Women have always had talent, though in most cases the agency to stand by it was nonexistent. That was until they discovered it, and took the world to a whole new level. With the amount of competition out there, believing in one's abilities can take one to new heights.
In conversation with Sayali Goyal, rediscover what it's like to find your calling, and stand up for what you truly believe in.
Padma: Why did you choose to join the publishing world?
Sayali: To be honest, I didn't choose the publishing world. I would say that I just chose to create a company that satisfied all my creative needs, in order to meet my larger goals, which turned out to be print publication. I don't come from a publishing background. I associate myself with it as a writer, see myself as a creative, as someone who likes to curate, is passionate about visuals and aesthetics.
If you have seen Cocoa and Jasmine, you would agree that the visuals are stronger than the writing. I think the themes we curate are unique, and the angles we pick in our writing is special. We were super small, and still are, mostly unfunded. I do most of the writing, but I’ve become slightly more easy-going, with delegating work. I’ve actually got writers from very different backgrounds, and they all come with their unique strengths. I would say, they are innovating how publishing works.
We also looked at how publishing works. One of the first questions that I was asked when I came into the industry was based on the lucrativeness of the industry – “How many times are you producing this year? How many copies? What about funds? How many writers?”
These questions were of the least importance to me. So, I would say that I still run it like a creative company that involves writing, and yes, we use print as a medium, but there are so many other facets to Cocoa and Jasmine. It's not just the print magazine or the digital platform. I see it as a creative company.
Padma: What were the challenges you faced upfront when you joined the industry?
Sayali: I came with the skills of just being a designer, and if anything else was launched on the job, I figured it out on my own - through people who worked in the industry and through internships.
For Cocoa and Jasmine, I did all sorts of things. For those that have made it big in the industry, very well accomplished, I was intimidated by everything I had to know in the beginning. Say, for someone who has been in the industry for 25 years, I didn’t even know what it would be like.
There were challenges, to figure out basic logistics, since most printers took small quantities for a huge price. I still handle the logistics, which contributes to most of our distribution because we are so selective about where we give out our magazines, like Galleries, only selected book stores. Everything is managed personally. We don’t have a huge distributor, nor do we appear on the daily news.
I would say like the challenges have been just dealing with industry and their typical ways of working with the distributors. We used to work with this big media house, where you would get 10,000 copies, and were reported to after six months. That's not how we were working. I was in touch with all my retailers, every month I used to get a sales report. I really wanted to and was really reinventing the way we look at publishing itself - because of the content, and how it is so timeless.
In the beginning people would be expectant of the next issue. So, why buy this one? The thing is that it’s actually possible to have an older (2019) issue still be relevant, so accidently fall into that category of a book or a magazine, and just an attempt to understand for sake of distribution, I also derail from that very segregation. So, it was a challenge in the beginning. It is also how you think, and how the whole thing needs to be rooted in communication. So, bringing this whole independent magazine culture to the existing Indian setup was the biggest challenge for me.
Padma: Could you share an incident as to where you were made to feel that the judgement was biased?
Sayali: There are many incidents in terms of people being biased about just a working woman. But, not so much towards Cocoa and Jasmine. If anything, it kind of worked in my favor. I would say just like a working woman, a woman who has a thinking mind and is opinionated is still not always right. And, I’m not talking about just the industry, but the society in general too. I’m not talking about a certain class of people, or about a certain city. I’m talking about this kind of undertone among modern people. So, there’s always this kind of hypocrisy. There’s always been this kind of underlying expectation which is still based on the old ideas of how women should be so, that still exists.
I feel that way, but I wouldn’t say it’s industry-specific. I wouldn't say anybody in the industry made me feel like, oh, because you're a woman, you know, so, hence we are going to behave like this with you.
Padma: What inspires you to create?
Sayali: You know, I think I have asked myself that question quite often. Since I am in Mexico City at the moment, my team and I had recently finished one leg of our trip in Oaxaca. Even yesterday, when I was putting my thoughts together about Oaxaca, I was trying to understand why I was doing all this in the first place. What is so special about my story that it cannot be Googled? I think we underestimate the amount of influence our environment has on us.
So, if you ask me, you just need to connect with people at the most humane level, which is what you’d find at the core, having gotten past the many layers that complicate it.
But if you ask me to go fit in, it's why I travel, to connect, to explore, and that’s not even about the stories; I feel like we’re doing more about anthropology. I think I am passionate about culture and exploration. And that’s why I create. I found my medium in photography and print, which is great, but it could have been any other media.
The reason to create is exploring how humans work and how nature works, and because I also paint on the side, I still feel that the motives there are very similar, my observations with spirituality in nature in terms of my curiosity, that is. It's the same with the magazine too. We don’t pick our destinations, and that’s where I think the culture excites me, and then somehow, I figure how to travel and who to collaborate with, and then something beautiful comes out of it.
Padma: Describe a little bit about your job. Also, could you tell us what you love the most about your current job?
Sayali: As the editor and creative director of Cocoa and Jasmine, I enjoy the sense of control, the sense of freedom, and the fact that there's nobody telling me what is right and wrong. Though I have crossed paths where I have hesitated, I'm not scared to try a new format and then have to worry about it. In the beginning, for example, of the first issue – we thought like we would always divide a section in a certain way, but now we are no longer doing that.
With every magazine, it’s important to know that it has its own character, its own voice.
I completely changed the format actively. The third magazine is going to be out soon, and it is completely different from what we did in the second one. It's nothing like it – the design is not the same, the people who are producing it are not the same.
