So where did the idea for Comfort Zones come from?
Women for Women International is a charity we have both supported and admired for a long time, and last year their International Women’s Day Campaign called #MessagetomySister really caught our eye. The initiative asked people to write letters of support to the women participating in their year-long employability programmes, in which participants learn the skills to earn a sustainable income and actively participate in their communities, with many of the women then going on to become the main breadwinner for their families. Even though the senders and recipients might come from very different worlds, the letters had a shared language – of struggle, courage and growth – which spoke of women pushing out of their comfort zones. We wanted to expand this idea of exploring the limit we set for ourselves as women through the written word, and it turned into a book with the help of our network of women writers. The result is an anthology of essays, stories and letters on subjects that are brave and new. The aim is not to draw parallels between the women supported by the charity and our writers, but to explore the idea of pushing boundaries – both big and small – in recognition of their bravery.
And then why approach Jigsaw?
We wanted to raise as much money as possible for Women for Women International, so decided against pitching the book to a traditional publisher in order to save costs and time and began to look for the backing of a brand. But it couldn’t be just any brand – it needed to be one who knew their audience inside out and who valued the power of a good story. (You said to us Ana, that everyone has a Jigsaw story, their own personal way of connecting with the brand.) It turned out when we started conversations with Jigsaw they were looking for a new way to address their customers (whose interest in clothes is only one part of their world). Jigsaw have taken on the role of publisher – fronting all printing costs – which means that 100% of proceeds can go to Women for Women.
You say that “when it’s right, we can turn brands into publishers” – is that the ultimate goal?
The ultimate goal at Sonder & Tell is to help brands identify their wider positive culture and then tell stories to express that. We have to admit we do love the creativity and freedom that comes with long-form editorial, and a suitcase brand making a travel magazine with a range of photographers and journalists – or indeed a fashion brand creating an anthology of work by women writers – is a much more exciting proposition than a straight campaign. That being said, it’s not the right move for every brand and we would never tell someone to launch a print magazine (or publish a book!) if we didn’t think it would resonate with their audience. It’s about finding the right platform to ‘publish’ your work (which might simply be Instagram) and telling stories where it counts.
Do you see any conflict with traditional publishing?
Brands becoming publishers has a supporting role in the future of the industry, but it’s definitely not the whole picture and shouldn’t be seen as a threat to traditional models. Both publishing and advertising are borrowing things from each other. There are some brilliant brand publications out there – like Here by Away, Soho House House Notes and Bumble’s new magazine – that all showcase imaginative stories for a targeted audience (it helps that they are often able to spend more than traditional editorial outlets). Lots of them also have creative freedom (i.e. we were able to produce a book for Jigsaw without the slightest hint of them selling a skirt!) or a social mission (Monzo have just partnered with The Big Issue). On the other side, publishers now depend on brand content as a revenue stream, which can be much more lucrative than traditional advertising. We can’t see a future in which brands take over the role of traditional publishers and that’s not a world we would support.
What makes Sonder & Tell different from other content agencies?
Our focus is on written storytelling and we always look at the quality of the narrative first (rather than a digital agency which might look at SEO, for example). We actually try not to refer to ourselves as an agency because it sounds quite disconnected – we’re essentially a brand director and an editor who think strategically as well as tell stories, and can become part of your extended team (as we have done at Jigsaw). We’ve also built out our own brand where we interview writers and content creators about the stories that inspired them and host storytelling events. The brands we work with can either work with us purely from the perspective of producing their own white label content, or because of our own brand.
How do your individual roles within the agency differ?
We say that we combine strategy and storytelling. How that plays out is that Emily focuses more on content strategy (assessing a brand’s business goals, their target audience etc) while Kate focuses more on tone of voice and copywriting. That being said our roles are still quite interchangeable and our whole point is that one side shouldn’t exist without the other.
Onto fashion… can you describe one another’s style?
Kate on Emily: Casual and colourful. Very good at jackets, jewellery and wide-leg trousers. Looks amazing in the city or on the beach; looks out of place in an open field.
Emily on Kate: By day, bookish cute – high necks, ruffles and cute Ace and Tate glasses (just look at that adorable maroon suit she chose!) By night, sexy librarian – still the high-necks and ruffles but with a red lip and maybe some leather trousers.
Do you have a favourite item of clothing?
K: I find shoes difficult in general, which means when I find a pair I like, I go in hard. I have a pair of patent black ankle boots with thick treads which I bought from Opening Ceremony in New York about six years ago, and I wear them eight out of seven days a week.
E: I love the very British moment when someone compliments a piece of clothing and you can’t help but answer with “got this on sale at half price” or “you wouldn’t believe it! Forty quid!” For that reason, one of my favourite items of clothing is a bright-pink, floor-length Shrimps-esque vintage dress I got on Portobello. Thirty quid!
After almost an hour of shopping, you decided on these particular – why?
K: Emily had already described me as bookish cute and then I thought I had better live up to it with a suit. This double-breasted jacket is structured but looks slightly corseted when done up, which makes me feel quite Marie Antoinette. Let them eat corduroy.
E: I hate being uncomfortable (says the woman publishing a book all about getting out of your comfort zone). But what I mean is when I wear something uncomfortable, even an itchy label or trousers with a super-low crotch that hangs between your legs, all of my energy and focus goes into thinking about how uncomfortable I am. This jumpsuit is relaxed but stylish with a light, breathable material that means I can (in the best way possible) forget I’m wearing it.