Initial Impressions

Karen Hawkins sat across from me at the corner of a large, white table. Although I figured that I would be faced with some sort of force of nature, I never expected that force to be the sun itself. From the moment I entered, Hawkins was incredibly warm and welcoming. She greeted me with both a handshake and a genuine smile. My interview with her, which felt more like a conversation, was filled with comfort and laughter. Still, her skill and experience provided me with great new insight into the world of both reporting and creating a startup from scratch.

Hawkins is the founder and editor, or “Rebel”, in chief of Rebellious Magazine, a Chicago based online magazine founded upon the ideology of both personal and female empowerment. Their varying content consists of opinion pieces from a staff of female writers, interviews with prominent Chicago women, and promotions and reviews of projects done by women. Online journalism has become over-saturated with thousands upon thousands, if not millions, of voices. It can, of course, becomes difficult to decide which voices are worth your time.

Let me tell you why both Karen Hawkins and Rebellious Magazine are worth your time.

It Runs in the Family

Hawkins aspired to become a journalist from a very young age. When asked, most kids might say that when they grow up, typical answers include things like fireman, athlete, and doctor. So, what drove Hawkins in her desire to write? Inspiration from her family. “You know, my grandfather was an essayist.” Hawkins’ grandfather worked in the post office, but was also a published essayist. She also has an older cousin who worked as a copy-editor. “I love to write, and I’m super nosy, so it’s a good combination. It comes together really well as a reporter.” As both a black women over 40, and a member of the LGBT community, Hawkins unique perspective shines through in her work.

Experience and Education

A true Chicago native, Hawkins began her career as a reporter by attending the University of Illinois for a bachelors in journalism 20 years ago. After successfully completing her time as an undergraduate, Hawkins went on and received a master’s degree in magazine publishing from North Western. She went on to take positions “…with The Associated Press, the Windy City Times, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Palm Beach Post.”

Hawkins’ favorite job, besides, of course, managing Rebellious, was as a breaking news reporter for Associated Press. “I remember being in a cab one of my first weeks and there was smoke on the horizon. The cabby was like ‘Oh my god there’s a huge fire!’ and I was like ‘Yeah, that’s where we’re going.’.” It seems that in the world of breaking-news reportage, there is never a dull moment. Hawkins is particularly proud of her coverage of the infamous John Burge case in 2009. Still, Hawkins yearned for more. Ironically, the job she the job she enjoyed the most also lead to her to quitting traditional journalism, and founding Rebellious.

A Workplace Rebellion

Hawkins built Rebellious from the ground up herself, but in a way, it all began with the words of one of her bosses. Between 2006 and 2012 Hawkins worked, as mentioned before, at Associated Press. While she loved the work that she did, towards the end of her time there Hawkins requested for 4 Saturdays off in a row, six months ahead of time in December. “…my boss called me in June, and told me that I had asked for too many weekends off and that I was being rebellious and that I was testing him.” This moment had, of course, become Rebellious’ namesake.

The idea of Rebellion embedded into Rebellious’ content is founded upon self-empowerment, especially for women. “When we first launched the idea was a personal rebellion. I got called rebellious for asking for days off from work, which under the union contract he had to give me.” Despite her reasonable request, submitted half a year ahead of time, Hawkins was faced with a choice. Some people may accept this sort of mistreatment as a simple fact of life, fail to speak up, and silently move on. But not Karen Hawkins. “It was really this idea of like, oh you think that makes me rebellious? Great, I’m going to encourage other women to be ‘rebellious’ and ask for the things they’re supposed to have.”

What is Rebellion?

For Hawkins, rebellion doesn’t have to just be a grand gesture. “Yes, you should march in the streets, but you should also march into your bosses’ office and ask for raises.” Although these steps may seem minor to many people, they are also essential to establish both confidence and precedence for women in the work place. The idea of a personal rebellion is one of empowerment. Unfortunately, Hawkins couldn’t leave immediately. Hawkins stayed at Associated Press for another 9 months before finally quitting. Afterword’s, she began work as a traveling consultant while working on Rebellious a side project.

Humble Roots

When Rebellious began, all the content writing was done by unpaid volunteers. Unfortunately, this first attempt was somewhat unsustainable, and resulted in a false start. “That lasted about a year and a half, and I got super burnt out.” This, however, was not enough to discourage Hawkins. Two and a half years later, Hawkins relaunched Rebellious with a fully payed staff and the magazine became her “full-time gig.” Some people may think that launching an online magazine is simple. Unfortunately that’s not the case. “It’s harder than it looks” Hawkins stated. It’s important that you are disillusioned to any ideas that might indicate otherwise.

