especially when you’re writing about someone like Hero, for whom the family is at once a source of absolute abandonment (her own parents) and profound life-saving refuge (her uncle Pol and his family, whom she comes to live with in Milpitas). It’s not as easy to cut ties with family or community when, in a purely practical sense – Hero has no papers – her survival is also dependent on the kindness and material aid of certain family members, the larger consequences of which she has to eventually reckon with. Certainly that was true of my own family; when you don’t have the larger support system of a functioning social welfare state, the people that help you make rent, pay for hospital bills, post bail, are usually your family members.

The relationships in the novel felt cautious and tentative – perhaps especially the relationship between Hero and Rosalyn. I felt that becoming a big sister to Roni was the push Hero needed to overcome some of her caution.

That Roni might be the one who pushes Hero out of her caution around Rosalyn is also part of that idea: that the love story in the book isn’t singular, isn’t just about one woman falling love with another (though of course it’s hugely about that), but also ultimately about things like: how do we even learn to be tender? When do we step up to care for other people, particularly when we’ve been through so much shit ourselves? What does it mean to come through for someone else? I think the reluctance you’re picking up on in Hero has so much to do with a larger reluctance that is probably the book’s real subject, one which most of us will have to encounter in our lives: how searingly difficult it is to be loved and known; to love and know others. And yet how absolutely, earth-shatteringly transformative; how plain; how like nothing else in the fucking world. That goes for our lovers, our friends, our family members. 

America is not the Heart is out now. Buy a copy here



Sunday reading: the real world

 Words and photos by Rebecca Givens 

Words and photos by Rebecca Givens 

Do you spend too much time looking down at your phone? Rebecca Givens takes a break from her screen. (Unfortunately you do have to read this on a screen, but promise us, you'll take a digital detox after...) 

This is my only life. And this is how it really feels.

How much have you stared at your smartphone screen in the last 24 hours? 

On average, we spend two hours per day looking down at our devices. After downloading an app earlier this year to monitor my own usage, I was horrified to learn that I was racking up between five and nine hours daily, spent mostly on social media sites and in addition to spending the working day on a computer. 

This worried me. I knew I received the most joy from things that occurred away from the world inside my iPhone – walking, running, yoga, painting, travelling – yet my existence had become a dreary ritual of screen-time and sleep, screen-time and sleep. Wake, repeat, wake, repeat. 

Looking Up.jpg

Why was I using my phone so much and was this having a negative effect on my mental health? I vowed to explore these two questions by embarking on a month-long social media detox. That evening, I deleted the apps from my phone and logged out of accounts on my desktop. The journey had begun.

I used to be a digital consultant, and I’d long promoted the benefits of social media marketing to clients, but for years secretly feared that our day-to-day usage, as individuals in the 21st century was changing the way we were absorbing the world around us. I had begun to observe my own digital consumption and how it was preventing me from being present in my own life. The events I had watched through a screen, the family members I had ignored over dinner, the holiday memories that were retrospectively hazy because I’d been simultaneously lost in my news feed. 


On day one of my detox, I took the first and most important step, I admitted addiction. I had developed an unhealthy attachment to various un-real digital realms and this was having a negative effect on the way I was tasting the flavour of real life. 

Today, on day 30, I sit here and look back at what this detox has taught me and how it has altered my behaviour. For the last month I have been jotting down these behavioural reflections in a paper journal. That journal represents the start of a brand new chapter, one in which I can reflect on what I missed out on all these years – and what I promise to never take for granted again. 

A month-long digital detox was easier than I had imagined. Yes, it was like quitting anything, and to begin with required willpower and training, but after just a few short days, the thought of spending time scrolling through the news of hundreds of strangers sat uneasily with me. After noticing my changing connection to the physical world, I very quickly became accustomed to a life free from social networking, a life free from sharing big occasions with my network. It only took enjoying one of two outings tech-free to remember what life felt like before the impulse to share took over. There’s something satisfying about relishing an experience phone-free, surrounded by a sea of people watching the same thing through their cameras. Sometimes, you can feel like you’re the only one who has stepped outside of The Matrix. 

Autumn Colours in Spring.jpg

This month was filled with a life-time of memories, tech-free walks and relaxing evenings, doodling memories in my planner, enjoying meaningful conversations with loved ones. The extra hours I gained from not scrolling encouraged me to explore new projects and hobbies. Instead of applying filters, I meditated. Instead of updating my Instagram story, I went for a 20-minute run. Instead of relentlessly snapping photos on my phone, I re-embraced my passion for vintage analogue cameras. Slow technology has taught me that quality is more important that quantity. Now, I take one non-digital snapshot of an experience, refreshing compared to the dozens I would have captured in the past… sifting through, shortlisting, filtering, cropping, editing, posting.

Detached from the social media sphere, my motivations and plans changed, as my enjoyment of events was never driven or shaped by a desire to capture them. I thrived in a mindset of no plans, no phone, no stress and no sharing. I enjoyed entire days not picking up my phone – as I cut the cord to technology I felt a new one attach, to the real moments going on around me that I was able to enjoy entirely. I would reflect on fun occasions weeks later, looking back alone, with a smile, free from checking how many likes or comments that memory had received. 

I slowed down, something I had been trying to achieve for years. I realised that a less-digital life meant a less-stressful one. I had to wait to get my photography developed. I got to know the ladies at the local film shop. My relationships improved. I felt myself become more present each day. I completely ditched the concept of ‘instant’.

Admittedly I also came to realise what I did value about having an audience, an online community to talk to and share news with. I vowed to use social media in the future with consideration. Before, I felt sucked in to a life of endless digital consumption, but my detox had taught me to consider my interactions carefully and to appreciate the value of my time.

My biggest learning from this experiment was that the process should always be more important than the result – when it comes to working, creating and most importantly, making personal memories. I had forgotten what the act of ‘creating’ felt like when there wasn’t a final hashtagged post at the end of it. Only when you’re free from this pressure can you really make your best work, immersed and completely lost in the process. 

