502 Bad Gateway is the best life decision Seth Footring has made in recent years.
By day, Seth works in the photo and eCommerce department of ASOS in London, by night—and in all other spare waking hours—he focuses his efforts on being the creator and Editor-in-Chief of a brand new men’s fashion publication.
The first issue of 502 Bad Gateway was released in January this year and contains long articles about Tender, Olubiyi Thomas, the Massimo Osti Archive, and Sampaix Studio, plus graphic elements that are decidedly in the opposite direction of the average glossy fashion mags.
After making the decision to start and complete a personally driven project, Seth’s choices revolved around bringing to life the type of publication he wanted to read and indicating that there is a “right” way to operate in the fashion industry that isn’t talked about sufficiently.
Charis Poon spoke with Seth in London about the necessity for 502 Bad Gateway’s existence and the trials he underwent to make it happen.
A spread from the Issue 01 feature on the Massimo Osti Archive.
“One of the things that was really hard about it was being the writer and the editor. It’s difficult because you look at it and you look at it and you’re like, I think this is okay. Then you read it a week later and it’s trash and then you go back over it and the same thing happens.”
— Seth Footring, creator of 502 Bad Gateway
A spread from the feature on Sampaix Studio shot by Sebastian Petrovski.
Charis: What do you think is the norm right now in fashion?
Seth: As to what?
Charis: As to supply chain and production? Do you have a feeling on what the average is?
Seth: Yeah, I’m coming from an incredibly hypocritical background because I work at this big fast fashion company, so it’s probably very much subconsciously fed into what this ended up looking like.
I think anywhere in the world, whatever your company is, making everything there from start to finish and finding raw materials and skilled labour to do it at the right price, you could do that all in one country but nobody does that.
The norm would be that you have a company in Europe, all your manufacturing would be in probably Eastern Europe or on another continent.
They would probably ship in the materials from somewhere else as well, and then when you scale it up, like even with this I’ve been posting magazines to Europe and America and that’s like, okay so how does that all feed in in a responsible kind of way?
Ultimately, to do business on that kind of scale there’s an inherent amount of environmental irresponsibility, and then if you look at it on the other side, big companies provide huge amounts of people with jobs.
Charis: Yeah, It’s not a straightforward weighing of scales.
Seth: Yeah, you’re measuring different things really. One thing that really gets me thinking is that you can buy and make a conscious decision to wear something that might be amazing quality and good for the environment but anyone who does that is already niche.
The average guy isn’t going to be doing that and ultimately if you did want to make some kind of large scale change you need to make it available for the average guy who doesn’t care, who wants £40 jeans but how can you make them want that or provide him that for the same price so I think that’s actually what would make a difference.
Charis: Yeah my second half of that question is where do you think fashion is heading?
Seth: I was actually going to say, I don’t think luxury is that dissimilar but I think it is noticeably different. I still think they do the same thing, shipping things throughout the world and getting raw materials from different places but there’s a chance that with a higher quality of manufacture it’s generally better for the environment. Where I think it’s going? I don’t know, it’s a very interesting question.
I think you’re almost asking where society’s going and there’s so many things that you could take off that so the question is almost: does society follow fashion or does fashion follow where people go?
Because if all of a sudden everybody is loads more environmentally conscious then fashion will change because ultimately money talks. Recently in the UK at least, there’s been a big fall off in sales in fashion. I don’t know if that’s across the board but definitely at a high-street level.
It could be just people not having any money after Christmas but it also could be people being more conscious about how and where things are made, so I think probably overall it’s going there but it’s very easy for something to be flavor of the month.
Charis: My question was very broad, I didn’t narrow it down to something specific in fashion but I was generally thinking about this trend towards ethical consumption and responsibility at every level whether you’re a creator or consumer and I guess what you’re saying, which I agree with, is will society consider sustainability a trend and fall off of it and therefore fashion stops caring or will the people making fashion, or the business owners decide that even if people think of it as a trend, it isn’t, we have to be more responsible in the way we make things. I don’t know. Predicting the future is hard.
Seth: There are two streams and it could be both in small parts instead of 100% one or the other. There’ll be some business owners who are thinking they 100% cannot use any more plastic straws, so ASOS have said no more single use plastics in the building so you can’t buy a bottle of water.
I think they’ve still got coffee cups but I think they’re technically recyclable. This opens a whole other can of worms about recycling and if you put it in the recycling does it actually get recycled? This is a rabbit hole that has potentially no end.
