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Art Asia Featured Area India Interviews

Creating India’s First Cultural Indie Magazine | An Interview with Cocoa & Jasmine founder Sayali Goyal

November 7, 2018

As well as running ROAM, I also work as a photographer and am often asked to be part of independent projects from creatives around the world. Despite a lot of my work focusing on India, I have never before been asked to be part of an Indian publication, which is why I was so thrilled to be part of the first issue of Cocoa & Jasmine an independent cultural magazine founded by Sayali Goyal.

As you will see from this interview, Sayali has a vibrant background working from her experiences working in London, Berlin and then leaving the 9-5 world behind to absorb herself in travel within her own country and documenting her trips, which eventually evolved into Cocoa & Jasmine. I love the concept behind the magazine, and in a country so rich in cultural heritage, it is amazing to see new, modern interpretations of those traditions. I interviewed Sayali about her experience setting up Cocoa & Jasmine, and I’m sure you’ll find this a very fascinating and insightful interview!

You can find Cocoa and Jasmine on the following links: Online // In Print // Instagram

What’s the story behind Cocoa & Jasmine? Why did you decide to set up a cultural travel magazine?

Cocoa and Jasmine happened when I took a road trip across 3 states in South India (Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka) after I left my full-time job. The scents of cocoa fields of Coonoor, and Jasmine fields of Madurai provoked this poetic feeling in me and I felt like I needed to start documenting and blogging about my experiences. I used words, photos, and some drawings to do this. It was sort of a spiritual experience for me, to have let go of this stability and really dive into ‘not knowing what will happen to my career’.

I studied Fashion and Textiles at the University of Arts London, after which I worked in the fashion and travel industry for 5 years in London, Delhi, Mumbai and Berlin mostly managing brands and trying to find a balance between design and management. I knew I wasn’t made for a 9-5 and in these 5 years, I changed 4 jobs trying to experiment with my career and really find something that satisfied the creative person and also gave me the independence I like. Questions to ask myself were how could I add quality in my life where I feel a sense of creative growth, I could be closer to a creative community of like-minded people, be self-sustainable and also travel.

I started this as a Wix blog in 2016 December, and only in 2018 January did I actually register it as a business and made it more structured and invited other contributors. I soon realized that while I enjoyed creating, I also really enjoyed curating other people’s works and sort of organizing visual information that made sense. My way of travel is definitely cultural and how I express is poetic and artistic, hence a culture travel magazine that finds art and poetry.

Another reason to start Cocoa and Jasmine was to have a sense of belonging and ownership. I wanted a little piece of something tangible that I can call my own. The logo is a circle that is a symbol of the power of nature and also the law of impermanence and growth.

I think in spirit Cocoa and Jasmine is an entity that is forever growing and reinventing itself. It is an ongoing experiment. I don’t see it just as a magazine I see it as a platform/ a cultural collective where people interact and there is a dialogue. More than the travel section, I am more excited about creating its art and literature section and the dialogue section that I wish grows in the future. Through some offline activities like talks and workshops and exhibits, I am trying to initiate ideas. I hope some people will connect.

The magazine is India’s first independent magazine, why do you think this is? How do you think the arts and culture industry in India differs from other places around the world?

The concept of a digital magazine or an independent print magazine is pretty new in India. In the beginning, it was hard to explain the difference in a blog and a magazine. In the first year, I was trying to understand my own goals and also finding ways to make money and eventually travel more. To be honest, I don’t see myself as a great writer or a photographer and have no proper training in either, but I do feel like I have a vision and I can be an authentic storyteller, which gave me the strength to keep developing the project.

Cocoa and Jasmine has given me the tool to reach out to people I want to collaborate with. A lot of my time goes into brainstorming ideas and then working on nonprofit projects and exploratory meetings but hopefully, they will contribute to the cultural growth of a community. The role I feel a magazine should play is to reflect the current cultural landscape of a place, not merely be a publishing platform, and that’s the goal I have for Cocoa and Jasmine.