For those of us who have used networking sites for years, habits have crept into our everyday without us even realising it. The fear of missing out, the impulse to compare ourselves to others, the desire to filter and alter our memories, the need to focus on the device in our hands more than the people and things around us. Only by taking a step back can we observe these behaviours and the impact they have on our mental health and the mental health of those around us. 

Rapeseed 4.jpg

Research shows that 38% of us believe we use our phones too much (that’s around 15.5 million people in the UK), but only 14% of us are making an effort to change this. After this experience, I do believe that just one month media-free can give us social consumers some great valuable insights, lessons that we can then take forward and practice in our future interactions with the digital world, to allow us to live the healthiest and happiest life possible. 

I wholeheartedly recommend taking a step back from the un-real world for just a short period of time. One month will fly past in the blink of an eye – like it or not, life moves so incredibly fast, so it’s important to stop and take a proper unfiltered look at it every once in a while before it fades out of the feed forever.

Rebecca Givens is a Warwickshire-based writer, blogger, typewriter poet and analogue photography enthusiast. You can read her blog at theanalogueblogger.com.

Plymouth College of Art illustration competition

To celebrate our midsummer issue, which is themed around identity, we launched a competition for Plymouth College of Art students to create artwork based on the theme.

And we're very excited to announce the winner: BA (Hons) Illustration student Jua O'Kane. 

Editor Alice Snape and art editor Cathy McKinnon chose Juanita's work for capturing the theme of identity in both a personal and a thought-provoking way. 

  Illustration by our winner, Jua O'Kane  The one-page comic  Connection  deals with issues caused by growing up surrounded by technology and the impact this has on mental health, and perceptions of love, intimacy and sex

Illustration by our winner, Jua O'Kane
The one-page comic Connection deals with issues caused by growing up surrounded by technology and the impact this has on mental health, and perceptions of love, intimacy and sex

We also chose two incredible runner-ups: Amy Tilsed and Cecily Goff. Well done to all students who submitted work.

  Illustration by Amy Tilsed  Amy’s oval shape was inspired by vintage portrait frames. The plants are used to hide the woman in the illustration; whether her identity is made by the plants she owns, or harder to see because of them, is up to the viewer. 

Illustration by Amy Tilsed
Amy’s oval shape was inspired by vintage portrait frames. The plants are used to hide the woman in the illustration; whether her identity is made by the plants she owns, or harder to see because of them, is up to the viewer. 

  Illustration by Cecily Goff  "For my whole life, my mental health, or somewhat lack of, has been a large part of my identity. No, I am not defined by my diagnosis but the way I feel and react to the world around me is a large part of who I am today, medical professionals just gave me a name for it. Some days I’m not sure if I’m ‘me’ and other days I’m not sure who ‘me’ is and if she really exists at all. Feeling trapped in overgrowth, I’m not sure if I’m growing as a person or if my fears and problems are growing and I’m simply accompanying them along the way," says Cecily about this illustration.

Illustration by Cecily Goff
"For my whole life, my mental health, or somewhat lack of, has been a large part of my identity. No, I am not defined by my diagnosis but the way I feel and react to the world around me is a large part of who I am today, medical professionals just gave me a name for it. Some days I’m not sure if I’m ‘me’ and other days I’m not sure who ‘me’ is and if she really exists at all. Feeling trapped in overgrowth, I’m not sure if I’m growing as a person or if my fears and problems are growing and I’m simply accompanying them along the way," says Cecily about this illustration.

You can visit the college's degree show, which is free and open to all, until 21 June. Visit plymouthart.ac.uk


Issue 43 playlist: Identity


Illustration: Fern Choonet

How much of our identity was forged in our teenage bedrooms, leaping around and singing along to music turned up way too loud? Music remains a way of escaping the humdrum of everyday life, a way of helping us out figure out who we are and who we want to be.

From angry punks to disco divas, our Identity playlist celebrates the musicians and pop stars who refuse to conform, and who encourage us to do the same. Take a listen here – we hope that by its end you’ll join us in shouting out, as instructed by Gloria Gaynor, “I am what I am”.

Listen to the Identity playlist

What we're loving: Whitstable Biennale

  Water Bodies D1 Butoh Tyska

Water Bodies D1 Butoh Tyska

As if we needed an extra reason to head to the seaside this summer, the Whitstable Biennale is luring us with a fantastic programme of experimental and emerging art, taking place from 2 to 10 June. 

Featuring over 50 artists and 179 screenings, live performances, workshops, talks, walks and events, the work is embedded into the fabric of the town: artworks are located on the beach, in the sea, fish market, beach huts, boatyards, shingle harbour and alleyways. From a Victorian Sea Scouts Hall to Whitstable’s only DVD/Comic shop, the biennale will take over curious buildings and unusual spaces.

Taking its title from Deborah Levy’s Booker-shortlisted novel Swimming Home, many of the works respond to the rhythms of the tide or explore ideas of where home might be. Deborah’s own inspiration was the book The Swimmer by John Cheever, later made into a classic film starring Burt Lancaster, which will be screened at the festival. Levy is also creating a new, limited-edition text for the biennale.

There are plenty of works that intrigue here: artist Sophie Lee’s sound work is inspired by a 12th century mystic and will be broadcast from the bell tower; Jude Crilly’s biodegradable sculpture will attract a mass of seagulls and Alice Theobald’s live performance with two choirs will be staged at the Oyster Indoor Bowls Club. Meanwhile, Hannah Lees will be working with art and food, transforming the town’s Horsebridge café with new décor and new dishes.

We’re also up for the artist-led walks, taking visitors through hidden alleyways and marshy edge lands or combine with discussions in The Walking Reading Group. Visitors are invited to go foraging with local bird experts or join a surreal dining experience in a restaurant in the Labour Club. But we advise you to also leave space for some fish and chips – it wouldn’t be a visit to the seaside without it. 

