Friday, December 5, 2008

Interview - Kate Bezar

Well-loved Dumbo feather library

Dumbo feather covers

Dumbo feather pagespread featuring Aus fashion designer Marnie Skillings. Love the copy - "OH fashion, OH you'll never get a job, OH that's the hardest industry - Fortunately Marnie Skillings wasn't listening"

I get the feeling Kate Bezar is a bit of a dynamo.

It's not just the incredible success she's had with her stunning independent publication Dumbo feather in a fiercely competitive market..... (a magazine she started single-handedly five years ago and with no journalism experience, mind you). No, mainly, it's the fact that just a few seconds of googling brings up so many varied accolades and creative collaborations that I begin to wonder if there might be 25 Kate Bezars.

But no, there's only 1. And she's here,
here, here and even here.

And of course, she's here! Read on for an insight into the inspiring world of 'editor, publisher & dreamer', Kate Bezar. Thanks so much for your time Kate!

Tell me a little about your background - what did you study and what path led you to what you’re doing now?

I'd almost bet I'm the first person with a Chemistry degree to grace your blog!

I think, like a lot of people, I never really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. So, when I finished school, even though my best marks were in English and Painting, I thought the more sensible thing to do would be to study Commerce and Science. That lead me to a very sensible career as a management consultant working on projects for companies like banks and airlines, both of which I also used a lot; I flew ridiculous amounts and was paid ridiculously well. That was pretty seductive, but on some really fundamental level I knew it wasn't what I was meant to be doing with my life, it wasn't what I was passionate about.

I was volunteering at art galleries on weekends just to get my 'fix'. Eventually I walked into a newsagent one night wanting to buy a mag but just couldn't find what I wanted. I wanted to read about real people who'd found what they were passionate about in life and how they'd gone about pursuing it. When I walked out of that newsagent and I hadn't found a mag but I had found what I was going to do. I was going to make a mag for people like me.

Pagespread featuring ex-model turned photographer (I think?) Emma Balfour - "When people ask what I'm doing now, I mainly blush"

You have received many well-deserved accolades for Dumbo Feather. What were you initial plans when you first embarked on this ambitious project? Did you ever expect it to take off as it has?

If I'm really honest, in a little hidden part of my heart I dared to dream that Dumbo feather would reach thousands of people and be loved by them and inspire them. But you know, even if it had just inspired one person to 'fly' then I would have been happy. I mean that.

It’s been 5 years since you first started Dumbo Feather – how has the business grown and developed in that time? Is your business structured differently 5 years on – do you employ staff or other collaborators these days?
I don't work off the side of my dressing table any more - that's a bonus! From the beginning there's been me and Jim, Dumbo feather's art director (who works on each issue for two weeks). Everyone else is freelance or volunteers; writers, photographers, our proof-reader. So, it hasn't changed all that much except I now have a part-time 'Chief of Flock', Barbara, who manages subscribers and online orders. When I only had 100 or even 500 subscribers I could do the mailouts (with boyfriend roped in) in my living room. Then, when there were 1,000+ subscribers, I'd get together a crew of helpers from amongst Dumbo feather's friends. Now I pay a professional organisation do it for me. In some ways it's a shame to be less hands-on, but it's part of growing I guess.

Pagespread featuring Emma Magenta (is that the best name or what?)

You are a keen and proficient multi-tasker! You’ve spoken at AGI ideas, writers festivals, AGDA events… as well as contributing to many publications other than your own. How do your balance this myriad of projects, promotional and other commitments with the day-to-day demands of producing Dumbo Feather?

I am a terrible multi-tasker! Terrible I tell you. I am so easily distracted by the internet, my inbox, a new book in the mail … The hardest thing for me is to try to manage my time. I've tried allocating days to roles, like making Monday an editorial day and Tuesday an accounting day, but it never works so I just keep doing my manic juggling act. I find I can't do anything without a deadline, so now I just make sure everything has one and somehow it all gets done, invariably at the last minute.

