BULLY magazine is leading the fight to revolutionise Toronto’s creative scene
Hazel Ong meets stylist-turned-editor-in-chief Bobby Bowen and the team giving a voice to new-gen talent through old-school print media
Tuesday 14 June By Hazel Ong Photography by Justin Aranha
In the early days of his career, stylist Bobby Bowen found himself facing hurdle after hurdle in a city not yet known for being the creative hub it is now – slowly, but surely – becoming. He felt ‘bullied’ by the old guard of Toronto’s still-developing fashion industry, who he felt didn’t get him and didn’t want to. He decided he needed to do it his own way, with the hope of shaking things up, not just in Toronto but worldwide, by creating a platform for people like him to showcase their work from a more colourful point of view. In 2018, BULLY was born.
The inaugural issue landed in August 2019 in the form of a 208-page glossy, initially available exclusively on their site and Toronto retailer SOOP SOOP. Producing a print publication in the digital age is a daring feat. ‘There’s a double-edged sword to leading with print,’ says BULLY’s director of partnerships, Patrick Silverio. ‘On one hand, it’s really refreshing to hold and flip through something. On the other, it’s not a profitable pursuit. But we’re in it for the bigger picture, which is defining a clear cultural perspective that more accurately reflects our cohort.’
Leafing through the pages of BULLY, influences from eras past are unmistakable. Team members – who range in age from early 20s to late 30s – cite everything from reggae records of the 1980s, 1990s R&B music videos and early-aughts graffiti culture, all the way up to modern-day video game visuals as a way to create stories authentic to each of their own diverse experiences. As they work on the forthcoming second issue – slowly and at their own pace (they don't abide by a conventional seasonal schedule) – the focus is on the overarching theme of ‘roots and culture’ for this issue and beyond.
Hazel Ong: Hey guys. Introduce yourselves…
Bobby Bowen: My name is Bobby Bowen and I’m the editor-in-chief and founder of BULLY.
Alex Cirka: I’m the creative director and a founding partner.
Patrick Silverio: I’m the partnerships director and a partner. We all wear a lot of hats, but my focus is on working with brands on things like print ads, sponsorships and larger campaign work.
Avery Medina: I’ve worked for BULLY as a graphic designer since the beginning of 2022. I help design the visuals for Instagram and the website.
Tré Akula: I’m a contributing editor. I joined the team back in October 2021, just in time for the launch of issue two.
HO: What is BULLY’s mission?
PS: For me, there is a DIY anti-establishment attitude that is both subversive and inclusive at the same time. The tone resonates on a personal level and connects different subcultures and creative perspectives from an intersectional lens. BULLY serves as a platform to connect people and stories that felt denied or pushed down.
HO: How did BULLY come about?
BB: It came about through personal experience. When I first entered the industry, I didn’t see Black models, I didn’t see street casting, I didn't see many POC. As I continued to navigate the industry as a new stylist, it was hard for me to pull clothes or have my work showcased in Canadian print publications. I was always being invalidated or looked down on because I wasn’t using the standard Canadian designers or models, which made me feel bullied. I told myself if I’m feeling like this, imagine how many other artists like myself must feel this way. So, I created my own publication and called it BULLY cause now we ‘bully dem back’ with our art, with our voice, with our perspectives.
HO: Who is BULLY for?
BB: Everyone. It’s for the underdogs, the ones told ‘no’, the emerging, the next generation of creatives, the underground, the culture.
AC: BULLY is for anyone that is over the bullsh*t, who can see through fake corporations and brands trying to peddle culture as if it was a commodity.
TA: Chances are, if you’ve found BULLY organically, then it’s for you. Those who know, know.
HO: What is your relationship to printed matter?
BB: Books and magazines are how I got into fashion. Also, my dad has an amazing collection of records which had the most incredible covers. I would see those at an early age and admire the font styles and designs on the cover sleeves of early reggae, dancehall, soca, country and disco records.
AC: That’s actually how Bobby and I connected on a deeper level. When we would shoot campaigns together – before the mag was even started – we had similar relationships to different source material that influenced our interests as young kids. Magazines like The Source, Vibe, SLAM and so many more had a different energy to them than the other fashion/culture publications had at the time.
TA: My relationship started as a teenager when I would buy magazines like Word Up! and Right On! Having been raised in a very strict household, I was only really allowed to go to school, church and back home, so these magazines were my only window to the outside world.
'When I first entered the industry, I didn’t see Black models, I didn’t see street casting, I didn't see many POC... I told myself; if I’m feeling like this, imagine how many other artists must feel this way.'
HO: Do you remember the first image or specific editorial that really impacted you?
AC: The first thing that heavily impacted me was the Wu-Tang ‘W’ logo. That started my path into graffiti and eventually understanding it was the love of graphics, shapes, forms and iconography. The ‘W’ was the first real piece of graffiti I scrawled into my closet where my parents couldn’t see it [laughs]. The streets were next.
TA: For me, it was the first time I saw Virgil Abloh on the cover of System magazine in 2017. I remember reading that feature and being moved to tears. It was the first time I saw a Black creative paving his own way on a large scale with no regard for how ‘things are usually done’. The thing that stood out to me the most was how unconventional his path was. It gave me permission to dream and realise the person I am to be.
HO: Why did you decide to create BULLY in a print format?
AC: It’s more engaging to hold something without the need to scroll. We’ve changed the way we interact with information and our visual language has grown so much, but oftentimes I feel that art and culture has become disposable.
TA: The pro of print is having everything documented in a physical form. I think there is something very beautiful about being able to flip through the pages and feel the substance of it; it’s something that cannot be replicated in the online space.
HO: You also host and MC a lot of underground parties and raves in the city as well. How does that nightlife energy play into the BULLY ethos?
BB: Raves and parties are what moves the culture. There are no rules, no boundaries. Music has shaped my vision in a huge way. All the music I grew up on in the 1990s has had a huge impact on the look and feel of BULLY. It's loud, it’s aggressive, it’s in your face – just like the 1990s.
HO: Alex, how would you describe BULLY’s visual aesthetic? What influences your design style?
AC: I would describe it as ‘refined raw’ – it’s loud, it’s textured, it’s nuanced, it’s intentional and always unapologetically bold. We don’t subscribe to rules of design dictated by some archaic Eurocentric minimalists; we do whatever we want to, at all times.
HO: Lastly, who is your dream cover subject?
BB: Rihanna obviously is my dream cover girl. She just makes her own rules and she’s Bajan, like me.
AC: Dennis Rodman. The dude was just different in how he practiced his profession and how he lived his life.
TA: Living legend and personal icon, Grace Jones is my dream cover girl. To me she is the epitome of what BULLY is and represents. She was and continues to be a pioneer of her time and it would be a dream of mine to give her roses while she’s still here.