Charis: Yeah, everything is interconnected in a very complicated way where it seems like every decision you make, even if you’re trying to make a good one, is impossible.
Seth: True, and you’re kind of always choosing the lesser of two evils. And in a very boring way, the best option is not to consume anything, but that’s boring.
Charis: But it’s true and yet here we are sitting in front of a publication about fashion and products.
Seth: And even this in and of itself, you’re thinking that I got 500 printed, that’s a lot of trees. If you break it down further you can spend a lot of time thinking about the supply chain of any product so you could say I wonder where the ink’s come from?
The printing machine is very high quality so it’s built to last but it’s probably a few tons of printing machine.
Charis: How do you make peace with that as an individual?
Seth: You know what? I don’t. I don’t think I have to and I kind of understand that ultimately if I was really die hard about it, could I have done something else? I could have launched a podcast and done everything online, I could have launched a pdf magazine.
Charis: Digital things have footprints too.
Seth: But also, when you come back round to print media which is something that I’ve always been a fan of and I’ve always enjoyed picking up a magazine and flicking through it, it felt easier from my point of view to make a product like that. I felt more excited about having something in print to show for it.
Charis: I would never tell someone to not make things.
Seth: I think it’s part of human nature to make something.
Charis: Which is weird because earlier in this interview you said the boring answer is don’t consume things but at the same time I wouldn’t want to stop people from making things.
Seth: That’s where fashion’s headed. Everyone is going to buy less clothes from big companies and it’s all going to be from people that you know.
There’s that idea that you can do anything with a laptop and enough hard work. I did this with my laptop and my kitchen table and enough hard work, equally you could start a podcast with a laptop and some software and you could do a brand the same, so I guess there are just enough people out there so that you could just buy it off people that you know.
A spread from the feature on the Massimo Osti Archive.
“I never had any doubt that I could do it and I never doubted that I should. I took a little bit of time to make sure I actually wanted to but in the end I just decided to do it—I didn’t have anything to lose.”
Seth and a storage locker full of magazines.
Charis: So we’ve been talking a lot about responsibility and these themes that came up across the interviews, I’m wondering if there’s something that after you finished that you thought, this is what I want someone to get from this publication?
Seth: No. There wasn’t really a conscious decision to do that. If we go back to thinking about the fact that it’s very much to do with myself, then I consciously put in people that I thought did things in the right way.
Charis: It’s in your editor’s letter too, that same idea about a feeling of what’s right.
Seth: Yeah, if you walked through a store and bought everything that you half liked, what would be the point? I think that you should wear things that you really love. I spend a lot of time in my own head wondering what’s the difference between fashion and style and what style actually means.
I think people use dress as a way of communicating, even if you’re the guy who’s wearing nondescript white trainers, dark blue jeans and a white t-shirt, that is still your choice of who you are.
You might cross the street to ask someone where they got their trainers from or if you saw someone in something that you really liked, you might go and talk to them or if you saw someone and couldn’t fathom why they dressed like that, you’re never going to go and speak to them.
So thinking about how and why you get your clothes is an extension of that. People asking where you get things from and you reply that you got it from eBay or a small designer who’s a friend, I think that’s a lot cooler and way more interesting than if it’s just a Gucci logo sweater but if that’s what you’re into I don’t want to be the guy who’s like, “You shouldn’t do that, you should only do what I say.”
Charis: Well, I do think what is compelling about 502 is that there is a sense of ‘you should do this’. Not in that tone of voice, not in that I’m better than you and this is the only correct way, but I do think what’s interesting is having a message.
That to me is what comes across because why would you want to go about and make your own publication when there are other men’s publications out there? It is because you have your own stance on things.
Seth: Yeah. That fits in very well actually. You can still enjoy those things, it’s like everyone enjoys fast food but you know it’s bad. There are things that don’t make the cut, out of my own experience, chopping those out of your life is ridiculously difficult.
If someone’s offering me something for free maybe I’m not saying no but when I’m making conscious decisions to buy things usually it’s off eBay or I’ve done copious amounts of research: what that brand is about and what that product represents to that brand.
This is going to sound so lame, but what I’ve always been interested in in a personal way is to build a wardrobe. I can say that everything I do, I have a reason for, so a lot of it’s sentimental and also the things I do keep, I keep for a very long time.
