If there’s one thing the people behind Makeshift definitely do not lack, it’s creativity. From the subject matter of the magazine – creativity in shadow economies – to its recently revamped layout and design, and even the way it is run, everything about Makeshift illustrates its tagline perfectly: “Ingenuity can be found everywhere if you know where to look”. EIC Myles Estey sheds some light on what one of the most niche titles in our stable of independent magazines is all about, and why one of their goals is to give the unseen entrepreneurs and hustlers of the world a bit of props.
What prompted the recent redesign of the magazine?
Ever since we launched in 2011, we had planned to do a redesign after the first couple years. This year was a good point in our trajectory to step back and take stock. We wanted something our readers could be more engaged with, so we came up with the “field guide” concept. This meant a smaller mag and a more dynamic design — with illustrations, pull quotes and infographics throughout, as well as our “navigator” element along the top — that would take our readers to the hidden corners of the creative world we focus on.
What has the response been like so far?
Excellent. A lot of people love the portability of the new size, and our website (which uses a very similar aesthetic) has received several design awards. We’ve attracted a bunch of new subscribers, along with a few new distributors and partners — at least some of which we attribute to our redesign.
Your tagline states “Ingenuity can be found everywhere if you know where to look.” Where do you like to look?
Our focus is on black and grey markets, the digital underworld and the DIY community. The connecting thread between all of these is that they are unregulated, and — as we continue to find — are full of amazing stories of ingenuity. Sure, lots of brilliant ideas come from the boardrooms and labs of major corporations. But just as many come from the makerspaces of Togo, Chinese street markets, and maybe the garage workshop down the street from you. I personally spend a lot of time moving around Mexico’s black markets and am also part of an ongoing project on informal law and order. Covering these topics comes with risks, but we see it as our job to scour these locations for the most interesting stories.
Issue 9 focused on Navigation; Issue 10 is the Powering Up issue. How do you decide on the themes and the stories that follow?
Not surprisingly, it’s a bit of an informal system. We’re always brainstorming and collecting possible themes – among our staff, from our contributors, and from our day-to-day research, both online and off. Top priority goes to themes that push us in new directions. From there, the majority of our stories now come from pitches from our 300 contributors across 80 countries. Our job is to tie the thread through the issue. In Navigation, for example, we had to ask ourselves, “How do blind subway hawkers in Mumbai connect to the guy in Oregon stitching his own spacesuit and to the man digging tunnels from Egypt to Gaza?”
You have a staff of 15 across six countries. Where is most of the team based, and, since most are freelancers/volunteers, what are some of their day jobs/fields?
We are a scattered bunch. I live in Mexico City, where my “day job” is that of a freelance journalist and documentary producer. Our New York members run a hackerspace, write stories for a business publication, shoot videos, and work for an investment management firm. Our design team is in Madrid, and other editors and advisors are based in Athens, Beirut, Nairobi, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. It’s a pleasantly diverse squad.
Makeshift is currently in its third year. What lessons have you learnt about running a magazine in this time?
Well, we’ve certainly taught ourselves to run a magazine differently from the traditional model. Though the Internet may have spoiled the glory days of the big-budget print magazine, changes force innovation. We’ve learned how to be disciplined and efficient in collaborating remotely, saving a ton of overhead and allowing our team to stay global. This new era has created a breed of magazines hyper-focused on their topics and passionate about what they cover. Though niche publications come with downsides in terms of mass marketability, they lend an opportunity to bring readers into your passion and craft. It’s also allowed us to bring in some amazing partners, like Openbox and GE, who are extremely supportive of our mission.
What do you hope Makeshift brings to the newsstand?
A “wow” feel. On one hand, perhaps the mild shock that a well-designed magazine about creativity in shadow economies exists in the first place! More importantly though, surprise at the level of ingenuity that we dig up, from all corners of the world. And third, that we bring many positive stories about impressive people in places where we don’t tend to hear a lot of good news.
What other magazines are you a fan of?
Of the mainstream mags, Harper’s remains a favourite for long-form inspiration, though its narrative long fiction has been lacking a bit lately. I try to pick up Surfer’s Journal whenever I can, same with Colors. I love the design aesthetic of both – the eclectic worldview of Colors, and the highly specialised, surf subculture obsession of TSJ. Offscreen has been a huge inspiration to us, as have those in the Indie Publisher Club. In Mexico, Emeequis uncovers interesting stories, and Gatopardo has some really solid design elements and a few good features each issue.
Lastly, what kind of effect do you hope your stories on the economic fringe will have on your readers?
More than anything, we hope to excite people. Surprising stories, told from surprising angles using a style that is simultaneously clever, respectful and informative. We hope these will inspire readers – in their own creative pursuits or in their daily lives – and we hope we can shed light on some of the amazing making, inventing and hacking that goes on, and give some of the unseen entrepreneurs and hustlers of the world a bit of props.