To describe writer, journalist, entrepreneur, and South East London It-Girl Ione Gamble as a busy person would probably be a massive understatement. Name-dropped by i-D as one of the editors shaping the future of magazines and a new debutante by Tatler, Gamble founded Polyester Zine at 20 years old as a direct clap-back to the restrictive social norms she was seeing in mainstream titles.
Polyester has recently turned eight, and Gamble still commissions, produces, and oversees all its print and digital content, which focuses strongly on contemporary feminism and identity. Look past the garish kitsch that unashamedly proclaims its own “bad taste”, and you’ll find a witty, original publication which rips the rosy tint off the lens of feminism, but still celebrates femininity in all its (often messy and confusing) facets.
Aside from running the zine, along with its podcast, members’ group chat, and partnerships, Gamble still finds the time to freelance for a range of publications and papers. She also published her debut book in May this year: Poor Little Sick Girls, a collection of musings on modern identity politics and productivity while navigating chronic illness.
We catch Gamble in the midst of her preparations for the launch party of Polyester‘s second Dollhouse zine, to pick her brains about starting an indie publication, getting published, and why the media industry is so resistant to change.
My Day Starts At…
Usually, I wake up around 9am. I don’t believe in waking up too early or starting to work before 10am!
Then, I head to my studio which is a short walk from my house. The Polyester team is split between London and Manchester, so we usually all jump on calls in the morning then get on with our day.
My Typical Day Involves…
What I’m working on really changes all the time; from managing the team, admin, planning shoots and events, strategy, recording the podcast, or taking external meetings.
If I’m not working on Polyester then I’m usually writing from home and working on longer-form writing projects. I’m not a huge fan of strict routines but I do love our Polyester studio, and sticking to working within normal hours, rather than having loads of work to finish in the evenings.
I Always Thought I’d Be…
I’d always really wanted to be a writer, and then when I got into my teens, I became obsessed with magazines and knew I wanted to work in the media. To be honest, I never really had a back-up plan, but it does feel like a dream that this is what I do every day, and that I have a team to manage and an office of my own, and a book! It’s unreal.
Copies of Polyester and Gamble at a Dollhouse event. (Image Credits @ionegamble/Instagram)
I Began My Current Job By…
I started Polyester while I was at university, then began searching for a full-time job when I graduated. I spent around a year doing freelance shifts and working on staff at various publications before realising what I really wanted was to make a go of Polyester and also continuing to develop my writing practice.
A few years after that, in 2020, Polyester was at the position in which I could start hiring a team. It was also around that time in which I got my book deal for Poor Little Sick Girls.
The Thing Which Surprises Me Most About My Job Is…
How short the deadlines are! Whether it be a project or an article, there’s always less time than you’d like.
I Am Most Proud Of…
I’m so proud of the community that has grown up around Polyester over the last eight years, and the fact that I’ve been able to grow the zine as a publication without compromising our morals or what we stand for as a publication. The people that gravitate towards the zine are very special and I feel very lucky.
I’m also really proud of my book; it was such a different experience to work independently on a giant body of work for so long, and it’s still surreal to see it out in the world and to have people enjoy it.
“It’s still an industry built on class barriers, backwards hierarchy, and aspiration that seeks to keep most of us out.”
Ione Gamble, founding editor-in-chief of Polyester Zine and author
I Come Up With Article Ideas By…
I used to pitch all the time, and I do think it’s a really worthwhile experience to have as a journalist. Pitching does help you refine your voice, what topics you enjoy covering, and your angle on things. A few years ago when Polyester began to grow more quickly, I stepped away from the bulk of my freelance work to focus on the publication and also on writing Poor Little Sick Girls, so now I’m really lucky to be approached.
But when I did pitch, my notes app was full of one-line ideas, which once a week I’d dig out to expand into proper pitches. I used to be so obsessive about scanning the internet to search for story ideas. Developing those skills was really valuable as now it’s something I pull on to develop themes and concepts for The Polyester Podcast.
If I Could Start My Career Again…
I wouldn’t massively change things. I think every experience I’ve had was somehow valuable in terms of teaching me how to — or how not to — run a magazine myself.
I might have said yes to less early on in my career; I still find it really hard to turn down freelance work as I still feel really lucky just to be asked to write! But establishing a more healthy work-life balance is definitely something I wish I had the tools to do early on in my career, and something I hope I’m getting better at now.
I’d Be Wary Of…
Anyone selling social justice along with a sponsored product!
If People Wanted To Follow In My Footsteps, I’d Say…
Find a community! For me it’s been the most important thing and I would definitely have not been able to maintain or grow Polyester without one.
The Thing I’d Most Like To Change About The Industry Is…
The fact that it’s still an industry built on class barriers, backwards hierarchy, and aspiration that seeks to keep most of us out. I hope the wealth starts being shared a bit more.
Currently, the UK media is so heavily skewed towards the same five to 10 legacy publications that, no matter how hard they try, will never be able to successfully usher in an inclusive, non-hierarchical era of magazines and online publishing.
I want to see more marginalised people having their publications funded and getting investments, and for advertisers to back them. For an industry so obsessed with the new, we’re actually really scared of change, but to create exciting work it needs to be embraced.
After Work, I Usually…
Header image courtesy of @ionegamble via Instagram
Catharina Cheung is the Deputy Editor at Journo Resources and is responsible for writing, commissioning, and editing content across JR’s website and social channels, driving editorial and social strategies, and mentoring junior writers.
Hampshire-based by way of Hong Kong and Singapore, Catharina is also a freelance writer, editor, and translator with senior editorial experience at various digital and print publications.
Although she writes across a broad range of beats, she primarily considers herself a culture writer with a particular interest in heritage deep-dives and features on underrepresented people with stories to tell.