Name: Rebecca Thandi Norman
Occupation: Editor-in-Chief & co-founder, Scandinavia Standard
Currently living in: Copenhagen
What makes you happy?
Spending time with my family, writing, reading, when the business is doing well, travel, flowers.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration both in visuals and in text. I do a lot of reading, and try to really vary the genres I’m reading; graphic novels and comic books are hugely inspiring to me. Visually, I find light inspiring, especially since moving to Denmark. The morning light in my apartment is something that gets me moving.
When did you realise that you were going to move to Copenhagen?
Well, the first time I moved to Copenhagen was back in 2008 when I did a study exchange for six months. But as for moving permanently? After my husband and I bought our apartment in 2013, I think! Before putting down roots in Copenhagen, I grew up in Boston and then lived in both London and Cape Town. The original plan after graduating from my Master’s Degree at the University of Copenhagen was to move back to Cape Town with my husband. Then a series of events unfolded that kept us in Copenhagen. It wasn’t expected, but I feel so happy to be here.
When did you realise that you were going to start Scandinavia Standard?
I met my co-founder, Freya McOmish (she is the Creative Director), around May 2013. I had just graduated with my Master’s in Public Health, then gotten married, and settled in Copenhagen. I had a teaching job lined up for September, but I was waiting for my visa to come through so I had this four month period where I wasn’t allowed to work. When Freya began talking about this project she had always wanted to start, but hadn’t gotten around to, I thought it was genius. It was something I felt people needed in Scandinavia; something I had definitely needed when I moved there for the first time. So I called her the next day and we started right away. It felt real when the website went live, which was in September of 2013.
How do you begin a new project?
Within Scandinavia Standard, starting new projects is really exciting! Freya and I spend a lot of time strategising and figuring out the logistics of new projects, so when we launch something the workflow can be as smooth as possible. At any given time, we have multiple projects going on.
Our biggest project to date has been our Scandinavian travel app, which we released at the beginning of June 2018. It has over 500 locations throughout the Scandinavian capitals; map and itinerary-integrated functionality, original photos…it was a massive undertaking and I’m so happy it’s out there in the world now!
As for my own projects, I wish I had more time to do side projects. I do a bit of personal writing, sketching, and various art projects. I recently did a flower dye workshop with an amazing company in Copenhagen called Marble Matter. It’s more about exercising those creative muscles than anything else.
Where’s your favourite place to work from?
My office in Nordvest. But every now and then it’s nice to work from a different space, like a library, cafe, or my desk at home. A change of space can be helpful in getting rid of distractions or mental blocks.
Describe a normal workday.
I’m in the office at 8:30 and make a pot of coffee (necessary). I respond to emails and take care of admin for approximately 2 hours, then dive into the editorial calendar. By midday I finish up with editorial content, have a quick lunch, and then it’s time for projects.
I have to leave the office at 3:00 in order to pick up my son by 3:30. Then I spend the afternoon with him; we usually to the playground or the library. My husband gets home around 5:30 and we all have dinner together. When my son goes to bed at 7, I work for a few hours if needed. It’s also important to spend time with my husband and relax, so it’s just a matter of what’s possible on a given day.
Describe an experience you had, that confirmed you, why you are doing what you do.
Every day confirms for me that we’re on the right track. When I get emails from people saying that the site has really helped them feel at home in a new city, or keeps them inspired daily, that’s what is most important to me.
We recently took a trip to Stockholm to have meetings about a big upcoming project and had quite an incredible experience with a woman who had previously run a similar project. If I believed in signs, this would have been one. Moments like those aren’t what keep me working day-to-day, but they can be reinvigorating.
Name one person who helped you get to where you are today.
The person who has been the biggest help, of course, is my co-founder Freya. We wouldn’t be where we are without our teamwork and our complementary skills. We hold each other accountable day-to-day.
The thing about running a business is that there is a huge list of people who make it possible, so I can’t just name one person. Everyone from our accountant to our landlord to the fellow creatives we’ve worked with along the way have had some role in the process. And then of course there are the people outside of the industry who personally hold me up, like my husband and family and friends. It goes deep.
What does art mean to you?
Art can be so many things. Sometimes it’s just beauty; something that just takes my breath away. Often art makes me think about the context it was created in, or about how a piece relates to the category of art itself, or the social message of the piece. An artist whose work I admire, and who combines so many of those factors, is Toyin Ojih Odutola. She’s a Nigerian visual artist working in NYC.
I think it’s important to see the art in every day. The clothes and jewellery you wear, or the way you decorate your home, or an arrangement of flowers. Those things aren’t necessarily art, but they can have art in them.
Name one women who inspired you on your creative journey?
Oh wow, so many! I cannot name just one. In terms of my foundation, my mom and grandmothers have been huge influences on my creative thinking. Both of my grandmothers are incredibly artful in their daily lives.
A woman who has been hugely inspirational to me is Elaine Welteroth, the former Editor-in-Chief at Teen Vogue. She turned what used to be a fairly tame fashion publication into a politically aware magazine that took teenagers seriously. She understood that visual markers like fashion can be can be used in powerful ways, but also that it’s okay to both be socially engaged and into clothes or other aesthetic things. And equally importantly, she surrounded herself with incredibly talented people who also had vision. That is so key.
I also look to contemporary and past editors like Christene Barberich (Refinery29), Edward Enninful (Vogue UK), Sarah Douglas (Wallpaper), Marcia Ann Gillespie (Essence, Ms.) , and Diana Vreeland (Vogue US), as sources of strength and inspiration.
Which challenges have you met in your work?
A challenge at the beginning was getting people to pay us for our work. With digital publishing, there’s a general feeling that because the consumption is (often) free, the production should be too. But that can’t sustain a business, and you have to pay people for their work.
We also often choose to work with small businesses and emerging artists who can’t afford to pay, so we needed to find a way to balance that with working with large brands that do have marketing or production budgets.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t be afraid to share strong opinions and stand by them. Ask to be paid for your work. Think more about intersectionality and how what you do is connected to the world. End unhealthy relationships or situations early. Saying you were wrong is not a sign of weakness. No one will create boundaries for you, except for you; don’t get mad that others don’t automatically know your needs or boundaries without you telling them first.