Ione Gamble is a champion of non-conformity. After having trouble finding safe spaces in which she could confidently and unashamedly be herself, she created her own in the form of Polyester, a London-based zine which has since grown a worldwide readership. Gamble then went on to released her debut essay collection, Poor Little Sick Girls (published by Dialogue Books), earlier this year.
Polyester, founded by Gamble in 2014, prides itself on the inclusion and representation of marginalised people and is all about embracing what makes you authentically yourself, regardless of how those things are perceived by the wider culture. In Poor Little Sick Girls, she demonstrates this authenticity, talking candidly about living with a chronic illness, the commodification of feminism, and society’s obsession with wellness, to name but a few of the topics the book covers. Having already achieved so much and undoubtedly more to come, we ask Gamble about running Polyester, her podcast and all about her book.
Named both one of the most exciting editors shaping the future of magazines by i-D and one of London’s coolest creatives by The Evening Standard, could you please tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m Ione, I'm the founding editor-in-chief of Polyester, which I founded 8 years ago when I was 20. I’m also a writer and have just published my first collection of essays, Poor Little Sick Girls, with Dialogue Books. I co-host our podcast, The Polyester Podcast, and generally run everything to do with Polyester. 
You founded Polyester in 2014, “a self-published, intersectional feminist fashion and culture publication aiming to bridge the gap of url cyberfeminism with the irl world” with over 200,000 readers worldwide. What makes Polyester different from other culture publications and why do you think it has become such a popular zine?
Polyester was founded on inclusion rather than aspiration; other publications, historically, have often worked on the assumption that their readers are longing to become like the people in the pages of the magazines that they read. Polyester has always wanted to make people feel a part of the community, rather than excluded, and as a publication we have always dismissed this idea that to buy into something it has to feel unattainable.
It definitely still feels surreal that we have such a large audience, but I think it speaks to how people are dissatisfied with the media landscape in general and are seeking something different and more honest. We work really hard to foster community and to be in conversation with our audience rather than preaching to them, and I think that speaks to why we continue to grow.
Polyester’s tagline is a quote from cult filmmaker, queer icon, and, in your own words, “pope of trash” John Waters: “Have faith in your own bad taste.” What does this quote mean to you and why did you choose to make it such a prominent part of Polyester’s branding?
It's always meant to question norms, to be unashamed in who you are, despite the fact that others may belittle it or consider your interests unintellectual and serious. Polyester seeks to celebrate overtly femme aesthetics as well as provide a space for marginalised people to tell their stories unapologetically; and for me “have faith in your own bad taste” really surmises all of that. As a quote, it always urges us to question while being proud of who you are; and I really think it's an amazing lens to dismantle so many of the ‘isms’ that exist in our society.
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You also launched The Polyester Podcast in 2019, a weekly feminist pop culture podcast which hosts series such as The Sleepover Club and Obsessions. What inspired you to branch out into the podcast format? Can you tell us a little bit about each of these series?
This year we’ve been mostly focusing on The Sleepover Club, which is a weekly feminist pop culture podcast that sort of pulls apart whatever is going on online that week and looks at it through a critical lens. So much of our social politics become flattened and distorted through the internet, so the podcast is an opportunity for us to pull it apart and really consider what's going on within our culture at whichever current moment. I think there's so many interesting things happening online, and on TikTok especially, that will shape how we talk about girl culture and feminist culture in 10 years’ time, and at the moment they’re just being dismissed as trends. It's important to analyse, celebrate, and criticise this current cultural moment we find ourselves in.
Obsessions is our guest interview format in which we talk to a person we love about something they’re absolutely obsessed with; the only caveat being it cannot be their job. I feel with marginalised people in particular, the line of questioning in interviews is so often based around how they ‘made it,’ so it's nice to focus on something that isn’t these people’s work and to get to know them on a different level.
In your book, Poor Little Sick Girls, published in May of this year, you write “my publication was born out of survival; a way to penetrate a notoriously difficult industry and earn a living while creating space for what I loved.” Considering how far Polyester has come since its conception, what are your hopes and designs for the publication going forward?
I'd love to have a bit more security in terms of Polyester for our team and to continue to grow at a sustainable pace. I'd love to do more print and events which foster community – a large portion of our audience is in the United States and would love to do some events and work over there. In a dream world, I'd love to look into developing an app or somewhere online in which marginalised people can feel free to be themselves away from censorship and the current restrictive, patriarchal nature of social media. I'd also love to become something of an alternative, radical Condé Nast and begin publishing other people’s zines and publications. But, ultimately, I'd like the publication to continue to be an inclusive space, on a scale that keeps gradually increasing.
Poor Little Sick Girls is a collection of personal essays about your experiences as a chronically ill woman growing up and living in the digital age. How do you feel living with a chronic illness has affected how you view the world?
It's definitely made me both more cynical and more hopeful at the same time.
Your complex relationship with the internet is another recurring focus of the book. You fondly mention your time spent on sites like Tumblr when you were younger whilst also recognising those same sites’ misuses and limitations. How has your relationship with the internet changed since you were a teenager?
I think all of our relationships with the internet have changed since we were younger. The internet itself has become so much more commercialised and engagement-driven, it makes sense that we all have really complicated feelings towards it. I try to feel hopeful regarding the future of social media. I still feel like there is so much good to be found but the power isn't being harnessed by the people that could enact positive change; instead, we have the same handful of billionaires running everything. I try to keep my personal relationship with the internet as light as possible and not get bogged down in it all, but it's hard!
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In the essay This Too Shall Pass from the collection, you write “wellness, in the twenty-first century has come to replace religion as the moral signposting by which we live our lives.” Where does this obsession with wellness stem from and how does it affect perceptions of those who are sick?
Wellness is something that's been bubbling away in the collective consciousness for many decades, but our modern obsession with being well and healthy is definitely something that has been accelerated by social media. Now, being healthy isn’t just something we do for ourselves, but something we do for our audiences and followers too. It’s a lifestyle rather than just a consideration in the grand scheme of life. Influencers and the way the media in general discuss health positions being one hundred per cent healthy as good and anything else as entirely bad, which automatically renders sick people as lesser than. It puts us in a dangerous position in which we feel we can cast moral judgement on those who we do not feel are performing ‘health’ to the same level we are.
You describe Poor Little Sick Girls as “a love letter to unacceptable women.” Why do you think so many women feel ‘unacceptable’? What do you want those women to take away from your book?
Women and marginalised people are made to feel unacceptable their whole lives in so many different ways, which is what I aim to pick apart in the book. How we’re ostracised based on beauty standards, standards of health, class, and other cultural standards that are designed to keep us oppressed and make us feel inadequate. I hope people reading the book feel a bit more equipped in understanding how these systems fail us, and how we can fight against them. I hope it also makes readers feel less alone.
Finally, what can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?
Hopefully more writing! I’d love to do a second book. Poor Little Sick Girls comes out in paperback next year, too. And then lots more Polyester, and lots more podcast hosting!
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