Take a look at their programme for full information

Fashioned From Nature

 Silk train (detail), woven with a pattern of roses, c.1890s © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Silk train (detail), woven with a pattern of roses, c.1890s © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

In our spring issue, we celebrate ethical fashion with our feature, Yours Sustainably. The V&A’s Fashioned From Nature exhibition delves into similar themes with its exploration of the complex relationship between fashion and the natural world since 1600. 

As the exhibition shows, the beauty of the natural world has always been an inspiration for fashion, influencing colour, fabrics and patterns. Unfortunately, sometimes the fashion industry has chosen to exploit the very thing that has provided that inspiration. 

 Earrings made from heads of Red Legged Honeycreeper birds, circa 1875 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Earrings made from heads of Red Legged Honeycreeper birds, circa 1875 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

These 1875 pair of earrings are formed from the heads of two real Honeycreeper birds – a hugely popular item that sold in enormous volume at the time. The devastating consequences of the plumage trade for world bird populations actually led to the foundation of the Society for the Protection of Birds in 1891. Cartoons appeared in Punch satirising those women that supported the feather trade. The feather debate continues today.

 Greenpeace Detox Catwalk in Bandung © Greenpeace/ Hati Kecil Visuals

Greenpeace Detox Catwalk in Bandung © Greenpeace/ Hati Kecil Visuals

Other protesters draw attention to the waste and sheer volume of raw material required by the fashion industry. Greenpeace launched the Detox campaign in 2011 to encourage legislators, manufacturers and brands to eliminate chemical pollution caused by the textile and clothing industries. The toxic substances used affect drinking water, with a devastating impact on wildlife and the human population.

 'Grape’ dress (detail) made with Vegea, a leather alternative made from grape waste © Vegea

'Grape’ dress (detail) made with Vegea, a leather alternative made from grape waste © Vegea

Fashioned From Nature also highlights the brands seeking out alternatives, for example Vegea, who use grape waste from the wine industry to form a leather-substitute (Italy produces around seven million tonnes of this waste each year).

 Outfit made from leather off-cuts and surplus yarn, Katie Jones, 2017. Photograph by Rachel Mann

Outfit made from leather off-cuts and surplus yarn, Katie Jones, 2017. Photograph by Rachel Mann

And, like our Yours Sustainably feature, it shows what customising can do to give clothes new life, as Katie Jones did for fashion writer Susie Lau (AKA @susiebubble) to wear during Fashion Revolution Week 2015. We also feature Katie Jones on page 65 of our latest issue – with details about her workshops for knitting and reinventing your clothes. 

Visit the V&A before 27 January 2019 for more inspiration, or pick up a copy of our spring issue

Oh Comely loves Anna Skodbo from phannatiq

We've been so inspired by our issue 42 ethical fashion story, Your Sustainably, that we just want to keep meeting the designers shaping the future of sustainable fashion – and making us look super-cool in the process. Meet Anna Skodbo, the brains behind ethical fashion brand, phannatiq. Let's save the world, one item of clothing at a time... 

   Anna Skodbo, founder of  phannatiq

Anna Skodbo, founder of phannatiq

We love the clothes on offer at phannatiq, we'd love to know a little more about how you come up with your amazing designs? When I think about the textiles and patterns, I'm inspired by everything around me. Anything that's a bit subversive, so fly tipping from around my Walthamstow home, my cat, and shit areas of urban settings. But when I think about the clothes themselves, first and foremost, my designs are all about versatility without compromising aesthetics. 

I love to solve conundrums, like how to make a dress suit the many and ever-changing needs of a body – age, weight, shape. I also think about needs, so can it work as workwear, daywear and evening-wear? Is it trans seasonal, can you style it up and down, does it work as a maternity dress?  Also does it suit as many body shapes as possible, people of different heights etc?

I also like to make things that transcend the need for a wardrobe refresh, so things that are not "fashion" per se, but clothing to facilitate your own personal style.

What's your best advice on buying ethically? It’s impossible to be 100% ethical. It’s such a wide and multifaceted area. Most importantly, make sure you are as informed as you possibly can be, because that way you can justify your choices.

Organisations such as Labour Behind the Label, Clean Clothes Campaign, and Fashion Revolution are great consumer faced resources.

Be more mindful about what you consume. D0 you need the thing? How will you dispose of it? How long will it last? Demand transparency from the companies you buy from, you can email their head offices – email addresses are usually in the public domain. Support the companies that do function within your criteria so they can carry on doing it.

   Anna Skodbo wearing phannatiq

Anna Skodbo wearing phannatiq

Do you wear your own designs? And what other brands do you like? All the time! I pretty much exclusively wear phannatiq but will accessorise with other indie brands. If I find something I like, I will literally wear it every day. 

For jewellery I love Linnie MclartyAda Zanditon is another indie brand I love. I have a harness, which is so awesome for accessorising an outfit with.

My favourite ever shoe brand is Finsk. I own so many of their shoes now, from every day smart ankle boots to amazingly structural wedges. I love Tramp in Disguise for their prints and have a pair of really cute culotte shorts in Lava print. I also won’t leave the house without my Malene Oddershede Bach sunglasses. I even wear them on the Tube.

I have a Rachel James tee, which is gorgeous and all the more cool because the print is inspired by amoebas. For the gym, all my sports bras are by Charli Cohen –  she’s great!

All these brands look so awesome with phannatiq. I always try and buy indie before going commercial. It’s so much nicer to know the brand.

We hear ya, Anna. You can shop for some phannatiq threads of your own over at phannatiq.com.

