Girl Bosses of St Andrews – Jade Fagersten and Alcira Hava, founders of Brizo Magazine – for the artist and the intellectual

Founders of Brizo Magazine, Jade and Alcira are two fourth year students at the University of St Andrews who came together at the end of their first year (and start of their second) to create a respected online publication. What started as a small team of writers and artists putting out a few articles every couple of days has developed into an online magazine with packed issues every other month. Each article is accompanied by incredible and moving artwork by Brizo’s team of artists, and each article is also offered in the form of a podcast on Spotify. For this month’s edition of Girl Bosses of St Andrews, I sat down with Jade and Alcira over a delightful and thought-provoking Zoom call. The two were actually my inspiration for the series, the first two ‘Girl Bosses’ I thought of interviewing, and the ones responsible for inspiring my own creative endeavours ever since I began writing for Brizo in my second year of university.

HC: First of all, how did Brizo begin?

Jade: Brizo originated in Pret, in St Andrews, in May of 2018 – the end of our first year. It came out of a conversation between Alcira and I - we were discussing how we wanted to get involved in doing some writing for a publication, but there was nothing in St Andrews that really spoke to us in a way that we would have liked it to. This rapidly transformed into a conversation about media in general, and how hard it is to strike a balance between something that is artistic as well as being professional, and the value of pieces that can make you think. It soon came out that we’ve both always wanted to start a magazine or newspaper, and it took one of us saying, ‘well why don’t we just do it?’ for Brizo to truly be born. In Pret, of all places.

Alcira: And then that summer of first year, in 2018, I went to California to visit Jade and we managed to do the majority of our planning. For the name, we were looking through Greek deities and Brizo instantly jumped out at us. Brizo whispers dreams and prophecies to sailors. We loved that idea – kind of artistic but grounded in culture. Then we launched the first piece in October 2018!

HC: How has the way Brizo looks and works changed since that first piece in October 2018?

Alcira: There’s been a lot of changes since we started. Most glaringly, we didn’t start off with issues, but it didn’t take us long to realise that we couldn’t just start publishing independent pieces every two weeks. We didn’t have a lot of writers in the beginning, and Jade and I were doing all the social media, all the editing, and all the uploading; basically just trying to get it to take off. By January 2019, we had launched our first issue, called 'Epoch.' While it had a theme, like our current editions, it lacked a consistent colour palette (which we have since developed). Since that first issue, we have grown significantly and have a far larger team of contributing writers and artists. The other new thing that we only started during lockdown in 2020 was Snippet Sounds, our poetry series. That’s an area we want to develop – doing more small things in between issues to keep publishing and to keep people coming to our website.

Jade: Another exciting addition to our publication is the recent introduction of podcasts! While it was definitely more of an undertaking than we had imagined - the idea took about six months to finalise - we think it adds so much to the articles to be able to listen to them being discussed by their author. 

HC: Brizo is a largely female team of both writers and artists, and some issues have been all women creators. Why do you think that is?

Alcira: It actually wasn’t something we’d intended, it just ended up being what came about. At the end of second year, I remember getting messages from guys who were thinking about writing for us. It was funny because the pattern was always a message saying ‘how does it work, what’s the idea’ or something along those lines, and usually after I explained everything to them they would ask ‘but what do I get from this?’, which is missing the point entirely. What you’re gaining from writing for Brizo is a professional writer’s skill set, the experience of writing for a publication, and the sense of community found in knowing other people share your interests. We cannot offer you economic compensation – I wish we could, but that’s not where we’re at right now. This is not to say that we haven’t had any men contribute at all, we’ve had some guys who have written for Brizo as part of the team, and also through poetry and photo series submissions. 

Jade: I think that, as Alcira was saying, the tendency was for men to think that we needed to convince them to join, which completely misses the point. On a socio-cultural level, I think it speaks to a sense of freedom that men possess, where if they want to express themselves, (and not always, because toxic masculinity is a massive issue), the room to express themselves has always been allotted to them subconsciously or consciously as a given: the space to put something out into the world, the space to publish something. On the other hand, I think that women are raised to have a far deeper sense of imposter syndrome within their work, and have a harder time determining what is worthy of being seen by people and being physically published. To me, that is part of what makes Brizo appeal to so many women - primarily because it’s not for any gain other than personal: creative and emotional. That is what makes me especially proud of Brizo - being able to foster that sense of community between creative minds and establish a place in which one might feel safe to share these things (imposter syndrome or not). 

