eet the girls behind the Gen Z startup lilbunzine: unleashing their latest project, The Friend Zone Zine: Amber, Laura and Roxy. A powerhouse trio who started a community project to raise awareness and donate proceeds to The Trevor Project, a charity organisation dedicated to suicide prevention in the LGBTQIA+ community. The girls have put their skills to the test with this exciting new project. I had the privilege of getting them together for an exclusive chat, to talk about their newfound entrepreneurship, life in lockdown and how they navigate spaces as members of this dynamic generation.
Meet the team!
Laura is a university librarian from Lafayette, Louisiana, USA. She’s the top dog behind the business; she oversees the production and coordination of the project.
Roxy is from Puerto Rico, she moved to Florida, USA at 8 years old. She works in tech support, while also doing her artistic endeavours on the side. She manages the technical side of the project; all things business, she’s your girl!
Amber is a 22-year-old film student from London, UK. She enjoys all things, arts, graphics and film media — passions which lead her on to becoming a member of the team. She is the marketing and design queen behind the brand.
The girls met as strangers on a spontaneous, yet rewarding trip, in the summer of 2018. An all women, inclusive trip to a summer camp called Camp Gritty. As first-time camp goers, apprehensions were high, but fate brought them together in a small cabin, in the middle of the scorching heat, on a camping trip in Fall Creek Falls Tennessee, a small town two hours outside of Nashville.
“I think what bonded us together was being in a space for the first time where you don’t know anybody; nobody knew anybody. This was a first-time experience, none of us knew what we we’re getting into.”
The power of social media came through; none of the girls had met before but, equally took interest in a summer camp they found online! Daringly, each of the girls did some research on the camp, it’s content and its themes, to see how this would appeal to them.
“My boyfriend and I were talking the week before. Summer camp is so cool, wouldn’t it be cool if there was one for grown-ups, grown-ups don’t have anything fun… And then, I [found myself] googling it one day, ’adult summer camps’. I found [Campy Gritty] and thought, this is my opportunity, I’m going!”
The project — sparks of innovation…
“I really want to take this opportunity to shout out an artist; a transgender artist from New York, USA, named J Yang, a children’s illustrator. You can check him out on jyangart.com. His work is amazing. Without him this project would have not been a thing at all. I was scrolling through his page one day and saw a post on how to make a zine.”
Laura found herself in the mundane normality of a routine job. Like many of us, she needed that next step. Something to boost her interests and spark excitement. She came across J’s amazing work on Instagram and so from there, the passion began to blossom.
“I was looking for a way to creatively express myself, so I decided to do this. The best way to learn how to do something, is to just do it!”
Following her close relationships with the other two team members, Amber and Roxy, Laura went straight to the girls for their insights, with hopes that they’d jump on board and make this project take off. All three girls had a strong creative flair, with each bringing their unique ideas and concepts to the table. As mentioned, all proceeds from their sales will be going to support The Trevor Project — a huge incentive for the girls to join. They were eager to take part in work that is fun, but equally gives back to their communities.
For all you cool kids out there, this section probably isn’t for you. But for the rest of us oldies, or ‘20-year-old seniors’, there’s this little cool thing called a Zine. Zines got their start in the 30’s as a way for sci-fi fans to express themselves. However, they really took off in the late 80’s, early 90’s. It was photocopied paper that teens would throw together, give out at news-stands or pass around to their friends at school. It was an art project, a cultural trend of it’s time that developed and grew as people began to appreciate the creativity it harboured. It grew immensely with the digital world and became a simple, yet effective, form of expression that did not require print or production. Qualities that appealed to the girls and allowed them to make the project they have today.
Another important question, again just for my seniors and oldies out there: ‘what are the negative connotations behind the friend zone?’ The girls are working to challenge this stereotype. It is a phrase that has been commonly used to describe someone who does not reciprocate or take feelings; they only see you as a ‘friend’ and nothing more.
“In society, it is seen as a rejection, but it doesn’t have to be. Being friends is and can be a wonderful thing.”
The girls set off with the task to repackage and re-adjust societal suppositions around this term. Defining and outlining their brand was the first step to launch this project off the ground; an image for their business that had a strong commercial appeal.
“I really like tying in the theme of friendship alongside a charity like The Trevor Project because to me it’s intrinsically hand-in-hand.”
Those of you who are aware of The Trevor Project, and have visited their page, will know it is eye-catching, fun, vibrant and warming. The brand is creative and all-encompassing of the space it represents. This brand had a very strong influence on the image of The Friend Zone Zine, both in the page setting and marketing tone.
