Rebecca Ewnetu’s journey from dropping out of college to founding Ireland’s coolest new style and culture magazine.
Launching a magazine wasn’t initially on the cards for Rebecca Ewnetu. She grew up in Kildare to a family of hard working academic scholars. “I was never really encouraged to tap into my creative side,” she tells me, “which is typical of an Ethiopian household!”
Her interest in fashion developed in secondary school, where she found herself scrolling through Pinterest for hours. This sparked an obsession with editorials and high-end fashion magazines. “I’d come up with my own concepts for shoots, but I never put them into motion because I didn’t own a camera.” Her moment to shine came when their parents gifted her sister a camera as a graduation present. “I used a camera for the first time just after I turned 19, and from there my confidence and skills grew with each and every shoot.”
Once Rebecca found her passion, all she wanted to do was dedicate energy to her art. She dropped out of her first year in Trinity to pursue her creative projects. Soon after, she began working in McDonalds to save funds for her new goal: attending art college.
She had been toying with the idea of creating a print magazine for a while, but decided to pursue the idea wholeheartedly while working full time. “I started out by using my sister’s camera and shooting in friends’ houses as I couldn’t afford a studio.”
These initial shoots formed what would become yEWth: a publication documenting Irish youth culture through Ewnetu’s lens. The first issue is an explosion of style and energy, taking the reader on a kaleidoscopic journey through street style, club culture, and editorial shoots. It’s frenetic, chaotic, and most of all, utterly cool. The DIY, punk sensibility of the visuals only further adds to its appeal. Ewnetu’s eye for creative direction is clear and her hypersaturated images would not look out of place in the likes of The Face or Dazed & Confused.
Rebecca is keen to highlight that the zine is not confined to strictly her photography. “It’s a collective of art and poetry from artists around the country,” she explains. “I wanted to highlight that there is talent residing within Ireland and that it needs to be known on a global scale! I also wanted to give other artists the opportunity to see their work in print.”
Collaboration is central to the project, and Ewnetu reached out to her peers to work on the project with her. “My main goal is to uplift surrounding artists,” she says. “Most of the editorials in yEWth couldn’t have taken place without the help of makeup artists, designers and shoot assistants.”
For Ewnetu, inspiration comes from the creative scenes surrounding her, plus ones established further afield that she discovered online. She cites Aether, a London-based independent publication founded by Mia Sakai, as a key influence in her work. She describes discovering the magazine on TikTok during COVID as a “breakthrough moment.”
“The creative industry, specifically the visual arts, is poor with its inclusion of black women. I was heavily inspired by seeing Mia’s work and discovering what I thought didn’t exist. Black female photographers are something of a commodity – so I thought to myself, why can’t I be the next one?”
Another inspiration for yEWth was London-based Nigerian designer Mowalola Ogunlesi, known for her vibrant and Y2K influenced creations. “Her work emboldens me to be more audacious and boundary breaking with my shoots,” she notes.
It’s heartening to hear about the people and pieces of work that galvanized her to start the project. It feels authentic to the life stage that Rebecca is dedicated to depicting through her photography: the experience of being a young person in a city, feeling enamoured with art and culture and style and your friends, soaking it up and using it to try and create something meaningful for yourself.
“I would definitely describe Ireland’s creative scene as thriving, with fresh up and coming talent being uncovered daily,” she says. “It’s almost every week now that I’m finding out about a new musician, exhibition or collective.”
The name, she tells me, is a fusion of her heritage and the youth culture she is immersed in. “Since yEWth is a youth based collective, I wanted to use the word youth for the title but with a creative twist,” she reflects. “My surname is Ewnetu, which comes from the word Ewnet in Amharic, Ethiopia’s primary language, and it means ‘truth.’ Since I was 16, I’d been taking the first two letters of my surname EW and plastering it everywhere, so much so that it became my branding. So, me being the clever individual I am, replaced the ‘OU’ in youth with the first two letters of my surname to create yEWth.”
This entrepreneurial spirit and knack for personal branding is key to the magazine’s success. I discovered yEWth because it appeared on my TikTok For You page a few months ago. Her content is a mixture of carousels of photography, outfit videos, and lo-fi posts aimed towards a Gen Z audience. “If you’re from Dublin and you want cool prints or posters for your room, pull up to Munya Market at Fegans this Thursday 6-10pm,” one post reads. “Welcome to a nEW wave of Irish contemporary art,” another proclaims. Comments are suitably fawning: “so sick,” “iconic,” “this looks so fckn good” are just a few. Rebecca tells me about her journey with using social media as a tool to promote her work.
“When I first began shooting, I was conscious of putting my work out there for others to see. I had to learn to get over that. Social media is your best friend if used right and we’re blessed in this day and age to have such a powerful tool in our grasp. It’s the gateway to new opportunities and allows for your work to be made accessible to everyone. Seeing other young artists post their work online and gain traction and support from their peers is so encouraging.”
Putting the print version of the magazine together was a lengthy process, she says. She composed the entire publication in the free design website Canva and would edit a few pages after work almost every day. “I’m finding the magazine rollout to be quite different and arduous as I’m a one woman team,” she admitted.
From an outside perspective, though, she makes it look like a breeze. The first edition was released with a launch party in Smithfield’s Dashi in collaboration with creative events group DONTSAYDAMN, and it was met with a strong reception. It feels like the start of something new and exciting for the Irish creative scene.
Ewnetu has high hopes for the project, with the aim of releasing a new edition annually and eventually forming a team to help with production once the project gains more traction. Her big dreams, she tells me, include getting recognition on a global scale and collaborating with her idol, Mia Sakai, on a joint project.
When it comes down to it, the impetus behind starting the publication was quite straightforward. Documenting youth culture was what Rebecca loved to do, and she couldn’t see anything doing something similar. “I want to create something tangible that will last forever, that we’ll cherish in the future and the future youth will look to for inspiration,” she reflects earnestly. The youth, in my opinion, are most definitely alright.
Words: Kerry Mahony