Take a quick glimpse at Ramona Magazine for Girls, and you might find a watercolor comic that parses current political events or a deeply personal essay about body image. You might stumble on a poem or an advice column about consent, or you might browse inspiring interviews, book reviews and artist features. The sheer range of talent featured on the site is astounding, and perhaps even more so with the knowledge that it's made by and for young girls and teens around the globe, with more than 500 contributors spanning over 50 countries.
It's taken some serious drive to build this creative, collaborative community in the mere two years since Ramona was founded in 2014. It's no surprise that the masterminds behind it all are two smart, passionate women on a mission to promote empowerment and acceptance in unconventional (and thoroughly refreshing) ways. One of those creators is 23-year-old Sophie Pellegrini, who just so happens to be the younger sister of Clementine's Leah Pellegrini. Today, she tells us why Ramona's feminist ethos matters so much and how she manages to collaborate with her co-editor, Freya, while they're based in alternate hemispheres. (Here's a hint: passion and compassion are key to both.) She also shares her experiences with two successful crowd-funding campaigns, the most recent of which has supported the launch of the online magazine's second (just released!) print edition.
First things first: can you give us a glimpse into Ramona's backstory? What first sparked the idea for your online magazine, and how did it grow from a small-scale site to a massive global community?
In short, my partner on the project, Freya, had always wanted to create an alternative feminist magazine for teen girls because of her negative experience with mainstream magazines growing up. She came to me with the idea about three years ago and invited me on board, and I was so excited by the idea — it was right up my alley! We slowly collected a first batch of articles and artwork, mainly from friends and people we were already connected with, and launched the website in June 2014.
It started small and picked up slowly over the next few months; I think it was probably around the start of 2015 that things began to really grow and expand. In a lot of ways it snowballed unexpectedly beyond what I ever imagined at the start — we now have more than 15,000 followers across our social media platforms and receive hundreds of views on the website every day. Our readership spans 6 continents and our 500+ contributors come from over 50 countries!
Something I'm really proud of is how organically things grew. We really didn’t spend any time promoting the project or advertising; things sort of just happened by word of mouth. Contributors told their friends, and they told their friends, and the same thing happened with readers. It's something people get really excited about, which I think fuels people to share it with others.
Tell us about the name. Why Ramona, and why does it feel important to call out that the magazine is meant specifically "for girls?”
Well, when we started the magazine, we used the name Tigress, and we only switched to Ramona a few months ago! Freya and I realized as the magazine reached its second birthday that Tigress just didn’t feel quite right anymore. And we wanted to celebrate how far we had come in two years, and how much more we want to grow moving forward! We loved the idea of naming the magazine a girl's name, because it feels so much more personal than just an animal or an object. Ramona felt like a name that was representative of our core readership and contributor base: quirky, authentic, empowered, and imperfect.
I actually wrote an article earlier this year about the significance of using "for girls" in our name. It's something Freya and I talked about a good bit when we were still developing the magazine. Inclusivity is integral to our mission, and in some ways, adding "for girls" of course limits our audience. However, we really wanted to create a space that celebrates girlhood and counters all the problematic content in mainstream media directed at girls in particular. There are so many spaces in society that are meant to be exclusive to cis males, and we believe there need to be more communities for female, queer, non-gender-conforming individuals. Ramona is meant to be one of the communities. That being said, I think people of any gender identification would enjoy a lot of the content we share in the magazine!
One of the most unique things about Ramona is its accessibility. You engage so warmly, directly and frequently with your readers and contributors, and you rarely reject submissions. What's the rationale behind this approach, and what effect do you hope it has on your community?
Yes, that's a huge part of what we do! We don't want to just be an online magazine with an invisible team operating behind the scenes; we want to foster a community, and we believe that starts with creating a transparency within our core team.
In regards to submissions, one of the main goals of Ramona is to give teen girls a voice and a platform to share their thoughts and creative work. So many online magazines have a more exclusive approach; the last thing we wanted was to create a "cool kids club" that left girls feeling like they aren't good or trendy enough to be a part of our community. We try to always involve anyone who wants to contribute, as long as the content doesn't conflict with our core principles of feminism and respect in particular! And I think that makes Ramona really special, authentic, and diverse in its many voices.
