Welcome to the first FC Interview. In this ongoing series, FamilyChristian.com will bring you vibrant conversations from influencers and leaders from around the nation and the world.
In this first episode, we’re thrilled to bring you an exclusive conversation with the founder of Darling Magazine and Darling Media company, Sarah Dubbeldam. She formed Darling as a vision to express the beauty of women without any retouching or altering of their image in any way.
This is the story of how that vision has created a movement. Sarah is a woman of strong faith and a brilliant creative mind. This is an excerpt from our conversation, with more to come!
SS: It’s an honor to speak with you Sarah. Your work has elevated an important conversation about how women are portrayed in media, and Darling is changing the conversation about beauty for so many girls. How did it all begin?
SD: When I finished college, I was trying to work through what to do with my life. I had a couple of internships in film, I worked with Tobey Maguire and his production company. I had a goal of infiltrating the movie industry with positive messaging, but I realized it wasn’t materializing into what I wanted. One day I was having coffee with my friend Kelli and we were discussing what it meant to be a woman, struggling with anxiety and insecurity -- and wondering where the modern “go-to” for advice was for us. Cosmopolitan was so over-sexualized and unrealistic, or we could go to YouTube to learn how to get over our break-up. But there was nothing with the level of wisdom and advice that we wanted. So we said, let’s start our own, let’s make the magazine that we would like. And that’s how Darling was born.
We googled how to start a company and all the advice said to start with a mission statement. So we wrote one and that’s the mission statement still.
From there we took that idea and we created a video of 10 women reading different lines from the mission statement and we put it on Kickstarter. It was a bold statement and we were nervous about the reaction, but on the second day Kickstarter put it on their homepage and we ended up going over our goal in 3 days.
We were bummed we only asked for $15,000! We raised $19,000 and then pulled a bunch of favors and created Issue 1 of Darling Magazine. It was designed to be beautiful; quarterly format, really thick paper, 170 pages, 8 different sections of the 8 Personas that make up the different areas of a woman’s life.
SS: How did you get the word out?
SD: By the third issue we got into Anthropologie stores. And it was right then that Instagram was launching and we grabbed the hashtag #darling, which now has 20mm tags to it. Instagram has made our hashtag into an actual account/feed!
Around 2016, we’d gotten into a bunch of stores, 100 different boutiques, Barnes & Noble, Anthropologie and Whole Foods -- and that’s when the media industry was changing so much. We knew that we needed to diversify the business and have more than one manifestation of Darling Magazine, so we formed Darling Media. We started doing events, retreats and workshops and creating video content and building up all our blog content. So that was the transition to broadening our work and our offering.
What we didn’t expect, was that in 2017 a few big brands started coming to us. Alaska Airlines and Aerie (owned by American Eagle) emailed us and said “we love the way you talk to women and we want you to help us tell stories.”
It felt amazing! We have now done several 360 campaigns for these brands and more that have involved events, videos that displayed on Alaska's airplane app, and are still working on finishing a feature length documentary for Aerie -- yet another manifestation of the brand. It’s been this crazy journey; seeing how many different ways [Darling has] evolved.
SS: How do you choose which brands you’ll work with?
SD: We’ve said no to a lot of brands such as Victoria Secret and Playboy. It was amazing. Playboy was hounding me, wanting us to work with them. But we actually stand for the exact opposite of everything Playboy stands for. I asked them “have you looked at our website?!”
It’s easy to say no to those kinds of offers to keep the integrity and the voice of your brand.
Our people are very loyal and they look to us and love us and we’re making sure we’re 100% authentic. Brands are awesome, and we love working with companies that honor women the way we do. I use my own intuition as my guide.
SS: What do you see happening in media and Darling’s conversation today?
SD: Now the media industry has continue to evolve -- magazines are going away -- Conde Nast is closing down magazines right and left. Also, as people are spending more time on their phones and they’re lonelier than ever. Even the prime minister of the UK called it an epidemic and appointed a Minister of Loneliness.
So we thought “how can we have the most impact and reach the most people with our messages?” And we decided that the print magazine was not the right medium anymore. It’s not the way people are consuming content. People need community and advice and girls need wisdom more than ever, especially in this social media landscape.
We decided to create a print on demand/digital format so people that love print can still get it printed. And now we’re making the Darling Mini Books -- centered on specific topics -- the first one is on life purpose. They’re shorter form, they have questions, interactive activities and girls have the ability to gather around the topics in community.
We want to use our large community of followers, subscribers and investors to become our group leaders to gather women around to discuss and support one another.
We’re launching this new community-based format around our content, and we’ll develop more tools to help people come together this way.
SS: You’ve faced all these major transitions, but never strayed from your vision and original mission. You’re bringing light to places that are important for girls and women. What’s next?
SD: Our documentary, “Selfie” is a project in association with Aerie by American Eagle, talking about the psychology behind the selfie. It explores how we develop our own perception of beauty, based on what people tell us, what we tell ourselves, what media tells us and where the messages come from.
The film goes through a history of advertising and psychology, talking about how media informs our sense of self and beauty. It also explores our self-editing process around how we present ourselves to the world. We’ve interviewed women from 8 to 80, it’s really beautiful editorial footage, and also raw hand-held footage of college girls, how are they growing up in this culture. And then we finish it with really tangible advice on how to keep your identity in today’s culture . So [the film] can be used in schools, a tool for mothers and even girls who want to watch it to be encouraged to feel truly beautiful.
SS: How does your faith inform your work?
SD: We want to support good media. As followers of Jesus, the things that we watch matter. The things we put our money and support behind that aren’t glorifying to humans or to women, matter. You’re making your vote with your dollars and I would encourage people to think about it and make sure it aligns with your faith and your belief. As a content creator, and as a Christian, I hope that people see the importance of those decisions.
About Sarah Dubbeldam:
Sarah is the CEO of Darling Media and Editor-in-Chief of Darling Magazine. She has a BA from Concordia University in Studio Art and started her career in film and fashion, which led her to become a professional model and actress with Wilhelmina, a top agency in Los Angeles.
She has modeled in national campaigns for clients such as Target, InStyle Magazine, Budweiser, and many more. In this industry she found a passion to broaden the ideals of “beauty” and create an authentic and elevated conversation for women, which has now become Darling -- a multi-media company that hosts impactful live experiences and positively redefines female-driven digital, social and print content.
Sarah is now a cultural influencer and has been interviewed on outlets such as CNN, NBC, Refinery 29 and Huffington Post and speaks nationally on the movement of Darling.