Despite the less-than-stellar first launch, her second launch has been far more successful. It has also granted her a unique perspective how to run a start-up. “There are a ton of resources in Chicago for startups, and treat yourself like a startup.” She advises any one with ambitions to start their own online magazine, or any start-up business for that matter, to prepare more than she did her first time.

Tips of the Trade

It’s important to go in with structure, funding, and a mailing list of potential readers and clients. The first steps are the most difficult, so you’ll need some breathing room. “Have some kind of sustainable infrastructure.” She also advises to consider any grants you may be qualified for, especially as a non-profit.

Still, although Rebellious has found far more success recently, the brand does still have problems that it’s been dealing with. “The hardest part for me has been the business side…” It seems that one of the most difficult aspects of running Rebellious has been the process of monetizing their content. Now, with a payed staff of skilled writers, Hawkins doesn’t need to worry about her content falling flat, but instead has been focusing on how to make her brand sustainable. Rebellious currently offers a payed membership program that offers members discounts to events, and a tote bag filled with coupons. They also make money from any Rebellious brand merchandise that they sell, charged events, and through the production of sponsored content.

This Year and the Next

If you look at the social media presence of Rebellious Magazine, you’ll find very active pages across Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Each page has near 700 followers, over 1,500 followers, and over 1,600 followers respectively. “Social media has been huge for us. The two biggest ways that we get the word out are social media… and newsletters.” Rebellious is a testament to the power of social media when it comes to building a brand and getting your name out there. Rebellious gets a total of 20 thousand page views a month, and 100 thousand impressions. Because of their successful online presence, Rebellious is now able to thoroughly promote their content and events. If your brand neglects their online presence, it will become all the harder to build up.

I asked if Hawkins was satisfied with the progress of Rebellious. “No start up founder is ever going to say that they’re happy.” Her sentiment is an understandable one. Rebellious has grown much since its early years. Still, if you want to be successful, you can’t allow yourself to be satisfied. Hawkins’ ambition extends even beyond Chicago. “Ideally, Rebellious grows from a Chicago brand to a national brand.” While this is likely the goal of most, if not all, brands, Hawkins does a lot more than simply manage the magazine from behind the scenes. It’s because of her hands on approach and community building that makes her dream all the more likely.

“The Room You’re Sitting in is Also a Project.”

The room we were sitting in is located in 405 W. Superior street, a collaborative office space in which various brands get their work done. You can find it on the 7th floor on the corner left of the office. There, one can catch a stunning view of the city on a patio-like balcony. “This room is called Ladies Room Chicago, and it is a women’s cowering popup that Rebellious is a founding partner of.” Here, women meet up weekly on Wednesdays at 1 PM (open to all via RSVP from their website.) This is a great weekly networking event in Chicago. You can connect with other professional women, work, or simply socialize. Aside from these weekly events, the room also hosts a monthly “Feminist Co-working & Cocktails” event. Now in November, this even will next be hosted on November 16th.

A Multifaceted Brand

Rebellious Magazine is part of many projects and events similar to these. Hawkins makes sure that her brand interacts with various in-person groups and activities. They’re a great way to both raise brand awareness, and have a great time. Every year, Rebellious hosts an anniversary party. Every May they host a feminist prom. They even host an event called the “Bridesmaids Bash”, in which women come wearing old bridesmaid’s dresses. Rebellious seems to have a knack for making networking events more conventionally enjoyable. Perhaps this is another aspect of the original work space rebellion that began the brand. These events also all focus on female empowerment. Men are welcome to these events as well.

Rebellious Marketing Solutions is yet another, albeit less conventionally fun, aspect of the Rebellious brand. Their webpage offers the following explanation for their services: “We’re a boutique copy writing agency that specializes in compelling content that rebels against the ordinary. Let our witty wordsmiths tell your brand’s story.” Hawkins has great experience when it comes to writing such material for larger brands. “I wanted to offer that myself and with a couple of other Rebellious writers for small business.” You can even sign up to schedule a free 15-minute consultation. The focus on small business is another great reflection on their industrial revolution.

A Genuine Rebellion

I’ve before that the current online market has been over-saturated with a constant input of new news sources. Some would worry at the idea of new competitors cropping up daily. Hawkins is instead grateful that more people have been given a platform to voice their opinions and perspectives. “I am hopeful that digital publishing will let a lot of us to get into this, even if none of us are going to be millionaires.” Her work comes from a place of both merit and authenticity, attempting to genuinely empower women rather than simply profit off their struggles. She herself is bright, bold, and most importantly, has integrity.

Chicago is a giant metropolis. It can also feel rather anonymous. It can be difficult to find a worthwhile community to work with. If you’re a woman working in Chicago, the Rebellious community is one that both show you a good time, and empower you. Go to some of their events to meet Karen Hawkins, and find out first hand why her perspective is one that Chicago has been missing for so long.

Join the Rebellion.

Rebellious Magazine




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