“It’s tough starting from the bottom and trying to work your way up,” says illustrator Chris Martin. The 22-year-old from Milnthorpe in Cumbria is passionate about illustration, but also wants to stay true to his ideals about the type of work he aims to produce, rooted in skate culture. “The prospect of having my work published nationally felt so distant,” he says. But Chris’s work, along with that of seven other young creatives, will appear next Saturday, 27 June, in a supplement published with The Guardian.
Your Voice. Your Way is being created by young people aged between 18 and 25 from across Britain who feel strongly that they and their contemporaries need to be heard when it comes to shaping the future. “I am driven to uncover how our world is steered,” says Chris. “And how, not just as creatives, but as people, we can change it.” Commissioned by Levi’s and The Guardian Labs team, the magazine aims to give a platform to the unheard, and amplify their voices.
“Their generation has what I’d call a positive stubbornness,” says Jason Kyriacou, the UK marketing and experience director for Levi’s. “An uncompromising attitude to what they believe in and the courage to act on it.”
Now, that attitude is needed more than ever. When The Guardian Labs and Levi’s started recruiting for the project, in the first months of 2020, issues surrounding climate change, shifting identities and inclusiveness came up in nearly every application. What gave the project even more urgency was the outbreak of Covid-19.
Suddenly the future was ever more uncertain, and the assembled contributors – all with little or no media experience – had to adjust to working on the project remotely and contacting their mentors from The Guardian Labs using video meetings.
Writer Kiera Moran, 24, has had the unusual experience of self-isolating before, and writes about the experience of seeing her five-year-old son through cancer. She started writing up late at night, caring for her child. “Sleep deprived at 5am, I have spilled my heart out,” says Kiera, from Merthyr Tydfil. “My voice is honest and unassuming. Coming from a working class background, I feel I am familiar and welcoming, with a story hidden behind nightmares. I was excited to have such an amazing opportunity. I hope to develop my writing and use what I’ve learned in future work.”
Another writer, Anna Marshall, 21, from Durham, drew on her experience in climate activism for the project. “I want to contribute to a fresher and more daring version of professional journalism,” she says. “I was buzzed to see what we could make together,” she says. “And I was excited to work with talented people who are dedicated to what they do.”
For the other two writers, Ayat Mohamed, 18, from London, and Sam Carrick, also 18 and from Gosport, the project was a chance to think about their place in the world and how they and others are viewed. “I hope someone reads it and feels understood,” says Ayat.
Illustrator Vicki Jones, 21, from Birmingham, was keen for her work to be seen by the people she depicts, often women of colour. “The message I’d like people to take from my work is to be proud of who you are regardless of skin colour, facial features or hair type,” she says. “To just love the way you look. I am passionate about this message and I want others to feel that they can be heard too.”
For the two photographers, Milli Ahern, 23, from London, and Fanny Beckman, 25, lockdown meant the biggest adjustment, forcing them to think creatively about what they could shoot in and around their homes, and they responded with positivity. “I was beyond excited when I found out I was chosen to work on this zine,” says Fanny, who is from Malmö, Sweden, but lives in London. “To get advice from people in the industry I have always dreamed of being part of means a lot to me.”
“We received hundreds and hundreds of applications,” says the project’s casting editor Anna Fielding. “Every single person who applied had something important to say. The eight collaborators have exceptional clarity of expression and a real drive to see a new world. They’ve been inspirational to work with.”
Although it has never been easier to self-publish work, or create a social media presence or a podcast, it’s difficult to be heard among so many others doing the same.
The reach of an established newspaper still matters, as does being heard by an audience beyond your peer group. The Guardian Labs and Levi’s were happy to turn over creative control and act as supporters and signal-boosters. The hope is that the conviction and passion displayed by these eight will inspire others to find their voices. The collaborators were paid for their time and work, and will be mentored for six months by The Guardian Labs staff.
Beyond encouraging young people to speak out and push for positive change, the aim is to let the world see the power of their potential. “We want to create a platform that this team perhaps otherwise wouldn’t have had. And then to put it in front of people who might not otherwise read it, because it would have been in places they wouldn’t normally look,” says Jason.
The team may be only eight strong, but they represent their generation and they represent Britain. Do look at what they have to say: it contains the seeds of our future.
Use Your Voice …
The zine created for the Your Voice. Your Way campaign will be published alongside the Guardian on Saturday, 27 June