Ruth is wearing a River Island Dress
I'm so excited to bring to you my first installment of Top Girl. Ruth Yimika Awogbade is the editor-in-chief of Magnify Magazine.
Top Girl is a stylish woman who is living her life with intention. She is making things happen and building a great career, whether in employment or as an entrepreneur. Here we celebrate these awesome women, and most importantly learn from them. These women who inspire us to quit the mediocrity and chase our dreams. To live with purpose, for ourselves and by ourselves. An avenue for them to share with us their experiences, so that we can know the blueprint; their fears; so that we can imbibe their "do it afraid" spirit, their successes; so that we can celebrate them. But most importantly, their mistakes. If we can learn from their mistakes, maybe we won't have to make the same ones. Finally, Top Girl isn't only about the destination, it's also about the journey.
How did you get your start in fashion?
I studied politics at Durham and then I interned at L'oreal and worked in client services at Burberry. Burberry was the most amazing company to work for- the people, the culture, everything was just great. They really take care of their staff. After that, I took a year out to start Magnify and that was the hardest year of my life. I was just so broke- I lived on £50 a week. I remember going out to eat with a client, having only £3 and lying that I was ill so that they wouldn’t keep asking why I wouldn’t eat. People asked how on earth I managed that in London but because I had a goal that I was working towards, I knew that I wasn’t going to live on £50 forever. I really learned in that year to put my head down and focus on my life and it really developed my character.
In December of that year, I got a really well-paid freelance job where this company approached me to freelance and produce for them. I had put in all the infrastructure for Magnify and I just wanted to work for a company who believed in Magnify and whose vision I could also support. It was the best arrangement and I did that for 2 years. I eventually reached the place where I was ready to really focus on Magnify full time.
Tell us about Magnify- why do you think it's important and what's your vision for it?
I come from a Christian family. Growing up, I was always at church and youth group. But between 2005 and 2007, I lost 3 people in my family. I lost my grandmother and my 33 year old aunt who had just gotten married to cancer. My really fit uncle with four kids who had just done the Tour De France collapsed whilst spinning at the gym. In less than 2 years, my life was flipped upside down and I just couldn't see how Faith was relevant.
I went to Durham and was off the rails in first term. University is a great place to reinvent yourself, in the worst possible way. I was drunk every night, and generally partying my life away. I’m not going to pretend that it wasn’t fun, but it wasn’t fulfilling. And then a light bulb switched on in my head when I came home that holiday and I realised that God is always God even though bad things happen in our fallen world. I also realised that I wanted to show my friends Christianity in a way that was more relevant to their lives. They would text me after our events saying that they never thought about Faith before but now know that it’s a lifestyle that they want to be a part of.
The tagline ‘Faith, Feminism, Fashion’ came to me last year. I always used to think that Feminism was a bad word only used to describe radicals, but I realised that it means equality for men and women in every way possible. There are women who don’t talk to other women who aren’t covered up, and there are also women who don’t talk to others who aren’t wearing the latest trends. In our generation, we talk about feminism but are always ready to tear each other down. Magnify is about uplifting each other with Faith as our foundation. We want Magnify to become a lifestyle brand that women all around the world engage with. We feel like we’re so new to this and we’re learning everyday. It’s been 7 years now! But I feel like it’s been 7 years of laying the groundwork, and now we’re ready to take off.
What did you want to be when you were 16 vs. what you became?
My parents said that I’ve been saying that I wanted to be an editor since I was 9. I absolutely loved Instyle Magazine. But when I was 16, I know I definitely wanted to a politician. I watched this Ross Kemp documentary on gangs and it really opened my eyes to the realities of life. Having gone to an all girls private school, I had been sheltered from the harsh realities of growing up in less privileged neighborhoods. I wanted to be in a position where I could influence Black teenagers in the UK and let them know that they could be successful despite the existence of instiutional racism. I wanted them to know that they needed to work harder and strive for more, rather than just blaming everything on racism.
But after studying politics, I realised that it wasn’t what I thought it would be. I realised that it’s difficult to uphold your integrity as a politician and there are a million and one ways that I can influence lives positively- Magnify is a great start.
