At an age when many girls are thinking about what college major they will choose or what college sorority they will pledge, Maacah Davis was thinking about editorial content, photo shoots and layout design. When she was only 19, Maacah launched belladonna, a Birmingham-based, independent high-fashion magazine dedicated to promoting diversity. Now 22, she is already on her way to becoming a media mogul in her own right and has been chosen to speak at TEDxBirmingham 2017. Today we are excited to feature Maacah as our FACE of Birmingham.
What inspired you to start belladonna magazine, and what would you say is the mission of your publication?
I started belladonna because I wanted to see more women of color in high-concept, high-fashion editorials. My two main objectives are to diversify fashion photography and publishing and to be a platform for local, independent creatives. The magazine allows me to kill two birds with one stone.
How did you manage to launch your own magazine at such a young age?
I was lucky enough to be surrounded by the right people. My friends are beautiful, and they allowed me to bribe them with tacos to model on photo shoots. So, I didn’t have to look at agencies. And I was friends with photographers, and I made friends with more photographers and stylists and designers. I also had friends who were writers who volunteered their skills, time and effort for me. Definitely my community helped make it happen.
Once the content creation was set, I had to be super resourceful. I did a lot of research on the best high-impact, low-cost ways to publish. I became a student ambassador for Adobe, and I got two years of free access to the Creative Cloud, which meant I didn’t have to pay for the expensive licensing fees.
Also, I decided to be a quarterly publication. It’s smarter time-wise and money-wise, and you don’t burn out as quickly. I mean, I burn out, personally, all the time, but in terms of as a collective, when we have that break in between publishing, we give you better quality when we don’t have to focus on the quantity of issues that we’re printing.
And being broke helped. “Broke-girl chic” is kind of my life anthem. When you don’t have money or the access, you have to be resourceful.
What do you feel makes belladonna stand out from other Birmingham-based magazines?
We’re the only fashion magazine. A lot of the other magazines based here that I have researched are community journals essentially, which I love and I’m a fan of, but belladonna has potential for expansion that a lot of other local publications don’t, simply because the content is universal. It’s not limited to Birmingham. My contributors are primarily in Birmingham, but the content is not Birmingham-specific, so I have national and global readers.
Do you think that you can grow your magazine the way you want to in a place like Birmingham, a city that’s not considered a fashion capital?
I actually think that the fact that Birmingham isn’t a fashion capital is the reason that I can grow this here, because there isn’t anyone else doing this. If I were in a bigger city, I would probably be working for a different publication instead of running my own.
What’s been the most rewarding part of belladonna?
Definitely the reward is the community aspect. My network expands exponentially every time I release an issue, and my proudest moment is when I build ensemble teams and they go on to work on projects together independently. That makes me so happy!
Also, of course, getting to see the response to the magazine. One woman ordered a copy of the magazine because she said, “My daughter needs to see this.” Having people that I’ve never met before saying, “Oh my gosh, this is so awesome! I see me in this.”
What’s been the most challenging?
The biggest challenge is definitely staying sane. To stay afloat and be consistent and continue to be original and to continue to do it with this shoestring budget is the biggest challenge. How can I maximize my resources without wearing out my team? How can I best push them and expand their portfolios and make them better artists without compromising any part of the brand identity?
What are your hopes for the future for belladonna and for yourself?
I want belladonna to be one of the cornerstones of Southern fashion. I want it to be what people think of when they think of high-fashion, high-quality editorial photography that’s diverse and inclusive without compromising editorial quality.
If I could just describe my personal goal, I want to be the producer, the person who facilitates the resources, the funding, etc., for the creators. That’s what I want to be in the future no matter what platform I’m working on, even if it’s not belladonna. I want to contribute to changing what the media landscape looks like, and I think my strengths in terms of connecting people and being resourceful could definitely take me there.
Diversity in media is obviously something you’re very passionate about, and this is an issue you plan to speak about this year at TEDxBirmingham 2017. Tell us more about your TEDxBirmingham talk.
My talk addresses both the problem of a lack of diversity in media, and the anxiety that comes with thinking that I have to fix the problem. The whole idea of a TED talk is “ideas worth spreading,” and a lot of speakers propose solutions to existing problems, and one of the reasons I was having trouble writing the speech — and I put this in my talk — is I don’t have the answer to this problem, but a big part of this problem is that I feel like I need to have the answer. I feel like I need to tell you, the audience, how to fix this problem that’s been around for hundreds of years. The anxiety comes from feeling like I have to change your perception, I have to make you more amenable to seeing me as a complete person. That’s a lot of pressure. I’m only 22!
What are some of your favorite places in Birmingham?
My favorite thing to do in Birmingham is to eat my way through the city. Yo Mama’s is currently my favorite restaurant. Portion sizes are amazing and flavor is everywhere! I really like Galley & Garden. They have great brunches. And I love Taco Morro Loco.
What’s the best advice you have to give?
I think the best advice that I could give is what I try to remind myself: You couldn’t have known what you didn’t know. So, basically try to cut yourself some slack. Be nice to yourself. Live your best life.
Aside from faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Beyoncé is my family and friends, so I can‘t say her. I definitely can’t live without an all-black wardrobe, desserts and my notebook. It keeps me on track. I have been adulting so hard with this notebook!
Thank you, Maacah! To learn more about Maacah and belladonna, visit belladonnamag.org.
Thank you to Eric and Jamie Gay of Eric & Jamie Photography for the fabulous photos of Maacah at MAKEbhm.