Grrrl Zine Fair is made up of live events, zine workshops, Grrrl In Print zine and a feminist zine library that platforms women, transgender, non-binary, LGBTQIA+ and BAME artists and self-publishers.
Interviewed over email, May 2019
Lu; “In 2015, I was one of the feminist makers of Cuntry Living Zine in Oxford. We wanted to create a fair in order to find more zines, so we invited people from across the UK. At the time we were known for our launch parties and fundraisers and I ran a club night so I wanted to get bands and DJs for the first event. I was then invited to host a Grrrl Zine Fair at The Shacklewell Arms in 2016 which I ran by myself and caught the event bug. I starting doing zine fairs around East London.
The name was inspired by the energy of Riot Grrrl, [a 90’s feminist movement]. Riot Grrrl was very co-optive of media, cutting and pasting stuff that already existed, and Kathleen Hannah’s [RG founder and singer in punk band Bikini Kill] call to arms; ‘every girl can be a riot grrrl’. The branding and logo continually evolves, but is playful, colourful and references printed matter and DIY culture.
The zine library started because older zine makers would lovingly tell me about zines they’d made as teenagers – I’d ask for a copy and they’d say they had no idea where they are now, so I started an archive. I got sent a lot of zines, which is a dream, but I’d just graduated and lived in a small flat with my dad and my partner all falling over each other so I didn’t know where to put them or how to keep them safe. I was being asked to run workshops, so it was useful to bring along examples to show people what zines are – not a magazine and not a book, but more than a pamphlet.
Grrrl In Print is a print version of a Grrrl Zine Fair, with features and interviews with various slants on Doing It Yourself, from making herbal UTI remedies to overcoming an eating disorder – it’s a safe and inclusive space for people to create something new. We include anything that explores feminism or the experience of being marginalised.
I’m from a working-class background in Essex. My Dad was from a family of 10, “ten-pound-poms”, sent to Australia after the second world war. My nan hated the heat so much, she saved up to bring them home to Southend. My mum’s from Woolwich, South East London. They’re both creative but were bought up to think university wasn’t for them. My mum wanted to be a vet but her parents refused, so she got a job. My parents split up and I spent my teenage years living with my dad, which was funny and awkward. To deal with getting my first period, I’d buy books about puberty, then leave them out for my dad to find. I became self-sufficient, ate a lot of ready meals and Weetabix for dinner and became a woman without a female role model in the house. I also had a fair amount of parties and, as Dad was a pizza delivery driver at the time, a lot of pizza.
My headteacher at the Grammar school I went to for 6th form was an art teacher which was my thing. It was a boys’ school where it was very uncool to say you were a feminist. I felt very aware of my gender at times like when all the new kids, including myself, got on the bus to PE and the boys shouted numbers at us, rating our appearance, and when boys would get you on your own and ask questions like ‘have you ever fingered yourself?’.
I studied Art Foundation at Central Saint Martin’s then applied to university, although my boyfriend at the time said I wouldn’t get in anywhere good. When I found out I’d been accepted at Oxford University, I cried, then went back to work at a bowling alley. No one believed me when I told them, I was the first person from my family to go to University. Oxford was incredible, having space to make art and read. It was also the first time it dawned on me that I was working class.
Cool illustration by @wastedrita
Alongside running Grrrl Zine Fair I’ve had various day jobs; I was on Job Seekers for a year and a half, worked as an Art Technician at a local college and now I work a few days a week at Focal Point Gallery in Southend. Grrl Zine Fair does generate income now, mostly through workshops and Arts Council Funding. I’ve learned how to budget and make it worth my while the hard way – like the time I paid myself about £600 out of an £8,000 grant, after three months of solid work. Putting on events is a lot of work, in the lead-up it’s 24/7. For the last festival I ran eight back to back workshops then stayed up until 3am painting signs under car headlights. I learnt a lot about what my capacity is from that experience.
I’m also the commissioned artist for Basildon, awarded money from the Essex Cultural Diversity Project to work until September hosting workshops with the public in Basildon, an interesting town with a history of outsider communities, punks, sustainable communes and modernist architecture.