Which designers, artists or creative people are you inspired by?

All of them! Anyone who's being true to their creative self is inspiring, but in particular I love people who use their imagination and skills to make beautiful, functional things or systems that contribute to our world in a positive way … Like Dave Eggers, publisher of McSweeney's, author, and founder of 826 Valencia (a non-profit organisation helping kids with their English homework situated behind a pirate supply store - imagine being able to stock up on glass eyes at the same time as conjugating verbs!). Or like Matt Butler who designed the zaishu table/stool/thing and has since had them decorated by street kids, famous painters, Indian henna tattooists. Or like Alison Thompson who took a camera with her to Sri Lanka when she went to volunteer after the tsunami, edited a film out of the footage and it ended up screening at Cannes to standing ovations. Awesome stuff!

Pagespread featuring Slingfings founder and sustainable textiles maven Rachel Bending

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

Lucky me there isn't really a 'typical' day. The bulk of what I do tends to shift with the magazine cycle. At the beginning of the cycle I'll be doing research (spending a lot of time with my comrade Google), then interviewing, then editing, coming up with sub-feature story ideas, then more editing, then working with Jim on the design, putting in the pull-quotes and making it all fit, then getting everything ready for the mailout; database stuff, then when the mag comes back from the printer I'm in distribution mode; printing invoices, packaging up mags. The only constants are a coffee every morning and clearing my PO Box (always exciting).
What are you most proud of professionally?

That, not only is Dumbo feather still around (a small miracle in mag-land), but I haven't compromised it in any way to do so … It still doesn't have a celeb on the cover, it is still printed on beautiful 100% recycled paper, it's still got a slightly kooky name and it's still about real people and the stories of how they've taken the road-less-trampled with style, guts and integrity.

Pagespread featuring filmmaker Natasha Pincus

What's the best thing about your job?

Being my own boss.

And the worst?

Being my own boss.

What would be your dream project or creative collaboration?

I would love to work with a great architect, designers, a chef and others to create a space that embodied everything Dumbo feather's about. It would be full of beautiful inspiring things, walls lined with incredible books and artworks, wholesome food, natural light… A space to dream, to meet other dreamers, to be challenged, to be nurtured, to bring people together, to see great films, to hear from wonderful speakers, to try new things, to experiment, to play, to share.

What are you looking forward to?

Growing older and wiser, my wedding in March, Obama making real change in America (and seeing that ripple across the world), celebrating 20 issues of Dumbo feather in June, summer …

Sydney Questions –

What/where was the last great meal you ate in Sydney?

Apart from my boyfriend's chicken pie and beans from our patch it'd be … Japanese at Ainoya in Kirribilli - every dish was superb.

Your favourite Sydney bookshop?

Ariel Books on Oxford St in Paddington; wonderful space, natural light, plenty of places to perch, very handy, and great staff … oh and the best book selection ever.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Doing yoga in the park down the road, then wandering to the farmers' market in King Cross for breakfast (and fruit and veges), and then Rozelle Markets foraging.

Sydney’s best kept secret?

Woollahra Library… it's in a wonderful old building with huge windows overlooking Seven Shillings Beach. They open the windows right up and it's like you're sitting in a tree-house with sea breezes coming off the water.


  1. It's great to see Kate is in fact as inpsiring as the people she features!

    Also loved the birth announcement idea..very clever!

    And great interview Lucy.
    Fun read.

  2. Yah. Thanks for asking the howdyagetherewhatwasyacareerpath question? Isn't she adorable? Thanks Kate. From Kate (Need any subbing done for coming eds?) Tee hee, she'll know what I mean.

  3. Dombo feather typography is just divine and so inspirational!

  4. I really admire you for all the articles and interviews you have made. You really made readers to love your post every time they read your post. I find it very interesting and very informative most specially your interview w/ Nicholas Jones.
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