New Magazine Launch: A Vote for Inclusivity

Magazines are still popping up, even in a time of crisis. Choosing to found a title in 2020 hasn’t come without challenges, but photographer Malkia Roberts decided to press on to create Belmont Magazine.

It’s a new quarterly fashion lifestyle magazine from London, publishing both online and in print. Welcome to Belmont Magazine, the concept of British photographer Malkia Roberts.

Belmont Magazine is championing inclusivity and intends to stand up against tokenism. With content ranging from fashion to culture, the accent is put on representing marginalised groups and developing a new spirit of diversity.

Editor-in-chief Malkia Roberts spoke to FU about what it is like to launch a publication during a pandemic, the values she wants to convey and how her Ugandan background has influenced her in the project.

Léana Esch: Can you walk us through the inception of Belmont Magazine and how it came to life?

 Malkia Roberts: It was a personal decision because I’ve been a photographer for 15 years. I was doing my PhD in cultural studies in London and it was tough to choose between academics and photography. I believe we need a space for intellectual art. We usually have the creative and fashion sides, and I wanted to add depth and substance, so that readers wouldn’t have to choose between intellectual and trendy publications. I wanted to put together something that served someone like me. It was in the wake of seeing the black-owned sections in magazines and it made me uncomfortable. I know it shouldn’t have, but for me, it was reminiscent of the old days when you would have a black entrance and a white entrance at theatres. If there is a lack of representation, why can’t those brands and designers be integrated in the everyday? It becomes tokenism. I thought, let’s do something where we are conscious of inclusivity, small brands, underrepresented groups with their voices and brands.


LE: Why did you choose a print delivery in addition to a digital delivery?

MR: I know, there is this idea that print is dying from a miserable death, but the truth is that if you are producing luxury lifestyle, there are still some people who will want to touch a proper magazine. With Belmont, the quality of the pages matters as much as the visuals. It is important to have limited print copies, so that the people who want a physical delivery can get one.


LE: What was it like to launch a publication during a pandemic? How did it affect the launch and your perspective?

MR: People think I’m completely insane to launch at this time! But it is about what you are trying to achieve when you develop your product. I believe it has to grow and if you want to be big in 2021, it doesn’t mean that you have to wait until 2021. This first 2020 issue is about getting people familiar with what we do. We weren’t focused on selling 20,000 copies. The goal was to have a product people will want; a product that can feed the arts.

LE: What are the values and key pillars of Belmont Magazine?

MR: Belmont is about luxury lifestyle with a substance, and this substance is intersectional voices. In every piece we write, we include a voice that may otherwise be overlooked. It’s more about the backend than the frontend; it is about how we quantify our content. We start with an idea, the editors and I discuss it, and, in the end, it goes to our outreach coordinator. Not a lot of publications have one. For example, if we are doing a story on ten of the best skincare product brands, her job is to make sure that 40% are minority ethnic owned or that they are from small businesses. It is not so much about what you see, but the in-depth content. We also really care about our team. Our code word is “I need a tea break.” If any of the writers says they need a tea break, all we ask them is when they will be back. We don’t put pressure on anyone; we all need that emotional breather and health break.


LE: How is diversity represented in the magazine?

MR: It starts with who we work with. When you recruit diverse groups, you also have to allow their voice to come through. I discuss with my team what matters to them. It’s about allowing people to discuss their ideas; that’s how you maintain diversity and make sure it doesn’t become superficial. We speak to the real people and I ask my writers what they want to write about. When PR approach us, we don’t tell them that we want this personality to write on this, we ask the personality what they think their voice can add weight to. It’s very much about including people and what they want to say.


LE: How does choosing a team with such diverse backgrounds benefits the magazine?

MR: It has benefited the magazine hugely because fashion varies depending on where you are in the world. Our creative director is based in L.A., while most of our writers are based in London, and I can see a difference in their style and how they work. Having people from different parts of the world really shows me differences that, otherwise, I wouldn’t have noticed. When producing a product that you want global, it is important to have representation. Working with different time zones has been complicated, but at least, everyone worked from their virtual office, so it allowed me to recruit the best team without restricting people with location.

“Some magazines forget that there’s a reason why people go to art galleries; we are captivated by visuals and it makes us want to know more.”

LE: What is the content of the magazine? What are the next subjects you want to cover?

MR: We have a fashion and beauty category, as well as a lifestyle category. Our main difference is how the subjects are approached. They are tackled differently so it can resonate and speak to people. Our content is always informed by the writers; we don’t have that rigid structure on what they need to include. However, every piece of writing needs to have a cultural and inclusive element. For example, we are working on a story about bags at the moment. We will include iconic luxury bags, but we will also include new styles from sustainable and minority brands, made by designers that would otherwise be overlooked.


