Career Clinic: Wafa Alobaidat – Founder Of Sketchbook Magazine
Barely three years since graduating from university in London, Wafa Alobaidat from Bahrain has successfully started her own magazine, Sketchbook. Verge’s Joyce See chatted with her about her rise to success in a difficult industry, in the middle of a recession.
“It’s not everyday you see a young Middle Eastern girl trying to start a magazine in London, creating a little bit of chaos, it’s exciting because you don’t hear a story like that.” These are the words of founder and Editor in Chief of Sketchbook Magazine, Wafa Alobaidat.
It is 1:30am in Bahrain as 24-year-old Alobaidat speaks with this reporter via Skype. Her hair still damp from the quick dip she had just taken in her pool. She had recently flown back to her hometown, Bahrain, leaving London after spending six years here.
It is just over two years since Alobaidat graduated from an Interior Design course at Chelsea College of Art and Design. She had set her heart on doing art in London when she was 16 and visited the Tate Modern for the first time.
After graduating, she made it her “full time job to find a job.” She was on the phone, laptop, calling everybody “three, four times” and then she got in touch with Marko Matysik, editor of Vogue China who liked her CV and offered her a work placement – a dream come true for any aspiring magazine journalist.
“It opened a lot of doors for me. He gave me some great advice. One of the things he mentioned to me was, ‘when we go on shoots, don’t just sit with me. Go meet the hairstylists, photographers and build your own contacts and start doing your own shoots.’ He actually pushed me to start testing my own shoots and I did that.”
“I realised I have a lot to give and I have so many ideas in terms of how I can embrace digital media with a publication. These ideas were just swarming in my head and when I couldn’t find an outlet and my blog didn’t seem to be doing the trick, I just decided to take a leap of faith and create my own publication. So maybe if my editor was wonderful, I would probably be working for her now,” She jokingly added.
Her initial strategy was to “seduce friends with cupcakes”, trying to get them to do either layout, proof read or design the cover.
“A lot of people just laughed. They were like ‘it’s the recession, print media is dying, and you’re being ridiculous.’ But I just want to create content, so I will. If I make money along the way, that’s good. If not, that’s fine as well.”
“I don’t think I had a strategy. I just had a good gut feeling. I tried to pull as many people as I can to create it.
A mere six months after the initial idea formed, the first issue of Sketchbook was launched, greeted by rave reviews. The magazine even appeared on Perez Hilton’s blog.
Sketchbook has since had two pop-up shops at Carnaby Street, was heavily involved with Clothes Show Live back in June and an event with the Design Museum last December.
The Sketchbook website boasts 1.2 million online views, with 16,000 print on demand copies ordered. Since getting back to Bahrain, Alobaidat’s been getting her fair share of media coverage in the Middle East.
Television show requests, interview requests and newspaper requests are being put on hold as she is scouting for a space for yet another new project, Obai & Hill – a boutique agency that does branding, illustration, graphic, web design and pop up shops. It is clear as day that Alobaidat is definitely not one to sit around. She makes things happen.
Alobaidat admits that setting up a magazine in Bahrain is much easier compared to London. “A magazine in London, functioning from London, especially a magazine start-up from London. People don’t do that. You can find really cheap labour, cheaper rent. You can start things easier here especially if your family is connected and you have a lot of money.
“But I just didn’t see why I would bring this to Bahrain, London is one of the biggest design capitals in the world and I was focused. I was by myself, I was independent, I had nothing to lose. ”
“The biggest thing people have to understand is that it’s the greatest time to be alive. There are so many resources for you to do what you love. Think of a concept and bring it to life.
“In the beginning, it’s always the hardest part, there’s just one hurdle you have to get over. For me the biggest hurdle was starting it because I had no money. Have an ‘I can get this done’ attitude and that really helps. I try not to say no to anything. The best things that have happened to me in my life, I’ve always said yes.”
When asked if she thought of turning to her family for funding, she readily admitted: “I still ask my mom to fund my first printer and she’s like ‘figure it out’. It’s a challenge, this is your moment to turn your hobby into a business and that’s what I’m trying to do.”