Posted 08 July 2021
Interview by Lyla Johnston

“We are here, we deserve to be heard”: meet Melanated magazine’s Thyra Bankole

It was during her studies at Plymouth College of Art that Thyra Bankole launched Melanated, a magazine highlighting womxn of colour in the creative industry. Having not been able to find comparable resources that championed representation, the platform became a direct response to her own experience, and created a safe space for conversation and connection. Two years on, the project has led to opportunities including a collaboration with SEASON zine, helping merge the worlds of football and fashion together while decentring its white male perspective. In addition, Thyra works as a graphic designer for multiple brands and magazines, recently securing a design job at a natural pet food company. We speak to her about making lemonade out of lemons and why you need to put yourself out there.

Thyra Bankole

Thyra Bankole


Job Title

Junior Graphic Designer, Burgess Pet Care (2021–present)
Founder and Editor, Melanated (2019–present)

Based

Leeds

Selected Clients

SEASON zine, Disgraceful Magazine

Previous Employment

Graduate Boarding Assistant at Wymondham College (2019–2020)

Place of Study

BA (Hons) Graphic Design, Plymouth College of Art (2016–2019)

Website

thyrabee.myportfolio.com
melanatedzine.com

Social Media

Instagram

What I do

How would you describe what you do?
I am a creative thinker who specialises in designing for social media and editorial design. I work with a handful of different clients from magazines to independent business owners. I usually do a lot of my work remotely as my clients are dotted around the country. I love creating new and exciting designs that are fun and engaging!

If you could sum up your job in a GIF, what would it be and why?
Do you know that meme of that lady and there are all those maths equations around her? I would say that.

I’m always trying to navigate design tasks and projects that come in. Sometimes they are clear and understandable and other times they’re strange and unclear. There is much theory and reasoning that goes into graphic design a lot of people wouldn’t even know. Before I decided I was going to go into graphic design, I just assumed all they did was design logos, but there is so much more to it and so many routes you can specialise in.

You also need to understand your clients, their brief and your audience in so many ways you wouldn’t begin to know. It’s all about building these strong connections and relationships with communities in order to cater to all.

What’s your favourite thing on your desk (below) right now?
I love working in my dining room so I would say it would have to be all the vinyls that myself and my fiancé collect. Being able to put some chilled tunes on in the back whilst I work keeps me sane when I’m juggling loads of different projects.

Thyra’s desk

What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
I love designing modern, yet experimental, designs. I always say there’s beauty in chaos and I love implementing that in my everyday practice.

Can you tell us more about your zine, Melanated?
I started Melanated during my final year of university as the result of my final major project. I was frustrated that I couldn’t find any material on creatives of colour in my university and online, so I decided to take matters into my own hands.

Melanated is a publication that aims to promote, showcase and highlight women of colour in the creative industry. I remember when I started Melanated, I was having to explain to my lecturers and other members of my university why this was so important. I was the only person of colour in my year, so it was important for me to create some sort of representation so that if anyone felt like me, they would have some sort of directory of other beautiful and talented women of colour.

I would say my aim with Melanated is to keep fighting to create a safe platform for creatives of colour so that they don’t feel alienated. I want to continue having these conversations and sharing these stories, to show that we are here, we deserve to be heard and we need more representation and recognition.

“We are here, we deserve to be heard and we need more representation and recognition.”

Melanated magazine spread
Melanated magazine spread

What’s been your favourite project to work on, from the past year, and why?
If I had to choose one, it would be working with SEASON zine. I took over some design work for someone I met through Melanated and it was such an amazing opportunity. SEASON zine is a publication based on football and fashion, created to counter the “male, pale and sometimes stale” football culture. It was nice to work with someone who shared similar values to mine and work with a variety of different people!

Would you say you need any specific training for what you do?

I think anyone could go into graphic design. You just need to find what you love. Graphic design is so broad and there are so many different routes you could go down that it’s so easy to be a jack of all trades.

I would say you need to be able to have thick skin. I have an encountered loads of clients who don’t value the time and effort you put into your design and because they can see that I am too kind, they take advantage of that.