LE: You’re from Uganda. Have your background and origins influenced you in this project?

MR: I was born in Uganda, then left the country, and I came back in February before the lockdown. I haven’t really been able to fit in with the locals because I don’t speak the language. I found myself in this expat community, where people are from everywhere. It has showed me that here, you don’t have superficial diversity. We might have that in the west; here, people are who they are. I approached Belmont Magazine as an inclusive project, and I’ve been very mindful not to come up with superficial inclusivity. Being from Uganda has inspired me to allow people to offer their own narrative. When people come together in this melting pot called Africa, they are free and whomever they want to be.


LE: Has your background as a photographer been an advantage or a drawback to this project?

MR: It depends on who you ask. To my team, it has been a drawback because I’ve micromanaged absolutely everything. The creative team hated me! The artistic side of me has meant that I’m very particular on how things look visually. The advantage of being a photographer is that I have had this balance between visual and written content, because I’m an artist at heart. Many independent magazines come solely from a place of intellectual depth and passion for a subject and they end up compromising the visual aspect, which is, in the end, why we read fashion magazines as opposed to books. Some magazines forget that there’s a reason why people go to art galleries; we are captivated by visuals and it makes us want to know more.

LE: What has been your favourite emerging artist to work with while making the first issue?

MR: My favourite from the issue was definitely [American fashion designer] Ulla Johnson. I really like the authenticity of her collections. I think her work is captivating.


LE: The magazine promotes an alternative narrative through Afro-politics. How is this conveyed?

MR: When you have a vision in the beginning, it’s not that easy to communicate it. Many writers send me stories solely on African-owned or black-owned brands, but, for me, Afro-politics is a system of thinking. What we’re trying to overcome is this dichotomy of male and female, the East and the West. Even LGBTQ+ people draw on Afro-politics to show inclusivity. For example, it’s about not having a separate section for the mainstream and a sub-section for black businesses. It’s about subverting that whole dichotomy structure. If Belmont was just about Africa or black-owned businesses, it would be very small. However, I keep telling my writers that there are Afro-Latinas ad Afro-Indians. I make sure to let them know that Africanism is not synonymous with blackness. It’s all about an inclusive way of thinking outside of dichotomies.


LE: Do you consider Belmont Magazine a means to prevent tokenism in society?

MR: Interestingly, I think the magazine is reflective of society. The fashion world and fashion publications are a bit late to the party, because when they create pride, mental health or black issues, they have a special section and they don’t realise that this is tokenism. Someone in the office can struggle with mental health, be black or be gay, but they don’t exist in these sub-sections. This needs to be reflected in fashion publications. They need to find a way to ensure that there is representation without having special editions. It makes me uncomfortable when someone has a special LGBTQ+ feature. Why don’t they just allow that person decide whether they want to speak on that issue or just write a feature on dating for instance. Belmont Magazine is trying to be closer to the real world because sometimes, this is why the readership of fashion magazines is going down. People just don’t relate.

“Africanism is not synonymous with blackness. It’s all about an inclusive way of thinking outside of dichotomies.”

LE: When introducing the magazine, you explained, “This is in the hope that when trends and hashtags fade, inclusivity as the norm will remain.” What are your hopes for the publishing industry? Are you hopeful?

MR: Honestly, I am hopeful. 2020 has woken us up to experiences; we’re missing our experiences and people don’t realize that reading a magazine and turning pages is an experience in itself. We’re going to be surprised about 2021, how people are going to go back to the things they took for granted. I think print is going to be one of those things. It became so saturated and that was one of the problems. The publications that have remained through lockdown are the ones that really have something to offer. What I mean by “the hashtags fade” is that we are so temporary in our activism. We hashtag something and when it’s not trendy anymore, we forget about it. If we stop bringing awareness to these causes on social media, how are we going to move forward in a world where changes are made?


LE: What are the future projects for Belmont Magazine?

MR: In terms of moving forward, we need to keep producing great content, but also use the magazine as a platform. At the moment, we are speaking to universities. We’re working closely with the students’ unions to make sure we understand what will help them, as well as the journalists and creatives of tomorrow. Our focus for next year is on how we can bring in recent graduates, who have a lot to offer; we want to work with the stars of tomorrow. Diversity isn’t just across race and disability, it’s also about age and interrogating the future, what diversity means across different levels. We are also currently working on the second issue, which will come out January 4.


Belmont Magazine is available at for US$8.99 in print and digital formats.

The page could not be loaded!