Like many teenagers back in the nineties, Andrea Butler loved to read and collect magazines, poring over the colorful pages that displayed the coolest in fashion, beauty, and pop culture.
At that time, however, Andrea realized that something was terribly missing; as a young Black woman, nobody in the pictures looked like her. None of them shared any hair or makeup tips that she could use on her own skin or curly hair. Worse, the magazines rarely, or if even at all, tackled the issues she was going through. However, she had to make do and enjoy them for what they were, because they were all she had access to at that time.
This lack of representation served as an inspiration for Andrea, who vowed to start her own publication that catered to the needs of other Black female teens like her.
A decade later, between late 2009 and early 2010, Andrea was working as an English teacher in North Carolina, when she decided to initiate a test run for the magazine. The project was interrupted when she began working for Living Social as a writer and editor.
Then, in 2012, she sought the help of a friend from high school, Shannon Boone, and finally launched the magazine in December of that year. In 2013, Andrea left Living Social and worked towards building Sesi full-time.
Why Sesi? Butler shared with Elite Daily that “sesi” means “sister” in the Southern Sotho language; a word she found while searching African baby names. The choice reflected her intention to bring young Black women together, with Sesi assuming the role of a wise, big sister.
Sesi’s target audience is Gen Z black girls. Andrea’s goal is to show them stories of inspiring Black females, provide them a channel to explore and express their creativity by sharing their own written work, and also give them advice on how the might be able to get involved politically and push for their own advocacies.
In the summer of 2018, after years of pitching, Andrea successfully landed Sesi a spot on the newsstands of Barnes & Noble, opening up more opportunities for the magazine to gain readership. The magazine is now also being distributed by Books-A-Million and several indie newsstands around LA.
It wasn’t always smooth-sailing for Sesi; in July 2019, the magazine almost closed down because of a lack of funding. Through the help of a friend, they launched a GoFundMe which, according to Andrea, brought in overwhelming support, even from people who have not heard of them before. The money was enough to keep them alive for another year, and brought in new subscriptions.
Today, Sesi is currently the only magazine dedicated to Black female teens. While this might be good for business, Butler’s wish is for young Black girls to have more choices when it comes to finding publications that are relevant to their experiences. But having gone through the difficulties of running a magazine herself, she acknowledges that the barriers to starting a venture like Sesi are hard to surmount.
Sesi’s print version now enjoys a readership of about 20,000, which comprises about 98% of their current audience, while 2% visit their website for content. The team is comprised of up to eight freelance writers who work on the content, Andrea’s business partner, and a layout artist. The magazine still relies on subscriptions and donations to be kept running.
Still, Andrea is set on her mission to empower young Black women, and is determined to persevere. “We want to celebrate Black girls. We want to encourage them to pursue their careers, and discover how they can contribute to their communities and the world,” she shared.