Kaylen Ralph: The Riveter

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Hot on the heels of a successful $35,000+ Kickstarter campaign, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Riveter magazine is not slowing down. 24-year-old Rockford, Illinois native, Kaylen Ralph, wants to raise the bar for women’s magazines. And The Riveter does that, with compelling stories about kick-ass ladies doing kick-ass things. Long-form journalism for, about, and by women. Seems simple enough, but a tall order considering a scene flooded with celebrity gossip, weight-loss secrets and this season’s trends. But plenty of people are backing the idea, including big-name supporters like GIRLS writer Sarah Heywood and writer Ann Friedman (NYmag.com, ELLE, The Gentlewoman, NewYorker.com). I visited Kaylen at her apartment in Minneapolis to get The Riveter‘s backstory, to hear why the Midwest is a good place to base their operation, and to drink mimosas.

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Where are you from and when did you move to Minneapolis?

I grew up in Rockford, IL, which is about an hour and 15 minutes northwest of Chicago, and I moved to Minneapolis immediately after graduating from MU, in the fall of 2013.

Pretty much Midwest-based, then?

Yes! Midwest born and raised.

Why did you choose Minneapolis as a base?

Joanna Demikiewicz (The Riveter’s co-founder and one of my best friends) spent some time here growing up. When we were getting ready to graduate from MU, after we’d decided that we were just going to go for it (with The Riveter) we had this freedom and/or burden, depending on how you look at it, to really just pick where it was that we wanted to live and where we wanted The Riveter to have its first home base. We were going back and forth between Chicago and Minneapolis, but ended up here. I couldn’t be happier having made this move. I love Minneapolis, and the people I’ve met here, the connections we’ve made…I really attribute this city’s culture and atmosphere to The Riveter‘s recent growth and success.

I spent a few summers during college working in the New York media industry. I love New York City, but it’s not the place for The Riveter at this stage. Furthermore, it’s the mecca of what’s currently considered “women’s media.” If we’re trying to reimagine the industry, why not give it a new center altogether?

How did The Riveter start?

Joanna and I first had the idea for The Riveter during the spring of 2012, when we were juniors at MU. That was the year that not one woman was nominated for a major writing or reporting ASME award. Initially, we just wanted to make a magazine that could serve as a platform to publish the kind of longform journalism by women that had “award potential.” Obviously that initial nugget of an idea has evolved quite a bit.

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Did it start out as a fully-formed business idea, or did you figure it out as you went along?

After having the initial idea of what we wanted The Riveter to be, we didn’t really revisit it until almost a year later. During that time, Yanna and I both lived abroad. (I spent a semester at the Dublin Institute of Technology in Ireland studying journalism.) When we reconvened in the spring of 2013, we were approaching the table with more experience and broader perspective. We knew we wanted The Riveter to be a print publication, and we crowd-funded $2000 to launch Issue 1. Until last month, we’ve worked completely off of that “seed” money in order to launch The Riveter online and put out a second print issue. Last fall, we brought our newest partner, Natalie Cheng, on board to help with developing the business into something self-sustaining and self-perpetuating, in a way. The Riveter online is something that has grown a lot over the past year, and it’s proven to be an invaluable as an entry point for new readers. That probably seems like an elementary point, but we really were so, so focused on print in the early stages. Now, it’s amazing to see how the two platforms (print and online) have influenced the other. We just wrapped a successful, $35,000 subscribe drive on Kickstarter last month. The Kickstarter campaign was the first opportunity to subscribe to The Riveter in print, and based on the campaign’s success, that was something our readers were really craving. Issue 3, the first of our new quarterly print publication schedule, will be released in September. We’re keeping the content under wraps for now, but it’s going to be sick.

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What were the early goals, and how have they changed?

Early on, we thought that a “women’s magazine” wouldn’t be taken seriously. So were were constantly walking this impossible tightrope of being a magazine that was edited and written by women, but trying to stress that it was “for everyone.” We really thought that characterizing ourselves as a women’s magazine would somehow devalue our content. Isn’t that crazy? I’m so glad we’ve matured as a business to the point that we’re unapologetic about what we’re trying to do and who we’re doing it for. I get a lot of inspiration from Esquire. They are a “men’s mag” through and through, but their readership is something like a 70/30 male to female ratio. We’re focusing on making a women’s magazine that women as writers and readers deserve; we can change readers’ perceptions by our example, without disassociating ourselves from the genre we’re trying to change.

You’ve mentioned wanting to get The Riveter into fashion. Why do you want to address fashion? And is there a contradiction between the feminist message of TR and the lip service the fashion industry gives to feminism?

Yes! Ever since giving up the “for everyone” mantra, we’ve been able to expand our content into areas that are considered traditional “women’s mag” subjects. Fashion and beauty fall into that, of course. The Riveter is never going to cover and report on trends (there are truly enough women’s magazines doing that job), so we aim to cover fashion from an industry perspective and highlight women and initiatives in fashion who are doing things differently. We’ve been experimenting with monthly special sections on the website, and April is “Rank & File Style.” So we’re divining headfirst into the fashion realm, but with a Riveter spin. My favorite example of how we’re doing things differently is this piece by Nicole Garner. It seems like every day there’s a new article about how to make sure your eyebrows are “on trend,” but how and why did eyebrows become a trendy body part? That’s the fashion commentary I’m interested in, and which is lacking in the industry at large. Women’s magazines lack the “watchdog” element when it comes to fashion journalism, so there’s room for us to explore that kind of reporting.

How did you fit TR into your life, and how have you had to change your life to start the magazine?

I’m fortunate to have a “day job” that not only tolerates, but supports, my Riveter work. I’ve worked as the salon coordinator at TC2 Salon for the past year, and everyday I feel so lucky to work with such a talented, creative and kind group of people. Since the majority of my day is spent in front of a computer, I have the opportunity to devote my attention to The Riveter for long stretches of time during the day. Since I can plan around a set “9-to-5″ schedule, it frees up my evenings for events, happy hours and more work, of course. There’s this quote from Lydia Loizides (the CEO of Get Talentedly) that I came across recently and really identify with: “A startup is not a fashion statement; it’s a lifestyle.” So, as far as how The Riveter has changed my life, I don’t really know. The Riveter is my life, and I’ve never known anything different a young professional woman. My first job is my dream job, so I feel pretty content about that.

 

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Ellen Lawson is the creator and EIC of The Flyover, a graphic designer and photographer living in Minneapolis.

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