Alcira: I think it’s sort of a vicious cycle by which if you’re a woman, you feel more safe and comfortable in a space that’s female dominated (especially when it comes to producing work and how that’s going to be accepted). But at the same time, the more women you have in a space, the more female-owned it’s going to be, at least as seen by men. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy – we’re creating a safe space for female creatives, which I love, and we’re both very proud of. But even when it comes to our readers, we have more female readers than male readers. It’s like ‘oh, there’s a female majority, so it’s only meant for women.’ It shouldn’t be that way, and Alcira and I have tried very hard to make Brizo a gender-neutral magazine that is inclusive of all. I hope that in the future, more men feel comfortable joining us. We can’t offer you money, we can’t offer you anything other than a place where you can channel yourself and be who you want to be. 

Jade: Exactly. The thing is, as we all know, if you’re a self-identified woman, then everything you do is political and has to be some sort of stance for women. Fortunately for us, we are more than happy to have a female dominated magazine and to be producing content that speaks to a lot of women due to its extent of personal pieces. So it’s actually a blessing, because I don’t think there’s anything cooler than when we’ve had issues that are 100% female produced (edited, written by, art by women).

HC: You’re both fourth years due to graduate and leave St Andrews. What do you see in Brizo’s future?

Alcira: We both agree that we want to keep it going, because it is our baby!

Jade: For me at least, and I hope this is the same for everyone on the team, Brizo is very much a safe-haven, creatively. You’re in uni and although you’re writing your own work academically, you can’t really channel the internal parts of yourself that you might want to; the parts that your journal might see. For this reason, Brizo has been an incredible opportunity for me to begin to flex that muscle and refine my own creative voice and process, which I have absolutely loved doing. It’s a beautiful little escape from having academic or professional deadlines. Having that as a piece of Brizo means that I don’t want to give it up, even if I’m working a full-time job.

Alcira: And, obviously, the dream is for it to become a proper magazine; a bigger magazine, something published and printed and widely-read enough for us to monetise and support our writers and artists. Then we can actually take it on as a full time project. I would be prepared to just say that’s what I’m doing, that is my job.

Jade: We said in first year: the goal is to graduate with a career already. My dream with Brizo is that, but also I dream of an office space. I think it would be so cool to have an office space for Brizo where people can come in, and write, and make art. That’s my ideal version of life.

HC: Which woman inspires you most?

Alcira: My maternal grandma. My mum was the first person in her family to go to university. My maternal grandma was really smart, really well-read, but she never had the opportunities that she would have wanted to have, or to see the world in the way that I have. Not only because of her socio-economic background but also because she lived most of her life under a dictatorship in Spain. I was very close with my grandma when I was a little kid, and I’m very similar to her in a lot of ways (according to my mum). I owe it to her and the women in my family that came before me to make the most of the opportunities I have now. The fact that I’m here, studying in Scotland, when all of them grew up working under-paid jobs in the south of Spain in a completely different historical period - it’s a wild thought, but it also shows you where you can get if you make the most of what’s given to you and put the work in.

Jade: I’m going to have to say my mother. Primarily because she has somehow mastered the ability to walk between antithetical personality traits, which I think is a hard thing for women to do. My mother is an extremely generous and kind-hearted person, empathetic, understanding, and passionate about a lot of things. And she’s also absolutely kick-ass. She is extremely brave and determined, ambitious, capable of anything and everything. She doesn’t let people walk all over her: she knows how to preserve boundaries. She’s a businesswoman, and she has learned how to maintain pieces of her femininity in a hyper-masculine environment where women are expected to behave like men to gain respect. I really appreciate that she has felt that being feminine, interpreting womanhood in whatever way you want to, would never equal vulnerability or naivety or weakness. And that’s a hard lesson to internalise when you grow up in a world that teaches you otherwise; that strong women have to have masculinity in acceptable forms in order to be successful. I think she’s inspired me in every sphere of my life.

Thank you so much for your time, Jade and Alcira! We can't wait to see what Brizo does next.

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