Industry Voices

Serlina Boyd | Founder & Publishing Director | Cocoa Publishing

By Jess Browne-Swinburne

18 Nov 2020

At the start of the first lockdown, Serlina Boyd and her daughter embarked on a project to create a children's magazine that celebrates black culture, giving young children a voice and space for representation. The magazine has now evolved into a cultural phenomenon that has reached as far South Korea and can now be found on newsstands across the UK.

What made you want to create Cocoa Girl & Cocoa Boy?

My daughter was my inspiration. In November she wasn’t having a very good time at school and had very low self-esteem. She didn’t like her hair or the colour of her skin and so I did a book project where we photographed lots of girls her age and celebrated their hair and skin tone. That was launched in January and then during lockdown I went to go and look for magazines to entertain my daughter. On the magazine rack I didn’t see any representation of girls that looked like her in the children’s section, so we decided to work on a lockdown project and design our own. The magazine was born out of the idea of giving these children a voice and a space for representation as they are the ones that write the magazine.

What is your professional background?

Previously I worked at IPC media, at Woman magazine and freelanced at Marie Claire as a designer and then went to Ink publishing to work on a few inflight publications. I then ended up leaving publishing because I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere and went down the route of childcare. So, I feel like I have been sitting on these skills for a long time.

Chart the evolution of the magazine from its creation in lockdown to now.

We launched the cover in June after creating it in lockdown and a few days after that, an influencer on Instagram posted my Cocoa Girl book as a good resource to teach children about racism. The sales of that went crazy and off the back of that I put the magazine cover on a Facebook group with a link to a website and the pre-order sales of the magazine started increasing. We got 5,000 likes in an hour and from then the first deliveries went out in July. When we put out the next cover people started to reorder, and the media began to approach us. For us, the July issue of the magazine is the one that still sells the most as people see it as historic. Four months later and we have now ended up in stores and have introduced Cocoa Boy as part of our September issue.

How many magazines are you selling?

For the September issue (it is bi-monthly) we have sold 6,000 copies so far. The July issue continues to sell and has sold around 16,000.

How do contributions from children work? Do you approach schools, or do they approach you?

Parents and schools approach me to do workshops and during those I get children to contribute. For Black History Month they had to look at the speech ‘I Have a Dream’ by Martin Luther King Jr. and write their own speeches. The magazine covers inspiration, black history and role models.

Cocoa Girl was originally a book. Why did you choose to turn this book into a bi-monthly print magazine, especially in this digital/social media age?

Digital wasn’t even a consideration for me. I have always thought that if you make a magazine where children are actively contributing and writing about themselves, it would do really well. A lot of parents say that they prefer print because they can contribute as well. In our most recent issue in the education section, parents had to write down all the things their children were good at which strikes up conversations.

What has the process of putting the Cocoa Girl and Cocoa Boy magazines together been like? What have been the highlights and what has been most challenging?

The highlights have been seeing how people receive it – from celebrities to children who say it has changed their lives. The challenge has been some negativity in the media, but in response to these negative stories, people stand up and support us.

Where do you hope the magazine and its brand will be this time next year?

I have something exciting coming up, which I can’t wait to announce. We have had publishers approach us with book deals, but there is one vision which is crazy.

What is your favourite magazine?

Stylist – it's a really good magazine to read and engage with.

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