Sister Supporter

Why the fight to end harassment outside abortion clinics has only just begun, argues Eve Veglio-White on behalf of Sister Supporter

trust women sign.jpg

Abortion has been legal in Britain for 50 years. For 23 of those years my local abortion clinic, Marie Stopes Ealing, has been targeted six days a week, 52 weeks a year, by various pro-life groups. There is now a wealth of evidence – including videos, images and hundreds of statements – that shows that people are harassed at the very point of access. We have seen, and read, harrowing accounts of women being told to ‘pray so you don’t end up back here’, called ‘murderer’ and told to ‘change your lifestyle’. Perhaps even more disturbing are the people (often men) calling women ‘Mum’ when they enter and, even more cruelly, when they leave. People have been blocked from the entrance, followed to their cars, and sometimes have to pass large numbers of ‘vigilers’ and ‘pavement counsellors’ holding signs saying: ‘Give your baby a present, a birthday’ or ‘Thou shall not kill’. Then there is the even more insidious behaviour, that is often deemed ‘peaceful’ – such as groups praying directly opposite the main entrance or the handing out of gendered pink/blue rosaries and leaflets. Leaflets that include ‘warnings’ such as you could get breast cancer, an eating disorder, or even alcoholism if you go ahead with the termination – all after they’ve begged you ‘Mum please do not to do anything today that could harm your child’.

 Pro-life supporters

Pro-life supporters

As I write this piece, the Isle of Man has just approved Safe Zones as a part of the Abortion Reform Bill. I sincerely hope this bill passes, but I also hope that this is an indication to the UK government that Safe Zones and protection of clinic users should be written in as an integral part of abortion law. If a population of just over 80,000 can recognise this, so should we. Current harassment law is just not fit for purpose. The onus is placed on the individual to bring about a harassment claim against another individual. This is not going to be a clinic user’s priority on the day of a procedure, and even more importantly, why should it be? To add the responsibility, not to mention the laborious process of bringing about criminal proceedings is, in our opinion, inhumane and a gross governmental oversight.  

In 2015, we formed a local group known as Sister Supporter and it’s taken us three years of tireless campaigning and weekly ‘counter vigils’ to secure the UK’s first ever ‘Buffer’ or Safe Zone. We explored every method available to us, and overcame many hurdles. A turning point came when we met an incredible legal aid lawyer, who suggested that while we work towards national legislation, we should look at what can be done on a local level using laws that already exist. She suggested a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) which gives local authorities the power to restrict or ban certain ‘anti-social’ activities within a specific area. Once of the strengths of our campaign was our engagement with the local community, who were just as angry as us, and so we started a month-long council petition that needed 1,500 signatures in order to be debated. The petition closed with over 3,500 signatures, and overwhelming local support.

While this is an amazing reminder that a group of passionate people coming together can truly affect change, I often wonder why it took a group of angry residents to make change happen? Where are the police in all of this? Where is the government? I have been in Parliament, as ex-chancellor Phillip Hammond said it’s a policing issue, I’ve listened to the police say, we can’t do anything - this is a government issue, and then I sat in Ealing Town Hall as the councillors unanimously voted to bring in a Safe Zone around the clinic. Clearly there’s something amiss here. The public opinion is in favour of Safe Zones; over 89% of Ealing residents were in favour and 69% of UK residents who answered the Home Office consultation were also in favour.

The Council decided to implement a Safe Zone after every attempt to find a middle ground has been unsuccessful as the pro-life lobby has repeatedly denied any harassment occurs at all. They have also made it clear that they will not voluntarily stand away from the entrance, otherwise they cannot target every individual using the clinic. At the Home Office Select Committee evidence hearing, the Chair, Yvette Cooper MP, told the Good Counsel Network that she was deeply concerned about their complete refusal to accept that anyone has ever felt harassed, and was therefore implying every statement given by a clinic user, was fabricated.  It’s a ludicrous claim from the anti-abortion lobby that we are opposed to people in crisis being offered help, it’s the methods and the agenda that we oppose. We are not trying to restrict anybody’s right to freedom of speech, we just don’t believe that a clinic is the place for debate.

We’re now taking our campaign outside Ealing to the rest of the country, where we are aware of at least 42 UK clinics that are affected by this behaviour. There are a number of councils who are in the process of looking at or taking similar action. Our plan is to work with local governments to put in place Safe Zones and show the government that a national solution is desperately needed. The more councils taking action, the more they can’t ignore the problem. We are working with several groups around the country and we urge you to find out what’s happening in your area. Are there any existing groups? Can you start a group? What is the local council/MP doing? Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us, and let’s end this imbalance of rights together.

Visit sistersupporter.com, or email contact@sistersupporter.co.uk. You can also find more information at back-off.org.

Signs of spring

Signs of Spring is a gorgeous new book by artist Simon Bray. It explores the garden from his childhood home through a curated collection of photographs from family photo albums. Tended to by his father, this celebration of the garden marks not only his passing, but also his mother’s move away from the family home, leaving the physical space and memories of the garden and his father behind, something which Simon found profoundly more difficult than he’d anticipated...


A childhood spent in a garden. My own playground. I was Robin Hood, David Beckham, worm digger, mud pie maker, treasure finder. It was a safe space. A sacred space, even.

Each year, the garden would flourish with an abundance of fruits and vegetables, carefully planted and tended by dad, enough to feed the family with enough spare to share with friends and family. Dad would spend almost every available hour of daylight in the garden, only returning indoors once darkness had closed in. His childhood spent on a farm evolved, realised in a lifetime cultivating his garden. During his last spring with us, he spent a morning teaching me about potatoes. We dug and turned the soil, spread fertiliser, raked it smooth, lined up the rows and planted the potatoes. This was home. A life lesson, part of his legacy to me, of how to provide for yourself and your family. The first planting out, the signs of spring.


My mother has now moved away from this home. It’s unlikely we shall ever return to the garden. This set of images is not a complete history, neither is it an artist’s reflection upon a place, but a collection arranged to celebrate the place that was so precious to our family. Collated from family albums, these images were taken by my parents, Peter and Anne, my sister Jess, my grandparents June and Doug and myself between 1984-2017. Call it nostalgia or a celebration of memories, our garden was a place that provided for us, where we watched the seasons change, where we celebrated new life, listened to the birds sing, reflected on our loss, took in the view and breathed the fresh air. Often, that sacred space was the answer.