I like the freedom to be able to explore as an artist, and that sense of control that I have absolutely I didn't have in a job, before Cocoa and Jasmine. I think that's the best part about being the creative director. If you ask me, growth rings me, and with every issue, I find myself trying out new things.
In case of my travel journeys too, I was not always very confident, at least not in the beginning. But the growth it has brought - after this, I feel like I could go anywhere. This is the kind of inner strength that I feel, so much so that it empowers me. Having been on the road for nine days now, there's so many new ideas. I have also successfully managed to keep my experimental side alive. So, also, the fact that we can grow so much – the company started with one idea, but to date, it has multiplied manifolds. I can vouch that the fluidity of my job is excellent.
Padma: What is the one thing you wish you knew before you join the publishing industry?
Sayali: You need to have your own voice. In the first year, I was so naïve and just so nice that I began doubting myself.
I think, the underlying thing is self-doubt and you kind of tend to think that everybody else knows it better than you do, and the didn’t know it right and you kind of have to do it in that way, but honestly, by the fourth year of business, you just understand that everybody is just figuring it out. Yeah, not like they know it all.
There's no one right way to do it. Some people are just more confident in their words, but it's not like they act 100%. I think I would have stuck to my ground a little bit more had I known. I started to read, at 26, it was when I started that I was completely clueless. There’s also my family background I have to consider, which is nowhere close to providing the space to create anything. There was a lot of wanting to prove myself, feeling really alone in terms of, like I never had anybody to bounce off ideas with, for example, so, I feel like that whole energy of self-doubt weighing me down, of feeling like what if this doesn't work out? What if what I'm doing is …What if everything is in my head? What if I'm not able to make a company that fulfils all my goals? – all of what is, I would say, after joining the industry and being in it for three years, realize there is room for everybody.
There's room for everybody. If you really believe in your idea and have the courage to go filter it, you might as well have earned your rightful place. The industry is continuously shaping fashion, and doesn't look the way it looked in five years. Branding the content becomes important, and everybody that’s an artist has a chance to become a curator as well. Despite all the worrisome thoughts the field might bring, if you believe in it, just go for it.
Padma: “Women have to work twice as hard as men to achieve something.” Has this been true in your case?
Sayali: I come from a background of extreme privilege where my parents were confident enough to send me to an art school in London. Not many people get that chance. Having said that, there is another undertone to it. Judgment, of not appreciating it, so much that you end up being ungrateful for the many things you already have.
So, sometimes that validation that you need from your own family or friends, or your immediate kind of society that doesn't exist because you know, you're a creative business owner. So, that comes from the industry, that validation for me comes from there.
I think it's also a reaction to culture. In most cases, people are not always supportive because they are almost always brought up or conditioned to judge, so much that they don't even realize what they're doing. In my case, I had to stop sharing what would be considered an achievement in my career only because my family members didn’t think or understand that it could be.
Padma: Have you ever managed to rise above the glass ceiling? How did you do so?
Sayali: When the first issue came out, we didn’t distribute it extensively. We only gave it to the domestic market, since it was regarding the Himalayan issue. So, it was very specific in terms of theme. So, we managed to distribute it in Ladakh, Delhi and Bombay, and that was pretty much it.
During one of my trips to London, I remember walking past these amazing independent bookstores displayed beautifully, visiting galleries, shops and thinking that one day I was going to make it too. That was so memorable that I decided to share that story on Instagram. Having watched Cocoa and Jasmine build and grow up six months since, I am proud to say I have come a long way.
For me, and it also gets a little lonely because it's just me, full time. It's just one person, and like I said there are no creative people in my family or immediate friends circle, so I don't have anybody to kind of share those challenges or those joys with people. My Instagram Community is the only place to vent, where I put out my joys or challenges of running this.
Having come this far, I am hoping to reach new heights with the third issue. There are certain goals that I have in mind for this. I go through my notes every other day and rewrite my goals. I keep feeding that energy into them that they will happen and trust me, like everything that happened five years ago that I thought I would do, I've done it. I feel like when you do, you will really feel passionate about it and are ready to work hard.
Padma: Who would you like to thank in the history of women in publishing?
Sayali: So, I really like how authentic Rupi Kaur’s is with her story. I don't know how much I like her poetry though.
Any little woman who was able to do something that had a lot of criticism in the beginning, and handling that with a graceful vulnerability would automatically be considered someone to look up to. Lately I've been interested in Frida Kahlo’s “I paint my reality,” and it’s fascinating to especially read about things you get to learn for the first time.
Even women who stick to their traditional and cultural roots, who have made it, inspire me. The ones who especially go off track and show utmost confidence in their rebellion also have my heart.
Padma: What would you like to say to someone who is just joining the industry?
Sayali: Being conscious about your authenticity is a great trait to have. Look at people, look at what they are doing, and let it inspire you. What you build on the outside, you’re also unconsciously developing it internally.
I think the dialogue that you have with yourself - why you are doing certain things, how you would like to do them, sticking your ground, and being patient - play a very important role. Don't be afraid to try new things out. When you do, that’s when you realize what works for you. Remember, there are no rules when it comes to creating from within. You will be scared, but you don't have to follow what I am doing, what anybody else is doing; just stick to what you believe in, be authentic.
Think of those who inspire you. Hold on to the whole fact that you are trying, because that will eventually lead you to innovation. Most of the time, I’m drawn to certain brands only because they create what truly matters to them, what for them, is authentic.
To read more stories, visit: https://www.cocoaandjasmine.com/