My name is Cecilia Sagote, I’m 37 years of age, and I was born in Samoa, (village Leauva’a). I migrated to New Zealand at age 2 with my family in 1981. We settled in Whanganui, NZ where I grew up, and I attended Sacred Heart Girls College before moving to Auckland with my family in 2000.

How did your story as an Editor in Chief begin?

I have always been big reader of all things and I loved my magazines especially Cleo and Cosmopolitian,, which I admired so much as a teenager. I found these magazines so informative and entertaining but at the same time whilst finding them informative and interesting, I felt much of the content never catered to me as a young Pacific teenager at the time.

I never read about people like myself so didn’t really have my type of role models to look up to. Over the years I thought about a magazine for Samoan/Pasifika young women but never did anything about it until I studied business and journalism at University, and once I completed that, I thought I better put my plan into action!

What do you hope to achieve through SUGA Magazine, and your work overall?  

I want young Pasifika women to read about people just like themselves doing amazing things. Our mission statement is “Empower, Inspire and Celebrate” and that’s how readers feel when they read our articles on Pacific women achieving in all areas, arts, entertainment, careers and business.

What have been the most challenging experiences in your journey so far?

Like any business and venture starting out, we needed money and capital for our print magazine when we launched in 2012. We were good beggers, borrowers and bribers haha! Luckily we had friends that were graphic designers and photographers, so that helped.  But then the digital age became so dominant and like many other media, we had to keep up with the times. We then launched an online version of the magazine – this was challenging as advertisers couldn’t advertise in our print magazine any longer. But the plus side of online media was a far bigger audience reach and we didn’t have the logistics drama like we did with distributing our print editions.

Other challenges… wow…. I could go on all day! I never in my life thought that I would face so much Cyber Bullying and trolling on social media as I do. I’ve since realised, launching a Pacific media platform like SUGA Magazine will also attract nasty people. I am quite active on social media particularly on Twitter.  People seem to have a traditional view of an editor, but I’m quite outspoken, bold, opinionated and unapologetic – especially when it comes to issues affecting the Pacific Community. This is because my people are close to my heart.

It’s funny when online trolls call me names, tag me in their conversations where they are smack talking me –and then when I respond to them in the same manner – they react stunned, saying that I am supposed to be “professional”.  So they can talk to me unprofessionally and yet I’m supposed to react professionally and smile back because of my brand?  What they are really trying to say is “I can abuse you all I want but you can’t do the same because you are the SUGA Magazine editor”. I don’t work like that. I will reflect my brand in a way where our young Pacific women need to speak back to those who take a swipe at you.

We need more SUGA to be strong tough woman who fight back particularly against cyberbullying – like Teuila Blakely. She is inspiring. And doesn’t care what people think. Young women also need to discern the difference between constructive criticism and plain rudeness.  Many of the troll’s excuses are that they’re “being constructive”. No you are not, you are being rude. Especially when they start off their tweets with “you are an a**hole, but I’m just being constructive about your article.” That was a tweet I got recently. There’s a pattern among trolls that I want SUGA’s to identify. Most trolls have never achieved anything in their lives. So why should we be seeking their approval? They complain that I’m supposed “inspire and empower them”. Sorry, I don’t empower trolls.

I tell people that advice is only constructive, if given by an expert in the field and by people who genuinely want to see you succeed – valuable advice. If they are not an expert in their field and they don’t want to see you succeed, then that’s not constructive, so don’t take it on board.

What were the most rewarding lessons?

It’s so nice when I get feedback from readers who after reading a SUGA article, say they were “thinking of doing that” and then decide to take steps in making their dreams a reality, and thank us for the story and the extra push.

After we published our one-off special fashion print edition last year profiling a whole range of Pasifika designers, many of them had work coming in and requests for dresses from well-known people in the community – all because of being featured in the magazine. This was our objective – and what it’s all about! Creating opportunities for them!

Another reward is being invited to so many events and shows and receiving freebie samples from beauty care companies, movie passes, food, you name it. I love it! My team of writers are just amazing individuals also, who enjoy writing as much as I enjoy publishing them. I have met many of my writers on twitter and we’ve just got such a great bond and friendship. It really is empowering when we work together.

An interesting reward I get, is feedback from palagi partners of Samoan spouses, who have half-caste kids and say they read my magazine. They say it’s because they want their children to know their Samoan side, and believe SUGA Magazine is a good fit for their kids. They tell me we have such positive and inspiring stories on Pacific people and feature subjects and role models that their children can look up to. That is a real compliment.

What are the biggest misconceptions in your line of work? How do you feel we can address them?

That I’m rich! I’m a solo mum and actually moved to Melbourne, Australia from Auckland New Zealand, due to the high cost of living there, and for the sake of my 8 year old son and I. We are loving it, and in a much better position now financially and emotionally, and it’s enabling me to expand on SUGA.

