In spite of what the media tells you, today’s youth do not have an easy ride in life. It is damn hard to make a decent living as a twenty-something university graduate, harder still to achieve success. With the ever present gloom of the recession, the working world can be a very hostile and intimidating place. Few are audacious or passionate enough to take a chance on something new. I present with great pleasure, old friend and entrepreneur, Serena Guen. Serena, with the help of like-minded young ladies and close friends, launched the fabulous SUITCASE Magazine back in May. SUITCASE is where fashion and travel merge to offer the British market an insight into the international highlights of design, art and entertainment. Today we hear from the director herself: everything from business tips to romantic weekends away…
Talk to me a little bit about Suitcase Magazine and the idea behind it.
Serena - SUITCASE is the first international quarterly travel and fashion magazine for young women. We have been called the “next generation of magazines” by industry experts because of our innovative outlook, design and business model. Our key is accessibility at the highest quality, which often means venturing into unchartered territories in the world or showcasing new rather than just well established talent. Readers may not be able to stay at the Four Seasons for a week decked out in Chanel but they may be able to stay at a really cool little boutique hotel, have dinner in a nice restaurant and go shopping for the local up and coming or high street designer, so we show them how.
It all started last summer due to a chance meeting of a friend of a friend (Charlotte Summers) in Boots. After a little small talk we realized that I was going on quite a few holidays and that she was creating an online fashion and travel magazine called SUITCASE-could I write an article for her? I love writing so I was really excited about the prospect, without blowing my trumpet too hard, she liked it, a lot, and wanted me to write another article for her on New York this time (I am also a student at NYU). She saw my enthusiasm and invited me to co-edit with her. After some market research an online magazine became a printed magazine, in November, a registered company and now at twenty two we are the youngest owners of an international magazine-VOGUE referred to us as a “force of nature”, which made me laugh.
The SUITCASE team is tiny right now-just Charlotte and I are full time, but we have our extended ‘dream team’, which includes other entrepreneurs and contributors of all ages and nationalities. When we cover a destination we want to ensure that we cut straight to the core, we are not going to be able to do that from visiting it for a day or two so we have contributing writers, photographers etc who have either lived or spent extended periods of time travelling there.
What do you think makes this venture so unique and exciting?
Serena - Various reasons-we like to think of ourselves as a magazine of firsts: first travel and fashion magazine, first to create an accessible travel/fashion magazine (clothes are max. 500GBP), smallest team, youngest owners, which places ourselves within our target reader’s age group with a more solid idea of their needs.
We are working towards creating a magazine experience that is as 3 dimensional as possible by making pop up shops, an interactive website and an iPad application that will act as a mini entertainment system with music, movies and interesting articles to read.
What first ignited your interest in travel writing?
Serena – I come from a very international background-my father is Tunisian/German and my mother Italian/English so you could say that I am genetically disposed to the travel bug. My father travelled a lot for business and was keen to show us as much of the world as possible so I really was very fortunate to have discovered a large portion of the world at a young age.
During these trips I used to read everything and anything from Charles Dickens to Enyd Blyton, I was really quite nerdy often choosing books such as Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath over Harry Potter at age 10. I suppose this led to a natural progression of my creative writing. However the two skills only came together during my gap year with my travel diary, which I wrote to share with my family and friends. I also spent my first year of university in Paris and wrote a mini-guide for several of my friends (including Charlotte funnily enough) for when they visited and they seemed to love it and sent it out to all their friends.
Which city are you most enamoured with and why?
Serena – Right now it has to be Bucharest. One of my best friends is Romanian and every year for 7 years she has tried to persuade me to go to Romania and every year I have said no, so I finally caved and wow, was what it worth it. I have to say I have never been to a city that has so many misconceptions about it; Dracula and gypsies are probably what spring to most people’s minds when you mention but FYI Dracula is not real and the gypsies are now all in Paris. I have never also never been to such a raw city before. By raw I mean you can see the beginnings of a new culture-an art scene, a fashion scene, a young scene that never existed before and has a huge amount of potential. The old town is gorgeous, the night life insane, the food great, people very kind and women absolutely stunning. A lot of big movies are being filmed there at the moment as well because it’s incredibly cost effective so you might just run into your favourite actor there.
Where would you travel to for the following experiences?..
- Romance – Hong Kong-the views are lethal
- Culture – Istanbul
- Retail Therapy – Down town New York
- Girls Trip – Vegas, ha, no kidding, Paris
What has been your most memorable travelling experience?
Serena - My most powerful experience was visiting the Colca Canyon in Peru, the nature is absolutely breathtaking and unspoiled. Watching the gigantic Condors flying around, I felt like I was in Jurassic Park.
What can we expect from Suitcase in the next year and beyond?
Serena – In the immediate future, our travel themed pop up shop for the Olympics in July/August. The SUITCASE shop will be a ‘Travel Emporium’ staffed by air-hostesses and stocked with world wonders (complete with luggage tags explaining their individual stories) from unique pieces of clothing and jewelry to books and postcards and of course the magazine itself. Customers will also have the opportunity to beautify and refresh themselves from their travels immediately at the ‘Jet Lag Bar’ where they can revive with a fresh juice while having their nails done.
Do you have any advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs?
Serena – Do it, surround yourself with supportive and equally ambitious people and don’t be afraid of failing, it will still be one of the greatest experiences. Be open to critique because it means you will build a stronger business
What can you absolutely not travel without?
Serena – My black pashmina-I use it as a blanket on the plane and it goes with everything for the evening, whether I need a light shawl in summer or a scarf in winter, sometimes I even use it instead of an umbrella (not effective for long periods of time), it is even great if I’m visiting churches on one of my travels and need to be respectful. I often spray it with perfume so it smells really good!