Creating Linen: A Magazine about Sustainable Fashion

As an editorial design project, I created a magazine and designed a single issue including the cover, department spreads, a main feature and photo essay, an infographic, editor’s letter, masthead page, table of contents, social page, and advertisements. As a semester-long project, I was able to deeply explore magazine design and my chosen topic. The result is the product of design trials and research. The resulting magazine — Linen — is a carefully constructed passion project.

Linen is a quarterly magazine focused on sustainable fashion and beauty. Sustainable, “slow fashion,” has become a huge buzzword in the fashion industry as consumers are moving towards making more responsible choices. As awareness of the environmental impact of the fashion industry grows, more people are looking to make responsible choices. Linen targets consumers who love fashion and luxury, and can afford to make careful, conscientious purchases. The demographic for the magazine is older millennial females (aged 28–35) who have a fair amount of disposable income. This demographic is concerned with sustainability, but is also very hip and style-conscious. Linen corners the market because it presents sustainability as both an imperative and an ideal, suggesting that the best clothing is both beautiful and environmentally friendly.

The image of the magazine is clean, minimal, and trendy. The photographs in the magazine are given prominence in clean layouts with minimal distractions, and all type and illustrations are carefully chosen to create a magazine that reads more like a fashion book than a throwaway magazine. The demographic is considered sophisticated and intelligent, so the articles in the magazine can be fairly lengthy. The clothing and beauty products featured in the magazine are considered high quality, but the prices are still affordable for middle-class consumers with a few higher-end luxury items throughout. The demographic is willing to spend extra on clothing if they believe that it has been ethically produced. The photography and clean layout of the cover will represent this aesthetic. And, of course, the magazine will be printed on recycled paper.

To focus on my target audience and develop a magazine that would speak to them, I did some research into the current landscape of magazines devoted to sustainable fashion, as well as overall trends in magazine design. Many of the magazines that focus strictly on sustainable fashion are online-only or print-on-demand. However, several high-profile magazines have also recently done sustainability issues (such as Vogue Australia’s “Redesigning the Future” issue with Emma Watson), and there are now “eco-friendly” tags on Vogue and Vogue UK websites. Some examples of smaller magazines that have a similar focus are: Mochni, (online magazine), Luxiders (online magazine), The Front Lash (online magazine), Sublime (print on demand), and Facon (online/print on demand).

Magazines with a minimalist aesthetic, such as Kinfolk, The Gentlewoman, and Renaissance inspired the look of my magazine, which I explored further through moodboards, type trials, and testing different layouts and grid structures. Of course, I was also inspired by the mainstream fashionmagazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, which I grew up reading in the 90s.

One of the most difficult design decisions was choosing between two covers, as I knew this would be the first impression of something I worked so hard on. I surveyed my peers and instructor, and ultimately chose the second cover:

However, design was not the sole focus of my project. As I narrowed the focus of my issue to vegan fashion, I knew that I would need to do lots of research into a topic that has only recently gathered buzz. Veganism is another trend in sustainability, and more consumers are looking for vegan cosmetics as well as vegan alternatives to wool and leather. As the luxury goods market still produces a lot of clothing made with animal products, I wanted the issue to show alternatives that are even better than the original and, as the magazine’s focus is the environment, the alternatives presented would not contain plastics or harmful petroleum products (as many vegan products often do).

Many of the articles in the magazine have been sourced from online publications, but my main feature required that I do some independent research as I was not finding many articles that dove deeply into what I wanted to discuss, which is the environmental impact of vegan fashion vs. clothing made with animal fibers, and how a responsible consumer can balance their ethics and make informed choices. As someone who follows a vegan lifestyle, I entered my research with some bias, and was expecting to find very clear proof that vegan fashion is more sustainable than animal fibers. There has been plenty of research in recent years to support the notion that a vegan diet is more sustainable than one that includes animal products. This is due to the impact of animal agriculture, which has been discussed by non-profits and leading scientists, including World Resources Institute and EAT (study in the Lancet), and a diet with reduced meat consumption has been studied and advocated for by the United Nations Environment Program. What I didn’t expect to find, however, was how deep the problem of sustainable vegan fashion is, and how vegan fashion’s reliance on microplastics and unsustainable synthetics carries a great environmental burden. The focus of my feature article (which combined several sources as well as my own research) changed from promoting vegan fashion as an obvious choice for sustainability, to an article that explored how nuanced the issue is. The key takeaway is that vegan is not the same as sustainable, but that it can be; what is needed are huge changes in the fashion industry to innovate beyond plastics and create fabrics that are durable as well as environmentally-friendly.

A source that I consulted, Global Fashion Agenda, is one that looks at the role of the fashion industry in contributing to climate change. Their comprehensive studies look at the various ethical and environmental issues in the fashion industry. Their studies largely suggested that, although some synthetic materials use fossil fuels and contain plastics, the production of animal fibers requires greater land and water use, as well as the release of methane from livestock; the problems of animal agriculture extend beyond the meat industry to all animal products. In addition, the toxic chemicals used in leather tanning carries an additional environmental burden. I further studied the impact of leather on the environment, producing the following illustration with some “fast facts” from my findings:

Ultimately, there are many factors to consider when making sustainable choices as a consumer. The best thing we can do is to limit the number of products we consume by purchasing durable pieces that we will wear frequently. In the context of a fashion magazine, which is meant to fuel consumerism, this can seem contradictory to the magazine’s goal. What had to be promoted more than the clothing itself was a change in lifestyle, and this is what I hoped to convey in my main story along with the types of clothing that I featured.

Of course, as a student project, I was limited to the high-resolution photos that I could find, and I did not have the resources to organize and execute photo shoots of sustainable fashion. Most of my images were free stock photos sourced from Pexels and Unsplash, and there was some necessary inventing of designers to complement the photos that I pulled together for an editorial spread. This was one of the biggest obstacles that I faced in constructing the magazine, but also the greatest impetus to find creative solutions.

This became more than a design project for me as I researched the fast fashion industry and called into question my existing biases. I struggled to pull together sources at times, and stretched to find imagery that was relevant and could be used copyright-free. When it finally came together, I was proud of what really was a labour of love. I dream of making this magazine a reality one day by collaborating with writers, photographers, and other designers. For something that I find so important, my passion for editorial design can be used to build a platform.

I learned as much from research as I did from the design process, but found the design process to be an unparalleled learning experience. From having experimented with magazine design as an adolescent using Microsoft Word to creating something that looked and felt professional (obviously using much more sophisticated tools), I felt that I had succeeded in creating the type of project that I had always wanted to make. The guidance of my instructor helped me to understand principles of layout and typography and expand upon the knowledge that I had built throughout my studies as a graphic design student. Creating something minimal is, I learned, a challenge. I wanted to fulfill the aesthetic goals that I had established at the start of the project, and this required restraint and careful choices.

Social awareness drives a lot of what I do, and I am always trying to extend this awareness into design. By focusing on sustainability in the context of a fashion magazine, I was able to explore and to build something that was a union of ideas and interests. This is why I love what I am learning to do through design.

Creating Linen: A Magazine about Sustainable Fashion

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