Give Simon a follow on Instagram @simonbray, you can find out more about his book on his website


Austerity and Women's Health



This week at Oh Comely, we've been thinking a lot about women's health and how it's seen in society. The Femedic is a women’s health resource that seeks to empower women by educating them; and they just held an event that focused on the the impact of austerity on women in the UK. Oh Comely sent Gabriella Geisinger to cover it, to see what we can learn. 

Women’s health is so often put on the back burner in government policy. It's relegated to the end of the news and is buried in the back pages of the paper. So, you'd expect that the last place people would want to be on a Thursday night is a warm room in London discussing how austerity really effects the lives of women and more specifically, their health. 

Hosted by The Femedic, the event titled “How does austerity affect women’s health?” was a panel discussion mediated by The Femedic’s Monica Karpinski, featuring speakers from Women’s Budget Group, Runnymede Trust, 50:50 Parliament, and 56 Dean Street.

So often, we see panels and discussions on women’s issues and the initial excitement is instantly tampered when the names of the speakers are presented – as so many of these discussions are voiced by able-bodied cis white men. At The Femedic’s event, however, we were treated to a diverse and woman-led panel, all of whom were experts in their fields and spoke with confidence and authority.

In thinking about the event, the most interesting fact that lingered was the wide ways in which all manner of austerity cuts negatively impact women’s health. When we think of health and healthcare, the immediate cut we think of is to the NHS, but austerity has a much wider reach than that.

Cuts to the NHS dramatically impact everyone's access to healthcare, but for women, BME women, and disabled women, cuts to other services are equally impactful. As Emma Williams (Administrative and Research Officer, Women’s Budget Group) detailed, things like cuts to public transport can affect the ability for women in rural areas to get to their GP. Cuts to child care and elder care mean that women, who are more likely to be carers, may no longer have time to attend to their health.

Dr Sonia Adesara (Ambassador, 50:50 Parliament, NHS Doctor, Co-Chair, Young Medical Women International Association) explained that part of the government’s inability to act on women’s issues is the imbalance in parliament.

'Until parliament reflects society, it seems it is not just unable but unwilling to act.'

442 of our MPs are men, 208 of our MPs are women. Women are outnumbered by more than 2:1. Of around 800 peers, approximately 200 are women. Women are outnumbered by more than 3:1.

The negative impacts of austerity are that much higher for BME women. Kimberly McIntosh (Policy Officer, Runnymede Trust and Race on the Agenda (ROTA)) described the inequity between white women and women of colour. In 2015-2016 50% of Bangladeshi households, 46% of Pakistani households, 40% of Black African/Caribbean households, and  19% of White households were living in poverty. (Source: Runnymede Trust, The impact of austerity on Black and Minority Ethnic women in the UK, October 2017).

Even as charities rush to fill the gap in care for women, there are still blind spots. Sarah Mulindwa (Specialist Sexual Health Nurse at 56 Dean Street) discussed the clinic which was founded in an attempt to educate and treat gay men in Soho. There has been a dramatic reduction in infection for that targeted population of gay men, however there is no similar clinic for black women, another highly at risk population for HIV. The layers of intellect and experience these five women brought to the stage was not only interesting in an objective way, but also personally. 

The discussion hinged on a very particular sticking point. What can we do? Williams brought up the importance for direct action, citing Sisters Uncut’s work. Dr Adesara stressed the need for more diverse women to stand for government. Mcintosh highlighted the importance of holding government to account. Mulindwa sighted grass roots activism and access to health care as a meaningful way of effecting change. And there is more. By virtue of having the talk at all, The Femedic hopes to reduce stigma around these kinds of conversations.

There is a persistent truism within the feminist community – that if feminism isn’t intersectional, it isn’t working. Throughout the panel discussion, disability rights, race, and socio-economic disparity were threaded into the conversation. They grounded it into the reality in which so many people live. But it wasn’t all doom-and-gloom. In fact, the night ended with a rather hopeful tone. That there would be more of these events. That there will be more action, more voices, more women at the forefront of conversations around not just austerity measures, but all policies. If women are expected to bear the brunt of policy impact, you can bet we’re going to talk about it.

Find out more at thefemedic.com

Words and photo by Gabriella M. Geisinger



Oh Comely loves Lucy Dacus

 Photo: Dustin Condren

Photo: Dustin Condren

Lucy Dacus is a performer of substance. Her lyrics are heady with the heat and rage of teenage diaries and her live performances are whirlwinds of guitars and bittersweet words of loss, love and the day-to-day dramas of life. She’s touring the UK with her second album Historian, a lush follow up to her debut Nonbeliever. Check her out in Bristol, London and Brighton this week.

How would you compare your two albums? The first one feels like a specific time and place. I remember singing on those songs – and I'd never heard myself singing to a band before. So, what you hear is also the first time I hear myself sing to drums. We did it in, like, a day. So I had no adjustment, that was my first recording experience. It was very fresh and I guess people have responded to that. Thing is, since the writing process is so elusive to me, I can’t really pin down how it happens. Everything past that first moment of writing lyrics is intentional. Once I’ve realised the message, I can see where it came from and what it will be, but in the moment I can’t really see what it is. I like the shift of this album though, they’re kind of like, the heavier, louder songs. So just pushing people to expect something a little bit different, less sweet from me especially live shows.