I hosted the library at V&A Museum Friday Late last year and at the British Film Institute. Having that recognition of zine culture and giving so many self-publishers a platform was incredible. Village Green Festival 2017 was also amazing. It was the first time I’d been granted Arts Council Funding, so I had 40 zine makers, workshops, bands, a zine library pavilion and an exhibition of artworks within the festival. Grrrl Zine Fair at Village Green 2019 Saturday 13th July has been a long time coming and I can’t wait to share the line-up.
I’m currently working on zine workshops, preparing Issue 3 of Grrrl In Print, an exhibition of Grrrl Zine Library in Beijing, China – and putting together a Grrrl Zine Fair at Village Green Festival, which will comprise of three tents and an art exhibition.
Grrrl Zine Fair isn’t an organisation, it’s me curating various elements of my ‘person brand’, for lack of a better term. I’m currently a one-woman band, but friends help me out when I’ve secured enough funding to pay them. Two interns worked with me part-time for a few months in 2017 to put together Grrrl In Print Zine and a pop up shop at Soho Radio. I wouldn’t offer an unpaid internship now but it was mutual at the time. I’m currently collaborating with The Agency of Visible Women and GIRLFORUM on an exhibition, Kat Hudson, founder of new queer listings, Lesley Magazine, as co-editor, In Situ to design a new pop up exhibition space, and Gal-Dem to curate a line-up of talks for Village Green.
This year’s crew for the festival will be all women, trans or non-binary people. My social media following is 89% women – at least that’s the gender my followers have chosen out of the binary options Instagram gives you. I know from meeting people and chatting on DMs that I have a lot of non-binary followers which is important to recognise.
When it comes to collaboration, approaching people goes both ways. Because of GZF at Village Green I’m emailing people I want to commission now I have a budget, and at other times, people contact me to host workshops at events they’re doing.
In terms of convincing people to partner, it’s been quite a struggle with brands, as press releases and brand partnerships do not come naturally to me, I find it a bit alienating. But I do send very earnest emails like ‘I really think we could make something exciting together, are you in?’ Those who get it, get it, and those who don’t, don’t reply – ha ha!
Lu leading a zine workshop for young mums
What I’ve learned
Grrrl Zine Fair is my first foray into anything that looks remotely like a business or comes close to earning me a living. I’ve had other fairly unsuccessful ventures, like running a club night at university, or a part-artwork part-shoe brand part-DJ pseudonym called Hyperfemme. I still have 30 pairs of painted customised high heels in my dad’s garage.
A moment when I considered giving it all up was when I was on Job Seekers’ Allowance and organised a whole fair and paid myself £50 from the door money. I also LOVE to take stuff on, so I’ve had my fair share of burn-out. In fact, in 2018 I didn’t do any zine fairs. I hosted panel talks, library pop ups and workshops but just mentally couldn’t handle the admin of another fair. I was working two minimum wage jobs whilst juggling the talks and pop ups so didn’t have the capacity at the time.
Some good advice from my dad is; ‘Don’t let the bastards get you down!’, which has been really helpful in terms of coming to realise that not everyone wants you to do well. You can have the best will in the world and someone will look to trip you up or make it difficult. It’s important to stick to your guns and trust your gut.
Don’t wait for anyone to give you the authority to do something, just start doing it.
It’s important to embrace failure. It can be quite scary at first but it’s helpful to remember you’re a multifaceted human being who will fail sometimes, and as long as you are authentic and willing to learn, open to evolving, then you’ll be ok.
I cannot express how much, especially those of us who work in the arts, need to think about how we can include others and not act as gatekeepers. There’s often so much pretension within art, fashion, sometimes zine making; that it’s just a show for other people in the industry. If you really want to make change, work with local communities, try your hand at inspiring some kids, invite people who aren’t interested in being ‘cool’ to your events. I don’t mean to sound flippant but it’s important to not forget about communities that are outside of the echo chamber.