Locally-Owned Harness Magazine Centers Real Stories Told by Women
Ashley Rector started Harness Magazine over two years ago out of a passion for writing, a frustration with the journalism industry, and a lack of “real” stories being portrayed in the media.
A practicing attorney with a background in psychology, Rector has always been drawn to writing: “I’ve always been a super creative person,” she says. “I have been writing ever since I could write, it’s just always been my passion.”
Rector’s love of writing led her to pitching personal stories to outlets, but to her dismay, they expected her to have a portfolio of writing, or insisted on assigning her a topic in order to be published. She found this off-putting, and decided there should be a place for women to write about the things they were going through and passionate about, without needing to have any sort of expertise or years of experience.
“The women around me were going through these real problems and real issues, and I didn’t see them in traditional magazines,” Rector says. “I feel like everyone should have the opportunity to write.”
When Rector first got this idea, she was just out of law school, had gotten a new job as an attorney, and had recently moved in with her now husband. It simply wasn’t the best time to start her own magazine. “[But] sure enough I couldn’t shake the idea,” she says. “I thought of a name and kind of just decided to launch the platform. And the rest is history.”
Online, Harness receives submissions and publishes stories daily from people of all age ranges, all over the world. The magazine has also released two physical issues to date.
Starting a magazine was a pretty big pivot from her day job, but nothing compared to designing and self-publishing a physical publication. Rector and her team found themselves choosing from different paper stock, deciding on a cover, and hand selecting content that would resonate well with their readers. “We just didn’t know what we were doing, right?” Rector says. “But once we got through the first issue and just deciding how much content we should have, the second issue was so much easier.”
The first issue was printed on demand through San Francisco-based publishing company Blurb, allowing Rector to forgo any cost of printing and distributing herself. The Harness team decided to take a more proactive approach for the second issue and purchased copies outright through Ohio-based company Freeport Press.
Harness Magazine’s second issue is four times the content as the first. At more than 100 pages, this issue has authors from 10 different countries—including India, Australia, Pakistan, France, and Spain—discussing topics ranging from mental health and the effects of going to war, to barriers faced by new mothers, racial microaggressions, and heartbreak. “We had over 100 writers submit, and we read through every single piece,” says Rector. “I actually think it’s woven together quite beautifully.”
Harness doesn’t pay its writers yet, but Rector says writers find value in their work being promoted online and through several social media channels. As editors, Rector and her team focus on presenting work that is authentic, well written, “goosebump”-inducing, and fitting for their readers. Harness accepts everything from photography and illustrations to poetry and other written work, and is careful to present them in a tasteful, minimally edited way. In doing so, Harness says she give writers agency in telling their own stories.
“We always want to make sure that we’re doing it in a very tasteful way, and that their work is being represented appropriately,” says Rector. “These women are submitting their stories and we’re really paying tribute to them.”
Harness Magazine has physical copies of Issue II available at Small Talk and Global Gallery in Clintonville. An online version can be accessed at harnessmagazine.com.