Do you enjoy touring? I love touring! I love being there in the moment, the only thing I don’t love is what isn’t there – my friends and family, and my house. But love that I get to read more than when I’m home. Because when I’m home, it’s all about connecting with those people and catching up. And trying to make up for lost time and all of the disconnects that inevitably happen. But touring is one of the best parts of the job. I don’t drive, but I like the act of travelling, I like seeing new places. In fact, in Europe it's even better because it feels new, and much shorter distances. I love touring Europe because every night is a different language whereas in the US, some cities look really similar. I know I am gonna be on the road from noon to 4pm between these cities in like two months and who knows what I'm gonna do during those hours. I can fill it with the reading and no one's going to require anything from me during that time and it's built in alone time.

We’re also avid readers, what’s your current pick?  Well right now I’m reading Susan Sontag’s, Regarding The Pain of Others. She’s great, I’ll read literally anything she’s written. I bought it yesterday at this place called Broadway Books. It’s so great, I bought five books. Why is it that British editions of books are better looking than the US editions? Why do you guys just have better taste? But I think what has influenced me a lot when writing this album is Anna Karenina, it has these two character who are grappling with life and death. I love characters, poetry and watching movies, these things all help me. I think external things help you to each inside.

What kind of child were you? Very dreamy. I was kind of too creative for my own good. My parents had a rule when I was young, that I could never say that I was bored. They taught me that the word bored was like a curse word. Like the equivalent to legitimate curse words so I had to find ways to not be bored because I would be punished by having to draw. They’d be like; "you can’t be bored, sit in the corner and draw your favourite animal." Which is hilarious punishment within itself. And I still feel that I don’t get bored, ever.

How do you feel about giving a lot of yourself? You’re writing about you, your life and real relationships. When I'm writing, I'm not giving myself to somebody else I’m just giving it. What I'm saying is what I am saying to myself. And that is step one, is to give yourself to yourself. That’s the most important thing and beyond that, sharing it is separate. I think it was more of a pull from the community that I grew up in. Asking me to play shows. I had friends in bands who just wanted to hear it. It actually took people telling me, like ‘you should do this, I want to hear it.’ And that’s why I think children’s programmes are so important like creative programmes that say; ‘what you make matters’.

What advice would you give to young women who want to be sitting in your seat right now? I don’t want to say anything too cheesy but don’t get caught fulfilling other people's dreams. I've had to learn recently that a lot of people want to do music and a lot of people want to be in the limelight and just want an audience and think they know what that looks like and what that feels like. Your journey is different to anyone else’s and also if it's your work, it's your work. Don’t be bugged down by industry people or your own band. Especially men, but people in general: don’t let people live out their wildest wet dream of being a rockstar on your belt. I've dealt with that a couple times over now. I’ve had conversations with people asking what going on or asking for change and then if people can’t break out of their expectations then you can’t carry that weight around and I can’t so specifically if I’m talking to ladies, that’s my advice.

Give Lucy a follow on Instagram, @lucydacus.

Our spring issue dinner in Somerset House

On a gorgeous Spring evening on Tuesday 10 April, we sat down to celebrate our latest issue at the stunning Spring restaurant inside London’s Somerset House. Surrounded by trees, fresh flowers and twinkling lights on the conservatory ceiling of their private dining room, it was the perfect way for our team to meet all of you lovely readers who sat down to dine with us...

 The entrance to Spring inside Somerset House. Photos by Cathy McKinnon

The entrance to Spring inside Somerset House.
Photos by Cathy McKinnon

Our three courses of chef Skye Gyngell’s amazing ‘Scratch’ menu celebrated the recyclable ethos of our issue – and it was a feast of the season’s finest and completely created from produce that would normally go to waste. (You can read more about this in our Spring issue, where we sat down with Skye to find out more, order here).

 Our Spring issue toasted with wine and a non-alcoholic rhubard cocktail 

Our Spring issue toasted with wine and a non-alcoholic rhubard cocktail 

Between spoonfuls of our mains and desserts we were treated to something very special. An exclusive intimate performance by acclaimed jazz singer Hailey Tuck. Ahead of the release of her album Junk on 4th of May, she serenaded us while our glasses were topped up with Italian wine from our friends at Borough Wines. Simply divine.

 Singer Hailey Tuck with our commissioning editor Bre Graham

Singer Hailey Tuck with our commissioning editor Bre Graham

 The gorgeous private dining room

The gorgeous private dining room

Psst, check out Borough Wine's refillable bottle scheme, more sustainable thinking from like-minded friends. 

 Hailey and her accoustic performance

Hailey and her accoustic performance

 Guests sitting down to dine

Guests sitting down to dine


We can’t wait to meet more of you at our next event so keep a look out over on our Instagram.

 Our guest Lauren Lyle looking fabulous, darling 

Our guest Lauren Lyle looking fabulous, darling 


Yours Sustainably – ethical fashion

We don’t want our clothes just to be beautiful, we want to know where they came from…

Inspired by Fashion Revolution Week which starts today (23-29th April), we’re inviting you to have a good sort out, fall back in love with your clothes and make them last, buy ethical and ask brands: who made my clothes? For our spring issue, we created this completely ethical fashion photo shoot, featuring old and new, sustainable brands and those who are working towards change. We're inviting you to join Oh Comely’s very own fashion revolution…

  Bliss wears: Victorian pinafore, Visoko Studios;   Earrings, Gung Ho;   Sandals, Salt-Water Sandals

Bliss wears: Victorian pinafore, Visoko Studios; Earrings, Gung Ho; Sandals, Salt-Water Sandals

Photos: Teän Roberts / Stylist: Olivia Snape / Models: Emma Laird and Bliss Kelly / Hair and make-up: Keely Reichardt using Jane Iredale / Assistants: Lua Prichard and Alice Dindar / Words: Alice Snape

Sustainable shopping ideas:
Ask yourself, do you really, really love it? Will you regret not buying it? If you’re not 100% sure, do not buy.
Take some time to rediscover your own wardrobe, we’re all guilty of forgetting what we own.
Find out about the vintage you’re buying, does it have a story and do you know which era it’s from?