There might be some independent publications, however, none that approach art, travel and culture at the same time and also are engaging in other activities to take the initiative further. For example, at this point, I am working on a compilation of textiles, patterns, craft techniques from indigenous communities and trying to see how they are all linked to culture and folklore. For this, I am speaking to brands who work with artisans and communities. I think the beauty of a platform like this is the fluidity. It gives me the opportunity to collaborate with pretty much anyone (a designer, brand, writer, painter, photographer, cultural institute etc). I want to grow through this. I want to explore the subject of anthropology, philosophy, and literature through this. Sometimes I see Cocoa and Jasmine as a digital archive of self-study. Even the way I travel always includes a project. I usually like to stay in one place for a longish duration (a couple of months) and try to collaborate with the local community on a project or individuals and attend events etc. I wish to travel to places for residencies to create art and to initiate dialogue. I wish to make this community bigger who are all driven by the same passion for culture and documentation.

I have seen similar models in London, Berlin and New York but not really in India. Though things are developing, India sits on a large traditional arts community and crafts, but few modern interpreters and few independent collectives/ organizations that approach art from a new perspective that can be seen in daily life. There are many government run museums but few places where people actually meet to experience culture today and there is accessible art. However, in the last couple of years, there are more independent galleries, theatres, workshops. But for people to start buying from these artists and for it to earn the respect of a full-fledged career, it will take time.

An Image from the Jaipur Upcycling Project recently featured on Cocoa & Jasmine online.

Your first magazine is based on the Himalayas, why did you choose this region of India for your first issue? What attracted you to travel and document the Himalayas in such a way?

I chose the Himalayas because honestly, it was the most accessible. There is a lot that goes into making a magazine. In terms of travel production and research as well it was more practical to interview people in a region close to where I live and work with smaller travel companies. Also, for people living in the north of the country, The Himalayas has always been a holiday getaway destination. So it was my chance to change that perception.

I wanted to introduce the alternate way of travelling to the community around me. The creative travellers were my audience, and not really the backpacking budget travellers (which is still the majority in the Himalayas). The magazine is for people who look for a human side in a place, are interested in material culture and indulge in local everything (food, stay etc).

What were the struggles and challenges you faced when setting up an indie magazine? How did you overcome them?

Production was the most challenging as most printers to don’t entertain small orders and at this point, there is no Indian magazine with that kind of price point in the market. Other challenges were more emotional and spiritual. Sometimes there is a lot of self-doubts as there aren’t many people around me who are doing something similar and I am often compared to the other ‘stable’ and ‘well-settled‘ ones.

Also, I am the only member at this point (to design, content, market) so it gets lonely. There are more people around me to tell me what I am doing is a hobby and might not give is a respect to a full-fledged career. It’s a constant battle. But I guess one has to choose between making oneself happy or others.

I try to take one day at a time and manage work in a more organized manner (example I only use Instagram at this point and have made a conscious decision to stay away from other social media platforms). I have an editorial calendar and I have allotted days for writing emails and visiting places in a week. I also take time out to meditate and stay focused. Meeting deadlines can be difficult when you’re solo. An example in the case of the Himalayan issue, the project was conducted in 3 months which included 40 days of travel, writing, editing, designing, printing, marketing and distribution and also coordinating an event and making sure you do justice to every person participating in the event and guarantee footfall, which is a lot of pressure.

What were the most enjoyable factors of putting together the magazine? Where did you find the creatives you collaborated with and how did it all come together?

The most enjoyable was the travel, Haha! But I feel I only am able to gather the prospects and success of this project now as in the last 3 months I have only worked hard without introspection and now is the time when I am evaluating the goods and bads and I feel a sense of achievement, which is a good place to be in.

To collaborate, there is a lot of research that I conduct which involves reading online, I then reach out to as many people possible. Half of them respond and only 10% of these materialize. A lot of it happened while we were travelling and through word of mouth. Some people put us in touch with some and it all worked out. It’s very organic. I like it like that. I think the underlying spirit for all collaboration is the human need to interact. When I present an idea to someone, most likely they will get excited and would want to be involved if logistics work out (time and money).