Following this inclusive approach, the girls came up with ‘artist spotlights.’ This marketing campaign was a way for the girls to showcase their ‘friends’ and people in the zine community who have made an impact.
“We really wanted to promote the artists behind the designs. So, people can see that’s a cool piece of art, and here’s the amazing person who made it!”
Doing good, feeling good — working for charity!
Founded in 1998 by the creators of the Academy Award-winning short film TREVOR, The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25.
When asked, the girls felt compelled to support this organisation through their work, and had this to say:
“I have lived my whole life in the bible belt of the deep south of America, where traditionally people can be less accepting of things like homosexuality and gender fluidity. I knew a lot of kids growing up who really struggled to accept themselves while living in this situation. The Trevor Project is the friend that a lot of these kids need, if they maybe don’t have someone at home who they can be lifted up by or listened to. The Trevor Project can offer them that outlet and validate what they’re feeling as normal and acceptable. We truly believe that making a friend makes a difference. By giving these people, who are struggling, a place to turn, The Trevor Project truly changes lives.”
‘I like big bundles and I cannot lie’ — grab the goods!
Now for the ultimate prize…‘Big bu, I mean ‘bundles’!! The girls are coming at you with some amazing bundles. Did you think I meant something else? Get your mind out of the gutter folks!!!
All the hard work and behind the scenes production has paid off! They’ve put their artistic skills to the test to produce some amazing products that are pretty cool, and for a good cause. JACKPOT. And as Laura goes on to say, “there’s a lot, so strap in!”
The girls take us back to our youth; experiences in primary education, first friendships, primary innocence, connecting with others and finding your sense of self. All the bundles follow this theme:
- The chatroom bundle (all digital) — A PDF version of the zine which includes several short stories, original art pieces, all inclusive, full colour. Shout-out to the amazing artist, Lora B of Texas, who made all of the digital merch!
- The Friend Zone bundle — A physical 60+ page saddle stitch version of the zine, a postcard, all the goodies from the chatroom bundle, and thanks to Laura’s mum, we all have little pouches up for grabs!
- The BFF Zine — The 60+ page saddle stitch zine, postcard, two sticker pages, the chance to win a handmade bracelet by Italian artist, Nine Rentola, a cute little dog pen, and the digital PDF version of the zine.
Goals for the future — to infinity and beyond!
This has been a new learning experience for the team, and this is only the start. A small idea can lead to huge rewards. It’s not always about the money in your pocket, but the drive and ambition to make your idea take off.
“If I really like the idea, I’m going to find a way to make it happen.”
Every journey has challenges, and this journey was no exception. Formatting was something the girls had to trail to master. Every artist works in different ways and with different styles, learning to format their work into the dimensions for the zine was something the girls had to figure out with a lot of trial and error. Every artist uses different programmes, and learning to fit these into one format, without pixelation was tough — but they achieved it!
“Formatting was a challenge…I would start working as soon as I got off my day job, and next thing I knew I’d look at the clock at it was 2am. [At that moment] I was thinking I should probably go to bed. This is enough for tonight; I’ll pick it up again in the morning.”
It’s inspiring to see their journey. It has been a learning experience that we all can benefit from. Listening to the girls discuss their work serves to highlight the untapped potential that lies within the many rising stars of this generation. Resilience is the key to success. You cannot presume to know everything. And talking with the girls in this interview, highlighted that an idea is only as fruitful as the skills that come from it. If you haven’t learnt anything, how do you expect to grow as a person and develop new opportunities?
The greatest reward is the creativity they each bring to the project. They connect people together through work and interest. So much is to come from this, and this is only the beginning!
“It sounds scary alone, but when you have friends it makes you feel like anything is possible.”
And the friendship doesn’t stop there, over time the project has grown; friendships, collaborations and MANY MORE ZINES!! The girls expressed their aim: to become a community of cool and quirky individuals inspiring one another through this creative outlet.
The pragmatism these girls expressed in this 40-minute sit down was something that many should strive to pursue through each of their personal endeavours. It’s good to win, but it’s just as important to be open and honest about your journey. The girls have shown that if you invest in your communities, they will, in turn, invest in you and your efforts.
To end this amazing discussion, I ask the girls their parting advice for other aspiring stars and dream chasers. They say:
……………………JUST DO IT.
……………………………BE ONLINE. BE PRESENT.
“Growing up, I lived in a super small town. We had like maybe 1000 people in the whole town. I was very privileged in a lot of ways, but I did feel, especially, pinned in by geography and circumstance…There wasn’t a lot to do. But I think something people need to understand is that, especially in this day and age, do not let your geography dictate what you’re doing. Reach out to people, use the resources available.”
“Your ability to do something extends only as far as you’re willing to go.”