As for misconceptions around the magazine content, there have been some interesting observations. For example, we have always put ourselves out there as a “Young women’s magazine” – fun, entertaining yet informative media, but some Pasifika people’s expectations of our content are aligned with their ideas of what media should entail. Sometimes I feel they expect us to be on the same lines as heavily based news media i.e. NZ herald, Tagata Pasifika, Coconet, Radio NZ etc. –  all of which are great platforms for their particular audiences and do an amazing job in doing so, but their content is still very different from our magazine.

Therefore we cop a lot of criticism, mainly from Pasifika academics, whom I respect, trying to correct us, and comparing us to these other media, which we are not. We are a young women’s magazine. We are going to cover content that our young women really want to read about.  So we will have the odd gossip and celebrity column every now and then and profile Kardashian fashion as part of a fashion story because a lot of SUGA’s like them.

One time we had published a true story on a Samoan girl who changed her last name for better job opportunities. We published it because this is a real life story – the struggle was real for this particular SUGA. A well known Pacific media personality/academic criticised us for posting the story because they felt we were encouraging “that sort of behaviour” but we published it to highlight the fact that we should embrace and be proud of our last names and that carrying an ethnic surname is actually a career advantage rather than a setback.

Because “some” academics are expecting us to produce content like other news-based media, they really are just disappointing themselves. The sooner they understand that we are a young pasifika womens magazine covering some pasifika women realities and all things Pacific young women like, the sooner they will stop putting us in a box with other contrasting media, and the sooner they will realise our magazine is not aimed at them. That’s not to say we don’t profile academics, we do, but the academics we profile, are open-minded, balanced and know SUGA’s objectives. We are a young women’s magazine. That is all.

When you look back at your life in 20 years time, what do you hope to be most proud of?

I hope that SUGA Magazine is a well known established brand by then that people recognize – a brand that is known for opening the eyes of young Pasifika people to the fact that they can achieve anything.

I also want people to know that you don’t have to go to university to achieve success. Many successful people in the world are high school drop outs. With google and social media just a click away, people can utilise these tools to achieve any kind of success. We come from an era where our parents tell us university is the be all and end all. Unless you’re specialising in a field i.e. Lawyer or a doctor, University is not necessary, and success really is anyone’s game. I always tell young people, don’t get educated so you can “get a good job”. Get educated so you can run your own business.

I hope that SUGA has contributed to positive and empowering Pasifika media. I have an overall objective to combat mainstream portrayal of Pasifika in media – that SUGA has someway made mainstream media “back off” from ever trying negative Pasifika propaganda media again. I hope that we can be a force in that respect.

What advice do you have for young Pacific people who might be thinking of pursing a similar pathway?

For this type of work, you need to be bold and you need to be so passionate about what you do. You really need to have thick skin and not care about the critics because at the end of the day, the critics will never be happy no matter what you do. Tall Poppy is real.

Media does require you to be somewhat opinionated and outspoken on the issues you are publishing. And I know many of our Samoan young people have the “humble” and reserved upbringing, and I get that. But with media, if you don’t have thick skin, you will get eaten up and tread upon. Always stay true to what you believe in and what you are writing about.

I once had a desire to work for mainstream media but then when I saw that mainstream journalism is not pro-diversity, my desire began to change. The only way you can change Pasifika portrayal in the media is to create your own. Even if you do get into mainstream media, you will be swayed to publish stories the way your palagi editor wants it published – for a palagi audience. Whenever there is a Pasifika achievement in New Zealand in particular, the headline also has to read as a “Kiwi achievement”. It has to have that link else it won’t be published. This is common.

But when Pasifika people are the subject of crime related stories, then the title changes to Samoan, or islander. Stories on Parris Goebel never highlight the fact that she is from South Auckland, she’s just from New Zealand. Mils Muliana captained the All Blacks for more than 100 tests but as soon as he was accused of sexual assault, than he was a “Samoan” not a Samoan-Kiwi. It doesn’t matter what good a Pasifika person has done for New Zealand , mainstream media will dissect the bad. Even though the accusations about him ended up being false, the media stayed quiet about that – after they ruined him first of course.

The more Pasifika media platforms are out there, small and large, magazines, blogs and news-based, the better!

How can we support you and your work?

I believe Talanoa already has! Like I said, the more Pasifika media out the more beneficial for our people it will be. I believe Talanoa has a very similar objective with SUGA, to inspire our Pasifika people. Asking me to share my story is an honour – I’ve interviewed so many subjects and no one’s ever asked me about what I do and it’s been fun – I feel this is already a reflection of Pasifika partnership and sisterhood! Thank you!

We’d like to thank Cecilia for sharing her story, and giving an insight into the background of SUGA Magazine. To stay in touch, you can find SUGA Magazine via their website, InstagramTwitter and Facebook. You can also follow Cecilia on Twitter here