Charis: I think it’s okay to be proud of that or to own that about yourself and also for that to come across in 502. I think it’s evident in reading it and assuming that you continue it’s something that will continue to come across.
Seth: I was always going to write probably 80% of it and then it turned into 100% so when I gave it to my mum she said she could hear my voice when she read it.
What I want to do with the second issue is to get more people to write for it that aren’t me, to find people that have a similar outlook on things is both easy and hard. Can you find them and then find something for them to write about that fits in? I think that’s tricky.
Charis: When you started did you have a very solid expectation for what you wanted to get out of it and do you think you’ve got that?
Seth: Oh man, I think overall the only expectation I had of myself was to get it out. I wasn’t going into it thinking I’m going to sell enough to get my money back but I was thinking, if I can sell a few to people who aren’t my friends and family then that’d be amazing, so I’ve done that.
Expectations? Not really, I didn’t put many expectations on it from the out, it was just something that I ended up doing, I wanted to do it and I did it, that makes it sound very simple, it wasn’t. I think the hard bit in terms of expectation was actually finishing it.
It took me way longer than I thought it was going to, I wasn’t thinking I’d sell 10,000 or I want to get it into this shop, I just wanted to do it and then hopefully people would be into it. I guess the only expectation in that way is that people that I didn’t know would respect it and enjoy it.
Charis: I think it’s sufficient to celebrate completion. I think we don’t give enough credit to the effort that it takes to finish something and bring it to life but all of the unfinished things, we don’t see.
All of the unfinished projects that people have we don’t see. It seem on the surface that there’s loads of magazines out there but in reality who knows how many unfinished projects are in people’s computers and heads?
Seth: A couple of people I was showing it to were like, “Wow, I could not have been bothered to do that.” Equally, what you’re saying about celebrating completion, it’s so easy to compare yourself to… like personally or not or how is it doing versus everything else and there’s no point.
You might have something that’s amazing to 500 people or something that’s amazing to 10,000 people but it doesn’t make it any less amazing, you’re just stroking your ego if you thinking, “Oh, mine’s 10,000 people.” It’s a comparison that’s not worth it.
Charis: I agree. You kind of mentioned it already about wanting to do issue 2 with other contributors or more contributors. Do you have other plans of what’s next?
Seth: Yeah, so I gave myself a couple of months to start selling it through, getting it out there as much as possible and then I’ve got a loose idea of what I want it to be, I have a friend, a guy called Alex Powis who did Crepe City magazine and I was talking to him about it and he said you do a few things and you think it’s amazing and then you realize that everything in the magazine has to be like that.
That’s actually so true, I’m trying to make it at a level where every time you come to it it’s like whoa, what’s next? I feel like for a lot of this issue that’s exactly it, I guess I want to make it bigger and better and to meet more people through it.
To be able to create some kind of community around it would be brilliant and then in terms of actual nuts and bolts of the next issue, I’ve got a list of people I want to talk to and I think the theme would continue, I don’t think it’s just an issue 1 theme necessarily but I spent a lot of time trying to work out how you make something the same but different.
Charis: Lots of good plans. If you articulate it it’ll happen. Now that you’ve said it, now that this will be published you’ve got to do it.
Seth: No take backs.
Charis: That’s what I do, just say it out loud and then you have to do it.
Seth: It’s funny, I spent a lot of time not mentioning it to anyone because my biggest fear in doing it was someone asking how the magazine is going and me saying I failed.
So there’s loads of moments of me punching the air, jumping up from my desk and shouting yes. Equally, kind of having a meltdown and having to lie on the sofa and zone out and think about something else.
Charis: Yeah, I mean it’s a long slog, I’m not going to make it sound more pleasant than it is but when you committed to not just a stand alone thing but a thing that is issue 1 of a series it’s not just that you had to get to the end of producing this issue but now you’ve made a personal commitment to a thing that doesn’t end or might not end, it doesn’t have a definitive ending. I’m sorry, this is a very depressing thing to tell you.
Seth: No, I think it’s exciting. If I’d done it and everyone had gone, “Huh, yeah, maybe I’ll buy one.” I think I’d legitimately have had a meltdown but I think the reaction to it has been good, nobody’s picked it up and said it’s terrible or they don’t like it.
Everyone has been into it so it makes you feel confident that you could do it again. I never had any doubt that I could do it and I never doubted that I should. I took a little bit of time to make sure I actually wanted to but in the end I just decided to do it—I didn’t have anything to lose.