All images by @emames7
Hubbard and Bell, a restaurant at the base of The Hoxton Holborn, was the meeting place. Stepping through the glass automated sliding doors, I walk past a stack of suitcases. Although only decorative, and nostalgically stylised, the suitcases foreshadowed who I was about to meet. Recognising her, I smilingly approached Hubbard & Bell’s lunch-hour queue to hug her. A warm welcome to spite London’s unseasonable cold snap occurring outside.
Swerving away from busy queue, we instead opt to settle into armchairs in the boutique hotel’s lobby-come-workspace. I was meeting Emily Ames, Managing Editor of the cliché-dispelling quarterly travel and fashion magazine, Suitcase. Seemingly a fitting role for the well-travelled Ames who has lived in America, London and Barcelona, intermittently spending time in Jamaica and her father’s native Trinidad and Tobago. However, the role is not one Ames ever imagined herself taking on, as I soon come to find out.
Let’s start off by talking about what you do?
I’m Managing Editor at Suitcase magazine, I do most of the creative collaborations at Suitcase. If a client wants to do something with influencers or a concept to do with travel and fashion, that type of thing I really enjoy doing. I do influencer relations and a lot of the Insider Guides for Suitcase. Basically getting people involved with Suitcase. I brought on Savannah Baker ages ago to do the Winter 2013 issue of Suitcase and she is now our contributing Fashion Editor. I recently brought on Phoebe Lovatt, who runs female panels around the world and we’re about to do something with her in Taiwan. So yeah, just a lot of building creative partnerships and then managing the different areas of the team on brand stuff because I’ve been at Suitcase for so long now.
How did you initially get involved with Suitcase initially?
Serena Guen, who started the magazine, was in the year above me in school. I had never spoken to her. I had always heard about Suitcase with everyone sharing it on Facebook. I moved to Spain during university because I was studying Spanish and was doing a year abroad. Living in Barcelona, I had university but it was like no hours. I wanted to do something else, so I started writing columns. It was called ‘Buena Vida’ or something. The columns were about Barcelona, things to do there and places to see. It just kind of grew from there and I became really involved in the whole thing. Then I managed to convince Serena to go to Jamaica and we cemented our relationship!
It said “I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to be a Journalist. I want to be a Pop-star!” So I think it was always in my head.
Is this something you imagined yourself doing when you were growing up?
No. Actually, I found a diary the other day from when I was five years old and it said “I wanna be a Journalist when I grow up”. And two days later, it said “I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to be a Journalist, I want to be a Pop-star!” So I think it was always in my head. I used to have like poetry books and write stories, but I think I actually used to rip-off my stories. I lived in America and used to watch Disney Channel films, so I’d always re-write the stories and pretend they were mine. Hopefully those practices have changed a bit!
I enjoy working with different types of people from around the world and I’ve always travelled loads. I never thought I’d do this. It was a really good opportunity that found me basically.
So what do you think is the greatest thing about the job you currently do?
I think it’s the fact that I’m getting to building relationships with people from all over the world. Every place. People always say that the best way to travel is through the local people which I basically have access to wherever I go. I like the fact that we’re building an image of society that is diverse, interesting and different. I think a lot of other publications imprint their idea of design or what they think looks beautiful onto places. They’ll take a picture of a leaf next to a white wall and be like “In Japan”. That’s not really representative of the culture. Whereas with Suitcase, we try to represent the different cultures authentically. Also, the people I’ve gotten to meet. I’ve met such amazing people, interview such amazing people. At 22 years old interviewing Popcaan, that’s insane!
In terms of choosing the destination and going to it, how does it all work from conception to fruition?
Every issue has a theme which is set beforehand. We all brainstorm themes but it is ultimately Kate Hamilton, our Editor-in-Chief, who decides which ones she wants for print. We chose the destinations around the theme. Sometimes, it will be places that have recently come up in the press like everyone’s talking about Cuba. Other times, it will be places that we just have connections to or places we want to visit, but they are all around the theme. So it’s kind of random but we obviously do a lot of research.
Obviously you travel a lot for your job, how do you manage travelling, jet-lag and work?
I’ve just been having this conversation with Kate! It’s actually really hard. I constantly have stomach bugs. Constantly sick. The other week I got shingles six days before I was supposed to go to Palm Springs for a big shoot. I do get ill a lot and that’s just because you’re constantly on different time zones. I don’t really get jet-lag anymore. I just sleep when I’m tired, which is all the time so it’s fine! It’s always when you get back or are about to go. But as soon as you’re there, you just get excited to be in that place. I think that happens to everyone at Suitcase.
Where is one place that you have to go to but haven’t been to yet?
Colombia! My grandmother was Colombian and Spanish. I’ve always wanted to go, I don’t know why I haven’t been yet. I want to go to the Caribbean coast, Cartagena, and also do Santa Marta and the cities. They are cool businesses popping up in Colombia. Japan is another one. Again, in my diary since I was four years old it says “I want to go to Japan!”. I had a Japanese friend who I used to carry around with me when I was eight. I will be like two hours away when I’m in Taiwan, but I just haven’t found the time to go yet.
I’m obsessed with Dancehall and I got to witness everything firsthand. Even if you go to Jamaica, you won’t get to go to Popcaan’s house or spend three days with Protoje. Doing that through the magazine was an amazing experience.