When people have ideas, they sometimes don’t act on them because they are waiting for this huge moment to happen, and to have this monumental idea that everyone thinks is heroic. You don’t need to have all the answers before you start.
When will you feel like you've arrived? What does success mean for you?
When Magnify is an immediate reference point, as Vogue is. I've never had a Vogue subscription but I completely know what Vogue is. It is a point of reference for women. Personally, it’s also getting to be recognised by my role models. I would love to win a professional award for being an editor. I met with the editor of GQ because he saw a magazine that I did for someone else and he loved it. Alexandra Shulman (editor-in-chief of British Vogue) sent me an email saying that she loved it. Anna Wintour went to my school. If I ever get to meet her and give her Magnify, that would be amazing. When people in my industry who have been here for decades actually recognise my work and acknowledge the professional standard of it, that would be amazing.
What is the best advice you've ever received/given?
I think I actually heard this quote from Jay-Z- 'what people think about you is none of your business'. I used to get very upset when people dismissed my business idea. I once received a 4-page letter from this lady telling me how Magnify was such a bad idea and it would never work. I’ve developed such thick skin since then. It’s important to have thick skin but a soft heart. Now, I’m like ‘Okay cool, that’s fine!'. But I have to keep it moving over here’. Focus on what you need to do and don’t let either positive or negative feedback affect the work you know is right, more than it should. Don’t let criticism go to your heart, and don’t let praise get to your heart’. After I got the email from Alexandra Shulman, I archived it and haven’t revisited it since.
What are your greatest fears?
Failure. The idea of things not succeeding is what keeps me up at night. I just cannot.
Is money one of the things that drives you to achieve? Do you want to be wealthy? It is for me, what about you?
Money doesn’t necessarily drive me. But I’ve realised that with Magnify, at this stage, after not being a profit-making business for so long, if it doesn’t make money, it doesn’t make sense. If people can’t pay for your product then you have to wonder whether it works.
It motivates me in the sense that I want to work hard to buy nice things and return to a nice house after a long day at work. There’s a certain quality of life that I want to have. If you want to help the poor, the best thing to do is to not be poor. Because you can give your time but at a certain point, you’ll need to give your money also.
Who are you inspired by?
Angela Ahrendts, Michelle Obama, Serena Williams and Alex Ferguson.
They are people who not only overcome but are able to lead. Angela was from a family of 6 without a lot of money. She started from stacking shelves, and 32 years later, was the CEO of Burberry and then VP of Apple. We see a lot of overnight successes these days but we don’t see the grind and how far they’ve come. I am so inspired by Serena because she has dominated her industry and doesn’t get the respect she deserves. She is beautiful and they love to focus on everything except giving her the credit that she deserves. I love how she overcomes all the criticism and stays true to herself unapologetically.
What do you do when you are not working?
I love watching sport- I’m obsessed with football. I’m a United fan for life. I went to listen to Alex Ferguson give a speech last year and he’s such an inspirational leader! Whether or not you’re into football, listening to him is incredible. He was at the top of his field for 26 years and was the best in the world at what he does right into his 70’s. I also love tennis and I like cricket.
I love cooking and eating. Airports are my favourite place in the world- I love the anonymity of it and wandering through duty free. I hate actual flying though. I’m big on family and friends- a real homegirl type of person.
What is your favourite place in the world?
What have you done during your career so far that you consider a mistake? What wouldn't you have done if you knew better?
Trying to fit in and follow 'traditional' paths because others said that it was the right thing to do. There's nothing wrong with tradition but it just needs to be the best decision for you.
Do you feel like your race has held you back in any way?
No. I can tell that there have been some circles and places I've been in that people don’t think that I should be because I’m Black and I'm a woman. But I’ve never let it get to me or stop me. And I never will.
The second issue of Magnify magazine can be pre-ordered from today, and the magazine will hit newstands from Monday 28th September. You can purchase the first copy here (I've read it, I love it!) and pre-order the second copy on the website.
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