“In many ways, Polyester has been my whole adult life, but it feels equally like I started the publication yesterday and everything is still really new,” says Ione Gamble, founding editor-in-chief of Polyester. Having launched in 2014, the zine has since grown from cult to movement, signifying a new wave of independent publishing that puts feminism, identity and culture at the helm.
Published biannually, the zine also sits alongside a supplementary dose of online content as well as the bi-weekly podcast. The printed issue is currently on its eighth – with past contributions from prolific voices in the industry, such as Polly Nor, Tavi Gevinson, Courtney Love, Edward Meadham and Pussy Riot – and, having reached its fifth birthday, Ione has released four zines to mark the occasion. “Each zine we’re publishing represents the essence of Polyester in its own way,” says Ione. Derived from a frustrated view of the cyclical nature of zines and publishing in general, Ione admits how she felt “exhausted by the pressure”, in terms of releasing issues at a certain time as well as covering certain topics and adhering to traditional formulas. “I never want to release anything for the sake of it, and I wanted to ensure Polyester in print was always meaningful.”
Meaningful is perhaps an understatement. Ione’s “lightbulb moment” led to an anarchist backlash against traditional rules and conventions – “I realised the only pressure I felt to do anything really came from myself and an outdated model for magazine publishing that rarely even works for huge publications now, so why would it work for us?” The fifth anniversary and its delectable four zines are no less than a treat for its regular readers, but most poignant is its continued depiction of Polyester’s core values. First, Polyester has always had an activist and charitable lens. During the time of curation, the abortion laws in the United States were in full force, activists in Northern Ireland were protesting against decriminalisation and reproductive justice was widely spreading across the media. “I wanted to create a zine based around reproductive justice that also explores the whole spectrum of experiences; good, bad, experiences when young, or older, as a trans person, or a fat person, or a black person – literally everything,” explains Ione.
The resulting zine, titled Saving Ourselves – based off a line from Rene Matic’s poem – features contributions from politicians, artists, musicians and activists. “Overall I was really blown away by peoples’ contributions and stories,” says Ione, “I think I learned something from each one.” Alongside this, there’s the beauty zine – a topic that’s integral to all that is Polyester. Co-creative directed by Polyester’s beauty editor, Mona Leanne, Ione describes it as a “visual manifesto of what we believe the future of beauty should be.” She continues: “I’m infinitely interested in the possibilities of makeup to help us explore who we are, as well as the fact that those possibilities exist alongside the beauty industry being hugely morally corrupt and oppressive.” Thirdly, But Others Need to Pee is the next addition that sees photographer Camille Mariet’s first body of printed work come to life. “The way she deals with femininity, sexuality, violence and vulnerability is like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” Ione comments – a clear marker of Polyester’s desire to support artists and to provide them with a platform.
Non-Threatening Boys is the fourth zine, taking cues from the teen magazine that Lisa Simpson reads throughout The Simpsons. Humorous, insightful and explicitly relevant, the zine turns a critical eye onto the representation of masculinity in current society. Conceived with long-time contributor and artist Rachel Hodgson, the publication features quizzes – like Vice’s Lauren O’Neill’s How Will Your Soft Boy Cancel on Your Tonight? – “unhinged love letters” from Sirin Kale to Tom Cruise, Pamela Des Barres – “the iconic groupie” – has talked to Hannah Ewen’s to discuss the allure of the pin-up poster, plus shoots with the team’s favourite non-threatening boys.
“Lisa is a character I think many women my age related to when they were younger – sensitive, self-aware and disliked by her peers,” says Ione. “When we remembered Non-Threatening Boys that day in the studio, it wasn’t a coincidence that the specific frame was imprinted into both mine and Rachel’s memories – she’s an iconic, multifaceted teenage character drawn in an age in which we didn’t have many of those to look up to.”
Following its iconic “overtly femme aesthetic”, with bursts of colour, DIY shapes, patterns and the remunerable efforts to disregard the white page approach to making zines, the latest instalment(s) of Polyester completely marks the publication in its own right. “I really believe strongly in using nostalgia and visual codes of bygone eras to convey important messages and define the future,” Ione concludes, “and I think that’s a shared ethos between Polyester and many of the artists we champion.”