Two very important things happened during my freshman year of high school. One, I picked up a camera for the first time and two, someone gifted me the first season of One Tree Hill on DVD. By the time the show hit my radar, it was already halfway through its sixth season, and I had a lot of catching up to do. So, I cashed in my allowance and birthday checks and bought the remaining seasons at Best Buy and ignored my homework for a few weeks. I was hooked.
Logically speaking, I should have been drawn to Peyton Sawyer. She wore band shirts, had a blog, made art, and eventually started her own record label. Maybe I was rebelling against the obvious, but it was always Brooke Davis that I felt more connected to. She was smart and sensitive, but most people wrote her off. She didn’t have it easy, but she hid it so well. And during her senior year, when she decided what she wanted to do with her life, she didn’t wait – she just went for it. When the show flash-forwarded after the fourth season, Brooke’s newly-founded clothing company from high school is an international success – and she’s barely twenty three. She left her small hometown and made it to Manhattan.
Gears started turning.
It’d be two years later, during my junior year, that I founded NKD Mag. I’ve answered the “why?” of it all many times – because I was 17 and no one would hire me to take photos, so I started something to build my portfolio and to feature artists I cared deeply about that weren’t getting their stories told in a way I felt was reflective of how great they were. The “how?” is a bit naïve. I simply didn’t know what I was getting into and just winged it and by some damn miracle it worked. This leads to the question that only few have ever asked me, because the phrasing implies doubt: “Why did you think you could do it?” The answer? Brooke Davis.
In today’s media, heroines are everywhere. Just a month ago, Kacey Musgraves, a woman I am so honored to work for, won Album of the Year at the Grammys. Today, Marvel released their first female-led movie, Captain Marvel, and little girls all over the world have been seeing Brie Larson suited up on Billboards for months in anticipation. There are more women in the government than ever before, and female-led television shows like The Handmaid’s Tale, Veep and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel are sweeping award shows year after year. But when I was in middle and high school, I didn’t have all this amount of female empowerment on my television. Women often played roles of the girlfriend or the victim, and almost never had a substantial amount of character growth. Even some of the female characters on One Tree Hill got sucked into the stereotypical roles of women in teen/young adult shows. This is why seeing a character who started out one way and ended another, all in the midst of starting her own business, was an eye-opener for me. Brooke Davis didn’t wait for things to happen for her, she made them happen herself. So that’s what I did.
There’s something about watching someone change and take control of their life that inspires you to do the same. It’s the reason self-help books are so popular. I’ve never been one for long form advice, but so much of who I’ve become is shaped by what I consumed as a teenager. I had a rough go of things in high school, and I think for a while there, everyone around me doubted that I would find my way. But the seeds had already been planted. We, as people, are drawn to fiction because no matter the absurdity of the storylines at times, we find ourselves in it – sometimes in the big things, sometimes in the obscure details. Again, I maybe should have been a Peyton and on the surface I was a Peyton. But deep down, the person I knew I was and I knew I wanted to be, was Brooke. So I followed her lead because when you’re 17, you’re desperately looking for some sort of path to follow – no matter how wide or narrow it may be.
It’s been nearly eight years since NKD started, and in those eight years I have done plenty of things I’m not terribly proud of, but a hell of a lot more things that I am. There’s a lot of changes happening with the company right now – all of them for the best, and all which will come out publicly in due time.
Now that this little idea I had in high school has been a concrete thing for nearly a decade, the new question I get asked a lot is, “How did you get here?” I could go through the step-by-step process of starting a magazine, of building connections, of transforming it from a music publication to a much broader, pop-culture fixture. But instead, I’ll answer with a quote from the One Tree Hill finale, that aired two months before I graduated high school and nearly a year to the date of when I started NKD and still hits me in the gut whenever I hear it: “It’s the oldest story in the world. One day you’re 17 and planning for someday. And the quietly and without you ever really noticing, someday is today. And then someday is yesterday. And this is your life.” And I’m so very proud that it is, and owe a hell of a lot of it to a person I’ll never be able to thank.