At the Cocoa & Jasmine magazine launch for the Himalayan Issue.

What were the personal events in your life which let you to a life of travel and documenting your journeys?

I would say London is the biggest event of my life. I learned so much about art and culture from that city. It gave me the freedom to explore. I used to take day trips whenever train tickets were cheap and explore small towns on weekends. That seeded the travel spirit. And since then all the money I have earned has only been invested in this exploration. The USA was my first real solo trip and then Berlin where I also worked. South India gave birth to my venture and the Himalayas to the first print issue. All these travels have been destiny points almost. I hope there will be more!

In today’s digital climate, why do you think travel publishing is important and why did you decide to make Cocoa and Jasmine a physical magazine?

I am someone who questions everything, so even the idea of printing a magazine was examined and understood deeply. I continuously asked myself as to what goals am I trying to achieve. Is it a sense of validation that I am seeking, or do I want people to understand the difference in a blog a publication? I wanted to bring credibility to the platform. When you create a tangible product and can take it offline, people connect deeply. There is so much on the internet, and for people to absorb all elements of this initiative, a print version was needed. I collect so many books and magazines. And every time I revisit the same story, I feel I can see something new in it, a fresh take, whereas what I read digital doesn’t have the same impact. This project was executed from my personal saving and we could only make very few copies, but I am happy I tested the model and I know what to do next time.

Also, an interesting observation I made about the Indian mentality, in general, was that whenever my articles were published digitally, very few people thought it was something remarkable. But one time I was published in print, and most people thought I was a mini-celebrity. It’s quite funny as even though the digital ones reached a lot more people and had a higher value in my head, people still feel that print has more authority and credibility.

Image by Catherine Ally from the story ‘Visit to ChangThang’ from the Himalayan Issue of Cocoa & Jasmine

India has a rich cultural heritage? How is that translating into modern times? What are some other exciting creators or projects coming out of India at the moment?

In the past 5 years, I see a lot of development in independent areas of art, design, and culture. There were no boutique agencies, smaller brands, zines, collectives and space in 2013 (the year I moved back from London). I guess travel has given exposure to the younger ones. People like myself who studied abroad brought back these concepts and this has given birth to an industry of independent fashion brands which gave birth to agencies and freelancers who were managing their marketing. More indie music gigs and theatres are happening in Delhi and Mumbai, which means more spaces have come up. People have started to buy independent art because the younger ones now have their own cash. There are more indie cafes because the millennials need something different to do. I strongly feel this is the influence of Instagram and travel. This aspiration to be ‘indie’ has helped the artists in a good way.

What is the future for Cocoa and Jasmine? Do you plan on more printed issues and where do you hope to head next?

I hope there will be more printed issues, but for it to be a sustainable business model, it will need funding from sources who believe in its spirit and are not driven by the number of likes and followers. This will be challenging but not impossible.

I am organizing some mixed media art shows ( two of my projects will also be included. One which is a textile art project I did in 2010, where I want to introduce the concept of using diff material to make 2D paintings, and also one themed around a material culture where I will be exhibiting some of my family archives from Punjab. I really hope that some people will be inspired to just experiment. I hope people here will be able to think out of the box and since India is a country of a lot of traditional art and I feel a lot of art is not accessible and primarily a currency ( investment or collectors items), the younger ones would be able to relate and see how travel, art, design, craft, and culture can come together how anyone could be an artist. I hope to change perception I hope more people will create zines. I hope more artist will be respected as they are.

Apart from this, I also give art experiences with Airbnb. It’s my chance to stay connected and meet new people when not travelling.

Cocoa & Jasmine founder Sayali Goyal working on the first magazine in Ladakh, India.

Annapurna Mellor is a travel photographer, writer and co-founder of Roam Magazine. She fell in love with Asia shortly after graduating and has since spent extensive periods travelling and photographing in India, Nepal, Myanmar and many more. She shoots regularly for brands and publications and her work can be found in National Geographic Traveller Magazine, Lonely Planet, Suitcase and The Guardian. When not on the road, she is based in Manchester, UK.

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