SUITCASE magazine packs a punch

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of SUITCASE magazine Serena Guen has been described as one of the “twenty-five under twenty-five most influential Londoners” by the Evening Standard, the “Mark Zuckerberg of publishing”, and winner of the 2014 ‘Women of the Future’ media award. The list of accolades don’t do Guen justice — bubbly, full of laughter and anecdotes, she is the personification of “wanderlust”.

Originally aiming to apply to Oxford, she chose instead the adventure of studying in both New York and Paris with NYU. During her time in Paris, she began to explore the city in more depth, craving more than her first year, which was an “American experience, not what I wanted it to be”. French friends “showed me a different side of the city, the best places to go but also cultural insights that I couldn’t get from anywhere else. I started to create ‘mini–guides’ to send to my visiting friends, and I did the same in New York, there wasn’t anything online or anywhere which represented it accurately.”

It was a chance friendship with a fashion student, along with her own desire to create a magazine, which started the SUITCASE journey. “I always wanted my own magazine, but I didn’t have my own angle and everyone told me that I needed experience, that I needed time with a magazine. Luckily, my friend’s degree included a magazine project, so we found an interesting way of combining my material and her editorials on locations. I don’t do things by half, and so after putting so much time and effort into it, we decided to make it bigger, printing around five thousand copies for our friends and everyone interested.” Within eight months, the project launched.

Serena wasn’t always successful. Upon mentioning her first and only blog, she laughed at her own misadventures. “I created a blog — Culture and Cocktails — where I only posted one blog post. But, I didn’t like it. What made my mini guides so popular was because it was other peoples experiences and it was a sharing of experiences.”

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SUITCASE has come a long way from that university project. “The first few months were hectic, with a lot of time spent in my room researching the industry and speaking to everyone I met about it. Everyone has something to offer, whether it’s a cool tip about a place they’ve been or that their friend of a friend is an editor of something. It was lunch with a friend of my mother’s which got me the email of a Condé Nast Vice President, Anna Harvey. She offered to support me as a reference, and it was the biggest help, a golden ticket. I wonder at times if she realises how much of an impact she has had on me.”

Serena recalled the first edition of SUITCASE. “We didn’t have a background in design particularly, and so my business partner at the time designed the whole thing on Powerpoint and over 70 pages of high resolution images, it was no wonder that her computer started to crash. Luckily, a friend who was a trained graphic designer was flown in, quite literally, to save us.” Despite a stressful printing process, including an epic 72 hour all-nighter, she described the whole thing as an “amazing experience”. She also noted, “But now that we have Seb [SUITCASE’s Creative Director] who keeps us in check and there wasn’t a single all nighter last issue.”

In competition with the internet the print industry is slipping into decline, but Serena has captured both the digital future and the permanency of print dynamically. “The way people receive media is changing, so our print editions will become more of an artistic product. We spend months researching for each edition, trying to find the right contributors, and the result is an artistic product. Meanwhile, all of our published content goes onto our website. We like to cover all seasons and all countries, and the Internet allows us to be more flexible and accessible. We’re also working on the ultimate travel app. The audience for SUITCASE is rather niche, so in the app I really want to incorporate all the differences in the way people travel; whether it’s for a weekend or a month, a romantic break or a holiday with friends.”

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SUITCASE isn’t Serena’s only calling. Follow- ing work with UNICEF Next Generation com- mittees in America, she encouraged and was invited to co-chair the first Next Gen London committee. “UNICEF is an enormous charity, working in both emergency situations and on long term projects to support children the world over. Despite the backing of the UN, it still requires monetary support, and the Next Gen committees are designed to assist in that. The aim is to raise money by engaging with and mobilising other young people. Our team members each have the target of raising money using small, frequent events, and by using events like yoga in the park and sustainable supper clubs, the campaign makes it easy to do something for charity while also adding a face and recognisable cause to the charity. And now my friends in Brazil want to set one up there, which is really incredible.”

Speaking to Serena, her accolades make com- plete sense. She comments that she can’t do everything, although acquiesced to the charge that she certainly is trying. From founding her own magazine to chairing a branch of UNICEF, there is no denying that Serena is a colossal force of positivity.

And her highlight of SUITCASE? “Going into the office everyday, seeing the team working, all really excited, it’s incredible. I always have to pinch myself”