Jeffrey Thomson on Checking-Out of Fashion Media Stereotypes

The Check-Out Magazine Editor-in-Chief talks tackling industry obstacles, rewriting traditional media rules and passing on the baton.

Against the backdrop of 2020 – a deadly pandemic, international Black Lives Matter protests and natural disasters resulting from our climate crisis – the fashion industry vowed it would change. And yet, within only the first few months of 2021, fashion remains rife with accusations of racism, sexual abuse allegations, political nepotism, and has been financially forgotten about in stimulus packages by governments across the globe.

Enough is enough. We must stop expecting change from those who continue to benefit from a system that perpetuates racist stereotyping, capitalist pink-washing and gatekeeps financial opportunities from working-class creatives. Innovation must come from new perspectives, new voices and new faces. While the hellscape of the past year has increasingly tested our ingenuity, a number of young creatives have used this time to pioneer new projects, creating their own opportunities and spotlighting original talent and innovative works.

As part of our new series ‘Industry Innovators’, BRICKS meets the creatives pioneering change in the fashion industry. Today, we meet Jeffrey Thomson, the Editor-in-Chief of new fashion platform Check-Out Magazine on tackling industry obstacles, rewriting traditional media rules and passing on the baton.

What was your background before starting Check-Out Magazine? 

I’m from Hong Kong/Australia, but moved over to London when I started studying at LCF and then CSM where I’m currently in my final year on the BA Fashion Communication & Promotion course. On my year out, I was tossing up between a couple of internships and then ditched those for a spontaneous job role at LOVE Magazine, where I had previously contributed to. As their Video Editor I worked on everything from fashion week content to the bi-annual issue and because I was the so-called ‘tech-y’ one (I’m not, I look up everything on YouTube), ended up doing a lot within digital design. Because we were such a  small team, it gave me a real hands-on experience of how a major fashion publication is run and I  got to explore my writing side too, interviewing people like Adam Frost, Rina Sawayama and my all-time fave pop icon, Kim Petras (dream come true!). I ended up leaving after a year and started freelancing for brands like Christian Cowan and Levi’s, and when Katie Grand started Perfect, went on to be a Digital Consultant for the magazine. I’ll forever be grateful to Katie and the whole team for supporting me throughout the past couple of years. 

What inspired you to launch your own magazine? 

On FCP it’s pretty common to start a magazine, it’s almost like the go-to in your final year, even now when the print side of things is turning rather sour. I was hesitant at first, I didn’t want to create something for nothing – God knows there are enough magazines and content out there – but I felt like there was a need for a new type of publication, one that was different, hands-on and tackled the obstacles so many students, graduates and every young person in the industry face. 

I was hesitant at first, I didn’t want to create something for nothing – God knows there are enough magazines and content out there – but I felt like there was a need for a new type of publication, one that was different, hands-on and tackled the obstacles so many students, graduates and every young person in the industry face. 

You mention on the website about “tackling industry obstacles” – what are the biggest obstacles you see currently affecting aspiring fashion creatives? 

Nepotism, money, and the older generation not letting go. It’s always somebody’s niece or friend, somebody who comes from a family home where their bedroom is bigger than the size of my flat. It’s so hard for young people to get their foot in the door, even more so for them to survive. My first internship came about from cold-calling 40 different  PR agencies for fashion week (the one that took me on was the only one to call me back). And even then, it was unpaid. Thankfully I had enough savings to do it at the time, but so many people don’t and end up having to say no to an opportunity or work themselves to death while trying to juggle a  paid job and unpaid internship. It’s also hard when major publications tend to use the same rotation of photographers, models, stylists, hair and make-up artists. They don’t leave room for new, young creatives to showcase their work. People need to realise, just because you’re older doesn’t necessarily mean you’re any better!  

How did you meet your team? 

I met Scarlett Baker and Ella Bardsley, my two Editors-At-Large, while working at LOVE. Scarlett and I started around the same time, and Ella came on a few months later. In an industry that often feels like being caught in the eye of a hurricane, we formed quite a close  personal and working relationship. It was only natural that when I started Check-Out, I had to have them by my side.  

What has been an unexpected challenge you’ve faced while creating your project and how were you able to overcome it? 

Being brave enough to put ourselves out there. For a while, we were delaying our launch: “Let’s launch in the middle of the year, maybe we can do May? Or April at the earliest.” I was hesitant that we, or more likely I, was ready to birth my baby to the world. But in the end, after some gentle nagging from Ella and Scarlett, I realised that you’re never going to be ready. You just have to go out and do it and don’t look back. Life’s a work in progress, just like this magazine. It will change and evolve as we go along and I’m excited about that. Funding is also difficult, I want to be able to pay everyone but it’s difficult when there’s no income… I’m still working on that challenge. 

Our only rule is to always be for and by fashion’s next generation. It’s about giving space to young creatives, whether they have 100 or 100 thousand followers, to learn, engage, collaborate and publish their work.

The pandemic has given rise to the already growing expectations for writers and media creatives to become convergent journalists in the phygital world. Working within a small team, has the pressure to be multiskilled, multimedia storytellers affected you or helped you? 

I suppose for us, we were always used to having to be multi-skilled – there just aren’t enough hands to do the job. It’s difficult because sometimes you feel like you don’t have time to give something you’re all. It’s a constant struggle. It has been helpful though, I think it’s important to have an understanding of the industry as a whole and not just be caught up in your own little segment, blind to anything other than what’s in front of you.

Check-Out has fully embraced its digital medium, something many media publications have been forced to do in the wake of the pandemic. It’s an exciting time for digital media, but it’s also created an influx of homogenised Instagram content that has quickly become the new normal. How do you think digital fashion media companies can continue to innovate in online spaces? 

It’s a matter of being open to change and willing to learn. The whole digital landscape is new and moving at such a  fast pace, you have to adapt and evolve and not be stuck in your ways simply because “we’ve always done it like this.” Not being afraid to try something new or different is paramount – I think that really sets the innovators apart from the rest. Also, it seems obvious, but hire young people and if you have the financial backing, pay them for what they’re worth??? 

No one’s perfect and we all make mistakes, which is okay. It’s how we act after those mistakes that shows the kind of character we are.

The traditional “rules” that once confined fashion journalism have slowly slipped away with the emergence of new independent magazines playing by their own rules. What is a new ‘rule’ that  Check-Out Magazine is following? 

Our only rule is to always be for and by fashion’s next generation. It’s about giving space to young creatives, whether they have 100 or 100 thousand followers, to learn, engage, collaborate and publish their work. And so when fashion’s next next generation comes, it’ll be time to pass on the baton. Gotta stick to those rules… Oh and also we don’t post on Sundays. Everyone needs at least one day of rest. 

What does positive change in the fashion industry look like to you, and how is Check-Out Magazine fostering this change? 

To me, positive change would be breaking down those barriers and obstacles for young people, and the all-too-true stereotypes of the industry à la The Devil Wears Prada. I think we also need to get to a stage where we’re able to admit our own faults. We saw some of that last year, but I think it needs to go further and not just because of backlash or jumping on the bandwagon of a movement. No one’s perfect and we all make mistakes, which is okay. It’s how we act after those mistakes that shows the kind of character we are. I hope that with Check-Out, we’re facilitating some of these changes or at least giving a voice to them. 

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