Where do you think is the greatest place you’ve been to and why?
My mum grew up in Jamaica and I have family friends from Jamaica and I’ve grown up going back and forth to the Caribbean. So going to Jamaica wasn’t like “Oh my god! these pristine beaches and blue waters!” But in terms of an experience, that was I think one of the best that I’ve had. I’m obsessed with Dancehall and I got to witness everything firsthand. Even if you go to Jamaica, you won’t get to go to Popcaan’s house or spend three days with Protoje. Doing that through the magazine was an amazing experience.
How do you think social media has changed travel or people’s impressions of travel?
Hugely! I think Instagram has basically revolutionised the travel industry. When we go to a destination, we’ll do a process to find the ten best Instagramers or whatever in Taipei for example. We’ll find the places they are going to. It’s more of an authentic representation of what people in Taipei are doing. I’ve recently discovered that Pinterest is such as useful tool when travelling too. It filters out all of TripAdvisor or Expedia-type recommendations because people who use Pinterest are usually design buffspeople into fashion, graphics and those creative industries. There’s a lot of travel information on there.
Social media has changed the way you experience places. I can’t decide whether it’s for the better. It’s made everyone a photographer, so I do think it has enabled us to start looking at little details in buildings, flowers and that type of thing in destinations you got to. I do also think that a lot of travel has become about getting the perfect Instagram for the day. You don’t want to live your travel memories through an Instagram square. A lot of people’s travels have become like that.
There was a study done that said using your phones, social media and taking pictures actually reduces your memory of a place. You remember the photo instead of what you felt and smelt. Instagram later and try to experience it while you’re there. People have gone mad for just getting the perfect travel Instagram shot.
I think social media makes travel look very luxurious, which it is not all of the time. My friends are like “oh my God you live the most luxurious life”. We do in a sense because we obviously get to travel, but it’s also grotty motel rooms when you miss a booking. You can’t Instagram your tummy problems or your jet-lagged face.
You also work with UNICEF’s Next Generation, can you tell us about the organisation and what you there?
I’m on a committee for UNICEF’s youth branch in the UK. It’s just about getting as many young professionals engaged with UNICEF’s causes. It is something I feel really passionate about as I don’t think people engage enough with charitable or social causes. It is a really good organisation because it raises awareness and educates, but it also fund-raises a load of money. Not everyone has access to people who could contribute huge amounts to UNICEF, but through all of our jobs we have been able to make contacts that can contribute. We do educational and social events like pop-up dinners and yoga courses. We do one big dinner a year and I run the party afterwards. We’re trying to do more events. Everyone has a full-time job, so this is everyone’s side project, but we’re constantly recruiting new members.
I think having a different background, not just pure English, makes you more open to different cultures and people. It makes you more curious about other ways of life
How do you think your heritage, background and life experiences influence your everyday life or do they?
It definitely does. I think the fact that I come from a West Indian background, a Trinidadian background, makes me want to expose people more to that. We’re such a multi-cultural society in London, but our magazine is distributed worldwide, so I want everyone who is reading Suitcase to be aware of these different cultures. I think having a different background, not just pure English, makes you more open to different cultures and people. It makes you more curious about other ways of life and that type of thing, which I think affects me every day. But simply, it affects the music I listen to on the tube, the parties I go to and the food I eat.
Caribbean and Latin American countries are trying to diversify their economies, become less reliant on oil, by developing their creative industries. How would you say would be the best way to do that?
I think with every country, putting government money into the creative industries and start-ups and that type of thing would be most beneficial. You need to put money into young talent. I think with a lot of— It is kind of a dated thing that a lot of time parents will encourage they child to go into more [traditional jobs] chemical engineering, Maths, all of that sort of stuff that they deem important. I think just changing the way that you talk about creative industries. Even in like TV programmes or newspapers or magazines. If there’s like a sitcom that everyone watches in Trinidad, make sure there’s a guy and a girl who are fashion designers or something. Just putting that into the collective consciousness of that place or country, that creative industries are an option. I think also putting emphasis on local talent and local businesses and not just getting everything from America because i think a huge problem in the Caribbean is that they just look to America. Even in Jamaica, they all eat like imported food at the supermarket, which is like ten times the price of the local produce but it’s just seen as better because its American— the American dream.
So I think just changing attitudes of parents and families, so that eventually it affects the collective consciousness of Trinidad and the Caribbean that creative industries are important. But I guess the reality of it is that it is fucking hard to make it in creative industries, so unless there’s government sponsored programme to help you start your business— make designs, all that sort of stuff— it’s not going to happen. You need financial support.
Going back to your career, what is the greatest thing you have learned?
That’s so hard. I think going to all these different countries and meeting all these different people with opinions and ideas about how people should be, what the world should be doing, what it should look like, what it should smell like… So I think I’ve learned to tread that line of kind of maybe change people’s ideas for the better, but also respecting that everyone around the world has their own culture basically. For example, I keep talking about Jamaica, but in Jamaica, they have very different ideas about what women should be or should be doing. You have to subtly say and show your opinion by being a strong independent woman. I don’t think you can go to Jamaica and be like “all these women are just at home and that’s a bad representation of society!” What I’ve learnt is to basically respect cultures, but also try to influence change, challenge ideas, but also respect them.