Why Salt-Water Sandals? Well, they wrap all their shoes with tissue and have a humidity sticker, eliminating plastics and reducing their environmental footprint. Their shoe boxes are made from one piece of cardboard with no heavy glue need, therefore no harmful chemicals. The first ever pairs were made with scrap leather from the production of military boots!


Stack of the good stuff

We shouldn't have to shout about fashion being ethical – we believe that all clothes should be. But until we reach that point, support brands who are working towards sustainability. Every item in this photo is there for a reason, these designers are pushing for change and altering our perception of what ethical fashion looks like.

  Emma wears: Jacket and shirt, Beaumont Organic; Red tights, Thought; Shoes, Dr Martens Vegan, Earrings, Gung Ho /   Bliss wears: Trousers and jacket, Ilk & Ernie; Top, Beaumont Organic; Socks, Thought; Shoes, Dr Martens Vegan

Emma wears: Jacket and shirt, Beaumont Organic; Red tights, Thought; Shoes, Dr Martens Vegan, Earrings, Gung Ho / Bliss wears: Trousers and jacket, Ilk & Ernie; Top, Beaumont Organic; Socks, Thought; Shoes, Dr Martens Vegan

Brands in the pile: Thought, Gung Ho, Beaumont OrganicBlitz Remix, Phannatiq, Baia at Studio, Reclaim Bags (bags made using recycled rubber inner tubes)

Although marginalised figures, the rag-and-bone men of the 19th century were way ahead of the curve and made significant contributions to the rag trade, offering sustainable solutions to the countless heaps of clothing otherwise laid to rest in landfill. They would collect up people’s waste and move them onto merchants and new homes. We say, bring back the rag-and-bone crew!  


Mix it up

We love pairing new clothes with our treasured favourites and vintage finds.

  Emma wears:   Shirt dress, Bamford;   Jacket, Visoko Studios;   Shoes, Dr Martens Vegan;   Tights and socks, Stylist's own;   Necklace, Gung Ho  /   On washing line: Green socks, Thought; Green jumper, Blitz Remix; Dress, Visoko Studios; White shirt, Ilk & Ernie; Red scarf, Thought; Jacket, Blitz Vintage; Bag, Baia from Studio B; Red tights, Thought

Emma wears: Shirt dress, Bamford; Jacket, Visoko Studios; Shoes, Dr Martens Vegan; Tights and socks, Stylist's own; Necklace, Gung Ho  / On washing line: Green socks, Thought; Green jumper, Blitz Remix; Dress, Visoko Studios; White shirt, Ilk & Ernie; Red scarf, Thought; Jacket, Blitz Vintage; Bag, Baia from Studio B; Red tights, Thought

In a world full of stuff, newly launched Visoko Studios reclaim and revive. Created by designer Terri Cohen (who we met in Oh Comely issue 41), Visoko Studios sell the vintage clothes Terri has collected over years working in fashion, discover other people's pre-loved items to pass on to new owners and also hire out for special occasions, shop their Depop, and follow their journey on Instagram.


Loved clothes will last a lifetime

Care, repair and rewear, that's our motto. We're taking our cues from designer Katie Jones who holds regular workshops on how to reinvent your clothes. You can find out more on her website, katiejonesknit.co.uk

  Bliss wears: Trainers, Veja,   with pink ribbons bought from a haberdashers; Red tights, Thought; Jumper, Katie Jones /   Emma Wears: Jacket and jeans, Katie Jones; Green socks, Thought; Shoes, Dr Martens Vegan

Bliss wears: Trainers, Veja, with pink ribbons bought from a haberdashers; Red tights, Thought; Jumper, Katie Jones / Emma Wears: Jacket and jeans, Katie Jones; Green socks, Thought; Shoes, Dr Martens Vegan

If you’re unsure about the sustainability of a brand, just get in touch and ask them. Or for bigger high street brands, use Fashion Revolution's Transparency Index, which is available to download from their website, fashionrevolution.org.

You can view this photo shoot in its entirety in our spring issue (which, rather excitingly, you can pick up in Sainsbury's), where we also raid our mothers' wardrobes, rework some Beyond Retro jeans, borrow not buy, and invest in some truly magical occasion wear that will last forever. 

Train by Sharlene Teo

 photo: ceren kilic  words: sharlene teo   

photo: ceren kilic

words: sharlene teo


"I relished the forward momentum, when I felt so stuck in my own bad habits, my anxieties and frustrations"

In 2012, I moved to Norwich for my Master’s degree in Creative Writing. My memories of that time are tempered with a mixture of joy and desperation. On one hand, I was ecstatic because I’d always dreamt of being a writer, and now I found my place and community. Yet I felt simultaneously grateful for and overwhelmed by this lifeline. 

I commuted back to London every weekend in an attempt to resuscitate my ailing relationship. The journey takes one hour and 50 minutes: long enough to sink into a book, short enough to be endurable. I always booked the early evening train out, as a thin blue patina settled over the steeple of Norwich Cathedral and the East Anglian countryside softened and blurred.  

I favoured the quiet carriage, typically Coach B. Front-facing window seat: I relished the sensation of forward momentum, when I felt so stuck in my own bad habits, my anxieties and frustrations. I fretted constantly about my irascible, enthralling boyfriend and my non-existent writing career, as well as what I’d do after my student visa ended. 

I read many interviews where successful writers mentioned getting their best writing done on trains. But I am too self-conscious and skittish to invent things in public. I typed and deleted, watched the blinking cursor questioning my veracity. 

When my thoughts got too loud I listened to music on my headphones. I only allowed a certain kind of music to soundtrack those grey hours in the Quiet Zone: ambient electronica, or some passionately discordant woman or sad-voiced American man, cooing refrains in my ear about time gone, gone, gone. 

I bought the same meal for these train rides: one messy baguette, a bag of crisps, a large black coffee, and sometimes something very sweet and small, like a Freddo.

