Fashion Quarterly has a new owner, signalling a new era of independent creativity

FashioNZ publisher Murray Bevan writes that this move should motivate our local creative industry

Today Kiwi fashion fans will wake to the news of a new era at Fashion Quarterly, with current editor in chief Sarah Murray purchasing the legacy media title from previous owners Via Media.

At a time when traditional media are struggling to maintain relevance, build young readership and drive advertising revenue, this change of ownership signals a step in a positive direction for FQ when the reality is, a title like this could well have been shut down for good.

When news broke in October 2023 of the redundancies of NZH Viva’s long-time editor Amanda Linnell, along with Canvas editor Sarah Daniell, FashioNZ reported on how local media have, for the past three years, endured a rough road, with overseas owners often choosing to axe staff to drive down overheads and prolong the life of their titles.

But this invariably comes at the expense of years of local industry knowledge and connections being lost and, in many cases, the momentum and support that leading industry figures share with local players. Linnell’s loss at Viva was felt deeply across her immediate team and the local industry. I worried that it was potentially a sign of things to come.

As for FQ, Sarah Murray’s bold acquisition is a refreshingly optimistic move. Sarah is no stranger to fashion media, having been a long-standing freelance journalist and editor across multiple titles for the past 14 years, including regular contributions to Fashion Quarterly. Sarah has built up momentum in spades, as well as a rolodex of contacts that would be hard to beat.

Crucially too, she has always been one to work with, not against other industry players. My perception of Sarah as a freelancer and later, an editor, was aligned with her reputation as someone who watches cautiously from the wings, doing solid work when called upon. Now that she has lept at the opportunity to steer the ship I am thrilled for Sarah, and also excited to see if the move motivates others to light the fires of their independent hopes and dreams.

Our industry is jam-packed with talent, many of them having played important roles at various titles as they’ve worked their way up the ranks. These freelancers and editorial staff often exist as worker bees, supporting those who either own or edit titles, but seldom do we see them move into ownership roles, or start their own thing.

But some do break the mould: Zoe Walker and Rebecca Wadey formed Ensemble in the wake of the pandemic; Adam Bryce, Sara Black and Yasmin Ganley created Index and Island; Simon Chesterman and Henry Oliver acquired Metro; and Simon Farrell-Green opted not to buy HOME magazine from Bauer Media following its shock closure in 2020, but instead to start independent architecture and design magazine Here, to much acclaim.

And let’s also not forget that titles we sometimes take for granted had to publish their first issue once, too: Claire Sullivan took a leap into Denizen, Greta Kenyon started Together Journal, Stacy Gregg started RunwayReporter, Rachael Churchward and the late Grant Fell once published Issue 1 of both Planet and Black magazines, Tim Phin and Andy Pickering launched Remix magazine, and once upon a time Don Hope and Paula Ryan launched Fashion Quarterly, way back in 1980.

As 2023 draws to a close, the collective feeling is one of exhaustion. There are no shortage of local and global woes, and especially given we’d started to get our mojo back after the pandemic, this year’s recession, cost of living crisis, prolonged local election and ongoing Ukraine and Gaza conflicts have dampened our pathway to optimism.

However, just like we saw after the 2007/08 GFC, there are glimmers of hope.

Back then, we waited to see what green shoots would emerge from the rubble, and we welcomed Georgia Alice, Maggie Marilyn, Wynn Hamlyn and Paris Georgia to the industry, shortly followed by Harris Tapper. These five brands defined a new era of New Zealand fashion design, driven by a global vision and desire to push beyond Aotearoa that had previously only really been explored by Karen Walker.

Perhaps Sarah’s acquisition of Fashion Quarterly could form an important part of another new, post-pandemic creative wave; the aforementioned independent titles plus brands including Monday haircare, Baobei, Caitlin Snell, Raaie, Mothermade, Jess Grindell, Francesca Pecchenino, Tronque, IAMMI, Emma Lewisham and more – all full of new ideas and led by fresh ownership, sharp minds, nimbleness and a desire to see the local market support itself and thrive.