SEASON zine Instagram Story Mockup
SEASON zine Instagram Post Mockup

How I got here

What was your journey like when you were first starting out? Did you find your feet quickly? 

After university, I’ll be honest, it was hard. It’s a very competitive world out there. I moved out of Plymouth (where I went to university) to Leeds so I was not only competing with the new wave of graduates who are based in that city, but I also had existing designers fighting for a space in the design scene. I was really interested in teaching so I actually took a year out to work in a boarding school after I graduated. After that contract, I planned on trying to get a job in design but the pandemic hit and it was a constant struggle for me.

I know so many people like me who struggled to find their feet, and some who got a job straight away. One thing I would say is don’t expect everything to be handed to you. My university sold us this dream that as soon as you graduate, you’ll land a job. I wasn’t prepared for the constant rejection and also speaking about myself and my work.

If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
I love designing for print but more specifically, editorial and magazine design. When I can, I order magazines like i-D or Dazed because their style and vibe is the kind of thing I’m interested in. I find that looking at those magazines also show me different creative and innovative ways to present information. This is where I take inspiration from when it comes to creating the spreads for Melanated or any publication I might work on.

I also turn to Fuse Leeds a lot – a platform that highlights creatives of colour in Leeds. At times when I feel alone or clueless, I love looking at that Instagram page. Seeing the variety of different creatives based in my area motivates me to keep going and also shows me that there are other people I can turn to.

I follow a couple of design accounts on TikTok called Freelance Studio and MKW Creative Co. and they are always uploading design challenges or even some tutorials which I find extremely useful. These accounts help me learn new skills and widen my expertise. Whilst I was unemployed during the pandemic, these profiles helped me keep up to date with the latest design trends whilst learning new days to design.

What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
When the pandemic hit, I felt like I had taken a big blow because I missed out on a full year of teaching and a whole year of being in the design industry. Finding a job during a global pandemic was one thing, but finding a design-related job was like finding a needle in the haystack. It was so tough and really took a toll on my mental health and self-belief. The one thing that helped me through was the thought that I will find somewhere that is suited for my abilities and will help me grow and a designer and professional.

“Once you find what you’re passionate about, it’ll set you apart. It shows you care about something other than design.”

How important would you say social media and self-promotion are to your work?
Social media is such a vital tool when it comes to self-promotion. I got a lot of my clients through Instagram and word of mouth. Even when it came to finding womxn who were willing to contribute towards Melanated.

There are so many platforms out there for any creative to sign up to and promote their services, so if I had any advice, it would be to utilise them! They are there to help you and to show the world how much of an amazing creator you are.

What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
I’ve slowly learnt not to undersell my services. I would always be quite anxious asking people for my standard rate because of a fear of rejection but really, I have to keep remaining myself that this is my job. I need this just as much as any another professional. I would always get come sneaky comments about my hourly rate being too high for what the project is, but at the end of the day the amount of research and expertise that I will be providing should be reflected in my rate of pay. This is again because people don’t realise how much work creatives have to do, whilst balancing other projects and clients and keeping their mental health in check.

BLM Postcard
Diversify poster

My advice

What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. I would always have the feeling of not being good enough or feeling like an imposter. This stopped me from reaching my full potential and losing out on some job opportunities.

Another one would be don’t settle for less. You’ve got to kiss some frogs (metaphorically) to find your prince. When I started to realise my worth and what I wanted for my career, I found myself smashing interviews, which essentially landed me my job at one of the top pet food manufacturers. Believe in yourself and your capabilities and you can conquer anything that comes your way!

What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role?
Find your passion. I speak about Melanated a lot, whether that be in job interviews or to potential clients, but it’s something that is very important to me and I can speak about it for hours. Once you find what you’re passionate about, it’ll set you apart from your competitors and it shows you care about something other than design. The design industry is super-competitive and employers are always looking for an easy way to eliminate you from the process.

Also leading on from earlier, be proactive. Find events to go to, workshops to sign up for, courses to join. This helps not only grow and expand your expertise, but shows people that you have more to you then a degree. It also shows that you are willing to try new things and develop as a creative.

But one thing I want to stress is not to give up. Be true to what you believe in and everything will fall into place.

Mention Thyra Bankole
Interview by Lyla Johnston