That year I read Teju Cole, Yiyun Li, Anna Kavan, W.G. Sebald, Helen Oyeyemi and Deborah Levy, bending their paperback spines like a greedy monster trying to devour genius. I scattered crumbs and underlined achingly beautiful phrases. I chewed with bovine abandon, as I daydreamed impossible solutions for my doomed relationship. In every scenario either or both of us had the same faces, but were different people. Kinder, intrinsically happier, unrestricted by immigration law, more confident. 

The train rattled through Norfolk; and if I focused on the world outside, I’d see a rush of trees, cow fields, parks, laundry-lines. The overhead lights of the Quiet Zone flickered in synchrony to my anxious, crazy heartbeats. I felt a sullen resentment every time someone sat opposite me on a near-empty carriage, denying me of the opportunity to scoff the butt of my baguette in peace. 

All that year I felt wound up like a spring, fraught and withholding. I learnt the word “liminal” in a seminar and it fit my feelings with a certainty few other things seemed to hold. I was an in-between sick of other in-betweens. I was a migrant, about to get ejected from the UK; I was a writer, published career uncertain; I was a graduate student, further employment unknown; my boyfriend and I kept arguing and eventually broke up. I loved him so apocalyptically. We had no fight left in us. 

Then 2012 became 2013. New habit became routine. Travelling between two places I didn’t quite belong to, my heart sped up every time the train approached Stratford: the monolith ArcelorMittal tower maroon and desolate, a reminder of the gloriously sunny Olympic summer come and done. Pulling into the stark lights of Liverpool Street, I’d feel both a comfortable pain, and a temporary comfort. 


Sharlene Teo's debut novel Ponti is out now. 'Train' was published in our midwinter issue. You can read another story by Sharlene – 'Spring clean' – in our spring issue. Order your copy here

Tattoo Street Style

Wahoo, our editor wrote her first book!

Outside the world of Oh Comely, our editor, Alice Snape, has been busy trotting the globe – well eight super-cool cities to be precise – seeking out stylish tattooed folk to compile into her first book, Tattoo Street Style (published by Ebury Press). Really, it was just an excuse to stop and find out more about those people on the street that you just have to know who did that tattoo or where they got those jeans from… It features more than 400 original portraits in cities from London and Brighton to LA and NYC, and a directory of studios in each city, a guide to tattoo styles and a personal foreword from tattoo artist Cally-Jo.

Here's a sneak peek, it's out today in all good bookshops. Happy publication day, Alice Snape!

 Derryth Ridge, spotted in Brighton. Photo by Heather Shuker

Derryth Ridge, spotted in Brighton.
Photo by Heather Shuker

 Flora Amalie Pedersen spotted in Berlin. Photo by Lisa Jane

Flora Amalie Pedersen spotted in Berlin.
Photo by Lisa Jane

 Manni Kalsi, spotted in London. Photo by Heather Shuker

Manni Kalsi, spotted in London.
Photo by Heather Shuker

 Simone Thompson, spotted in New York. Photo by Elena Mudd

Simone Thompson, spotted in New York.
Photo by Elena Mudd

 Tessa Metcalfe, spotted at Brighton Tattoo Convention, tattoo by Emily Malice. Photo by Heather Shuker

Tessa Metcalfe, spotted at Brighton Tattoo Convention, tattoo by Emily Malice.
Photo by Heather Shuker

 Cally-Jo, spotted in Brighton. Photo by Heather Shuker

Cally-Jo, spotted in Brighton.
Photo by Heather Shuker

 Maisie Manning spotted in Brighton. Photo by Heather Shuker

Maisie Manning spotted in Brighton.
Photo by Heather Shuker


Tattoo Street Style by Alice Snape is out now (published by Ebury Press) – available from all good bookstores and online, visit www.penguin.co.uk

What we're loving: The Writer at Almeida Theatre

 Romola Garai photographed by Clara Giaminardi

Romola Garai photographed by Clara Giaminardi

The Writer
By Ella Hickson
Directed by Blanche McIntyre
At Almeida Theatre 14 April – 26 May

“I want awe. I feel like I need blood. All the time. And anything less than that makes me feel desperate. It makes me feel like I want to die.”

An ambitious young writer challenges the status quo but discovers that creative gain comes at a personal cost. She wants to change the shape of the world. But a new way of thinking needs a new story...

In the wake of her successful 2016 run of Oil at the Almeida Theatre, Ella Hickson is back with her highly anticipated play, The Writer, which is directed by Blanche McIntyre.

Running from 14 April – 26 May. For more information and to book tickets, visit almeida.co.uk 

A letter to our readers

 Illustration by Rebecca Strickson 

Illustration by Rebecca Strickson 

Dear readers,

We love creating our print magazine for you, thank you so much for letting us into your lives.

We’re a small and dedicated team of writers and artists who work tirelessly to make Oh Comely a magazine that creates culture, speaks your stories, salutes sisterhood and makes you think and feel. We refuse to conform as we strive to abandon stereotypes and create a space for open and honest discussions. 

We appreciate you choosing to buy us. This is just a little note, to let you know our price has now increased from our Spring issue, as it’s no secret that it’s a struggle for print magazines to survive at the moment. Put simply, we want to continue creating a magazine that reflects what it means to be a woman in the world today. 

Thanks for enjoying the journey with us so far. 

We’d love you to:

• Introduce a friend to Oh Comely, buy them a copy as a surprise treat when you next meet. You can order from our shop at ohcomely.co.uk (postage in the UK is free) or pick up a copy in Sainsbury's

• Follow us @ohcomelymag on Instagram and Twitter, and like us on Facebook. Keep an eye out for our events, we love meeting you in person

• Share your love for Oh Comely on social and tag us so we can see it

We can’t wait for you to read our next issue, we’re working on some magic things for you. And we hope to bring you many more issues to come.

All our love

Alice, Frances, Cathy, Bre and Terri-Jane

The Oh Comely team

 Illustration by Rebecca Strickson

Illustration by Rebecca Strickson