You just completed your second successful crowd-funding campaign as you prepare to release your second print issue. Why did you choose to go the crowdfunding route, and what has been the biggest lesson (good or bad) from that experience?
Magazines make the bulk of their money through advertising, but it's really important to us to keep advertising to a minimum both on our website and in the print editions. We funded our first print volume through our first crowd-funding campaign, and we actually didn't include any ads at all in Volume One! When we do feature ads, we're super selective to ensure that we only share brands and businesses that align with our ethos, and that we genuinely believe in.
Crowd-funding seemed like a good alternative way of raising the funds to create our first print magazine because Ramona is so community-centered, and crowd-funding is all about engaging a community to support your project. We knew that there would be tons of people out there who really identified with what we were doing and would believe in it as much as we did, so they'd want to support it and be a part of it. It was also a great way to get the word out and to share our first print edition with lots of people.
That being said, crowd-funding is a TON of work! It takes so much more time, commitment, and persistence than you would imagine. Our first crowd-funding campaign in particular was a full-on project, because our goal was $15,000 — that's a lot of money to raise in six weeks! Our most recent campaign was much smaller scale with a primary focus on funding the Melbourne Volume Two launch party, but it was still heaps of work.
Do you have any particular takeaways on the value of an online magazine versus a print magazine? Clearly, you've chosen to embrace both formats, and we're curious if and how that feels important.
I think both formats have serious assets. The main reason that we're primarily online is that it allows us to reach such a wide audience, and one that is in no way limited by geography. Our readership spans over 80 countries, and I just don't see that happening if we were only in print. Plus, our online content is free and accessible to everyone.
On the other hand, having the print magazine allows us to create something that feels more "precious"; there's something really special about print media during a time when everything is going digital. It's just a different experience to hold something in your hands, to read and look at artwork off of a screen. Having just one print edition annually makes it all the more special, and a great way to sum up each year. (Putting together a print magazine is also an extraordinary amount of work, and it's not something we could do more frequently with such a small team!)
You and Freya are located in such separate time zones, since you're based in Scotland, while she's in Australia. What's your secret to working successfully together as a two-woman team? How do you make sure things flow smoothly and everything gets done?
Communication! Freya and I talk every single day, usually over Facebook messenger, but we also email and Skype every few weeks. We always update each other on what we've done during the day — usually one of us is sleeping while the other is awake — and then pick up where the other left off! It takes some patience and compassion — miscommunications happen, and things fall through the cracks every now and then, but we're both kind and loving and understanding of that! Not taking things too seriously is important as well. And being organized; we have our systems and our routines that took some time to figure out, but now that we've figured out what works for us, we stick with that.
I couldn't ask for a better partner — Freya and I are so lucky because I think a lot of our strengths play off of each other really well, and we fill each other's gaps, balancing things out. But something we both have that's so crucial is genuine passion for this project. Freya even recently quit her day job this year to concrete more fully on Ramona! She has so much genuine love and commitment for what we're doing. I believe people do the best work when they truly find it fulfilling.
What's one of your all-time favorite pieces (art, writing or otherwise) that you've ever published? What kinds of stories do you hope to see more of?
That's so hard!! There are so many pieces that I absolutely love. But maybe an artist feature I conducted of Ambivalently Yours, one of my all-time favorite feminist artists. In addition to be a fantastic artist, AY is incredibly wise and kind-hearted — I've never met her, but it's so clearly conveyed through the screen, through her artwork and her approach to making it.
In terms of stories I hope to see more of — I think just a continued expansion of perspectives that we share. It's incredible important to me to make visible the thoughts and stories of non-able bodied, cis-gender, white, heterosexual females, especially in the climate of the recent US election. I want to widen the intersectional nature of the feminism Ramona represents.
Do you have a dream story or dream contributors secretly in mind? Any other bold ambitions of where you see Ramona going in five years?
I'm not sure; there are so many amazing artists I'd love to interview, and so many fantastic writers I've read the works of on different platforms, but one of the best things about Ramona is that we are constantly receiving amazing content from new people who I didn't know before, and that's so exciting!
In terms of where we go in the next five years, one of my biggest dreams is to increase the presence of Ramona off-screen. Whether that's through meet-ups, workshops, or even just more frequent mini-zines, I hope to make more tangible, in-person connections with this powerful community we've grown.
p.s. Have you met this potter who's using her stunning ceramics to support crucial social causes?