The sixth and final issue of By Design magazine is a culmination of the work of three Black men who saw a lack of community and representation in Kansas City’s art ecosystem — and decided to create their own, shared Muenfua Lewis and Justin Ikerionwu.
“By Design has always been about going deeper and breaking past the surface,” said Lewis, the co-creator of By Design alongside Ikerionwu and Tony Henry. “When we started out, we were very surface-level thinkers — but I’m glad that we weren’t satisfied with [that]. We recognize that we can always go deeper; and each issue has continued to explore ideas and add something new to the creative community.”
The publication has been instrumental in both Lewis’ and Ikerionwu’s professional lives, they noted. Lewis is set to move to New York City to further his creative career in summer 2022, and Ikerionwu was hired as a product manager at PayIt in August. (Henry has worked remotely on the publication since moving to Texas.)
But when the trio first started By Design — an arts and culture magazine devoted to Black creatives — in 2017, the men had no blueprint on how to build a successful publication. Instead, they made their own way.
“There was such a deficit in Kansas City at the time for creative people, especially Black creatives, that you always felt like you were trying to pull yourself up to somewhere unknown,” Ikerionwu recalled. “What it took was [for us] to just go for it and be more vulnerable, and it created this snowball effect. … As we continued to make genuine connections with people, you could just feel the confidence within Black creativity in Kansas City start to bubble and grow.”
Issue six, themed “Beauty in the Rust,” is set to be released Friday, Dec. 10. The theme is meant to reflect the idea that there is beauty wherever one chooses to find it — especially in the Midwest, they teased.
“It poses the question of: What does it even mean to be creative?” Lewis said. “I think we’re making the argument that everybody needs creativity. We need creative people to help change and reimagine the conditions that are in society today.”
“With Issue 6, I truly feel like it’s everything we’ve learned along this journey,” Ikerionwu noted. “From editing to photography, from storytelling to understanding how to cultivate a community, it’s all of those things. And unknowingly to most people, each issue has been a story about where we were at the time.”
The final edition caps that story, he said, noting it features more than 50 Midwest creatives, with a notable number of them Kansas City-based. It’s the biggest team of contributors with which By Design has ever collaborated, the duo shared.
Click here to order Issue 6 of By Design, starting Friday, or be one of the first people to receive a copy at the release celebration, HPPY PPL.
“So in By Design fashion, we throw some really cool events,” Lewis said. “HPPY PPL is one of the last ones that we will do for the time being. I love curating a cool space, and there’s going to be some great music, great drinks and great people.”
The HPPY PPL event coincides with By Design’s Friday release date: running 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at 1739 Walnut St. in KCMO.
Click here to get tickets for HPPY PPL — By Design’s sixth issue release celebration.
A statement piece
The creators of By Design are urging readers to look at the final publication as not a magazine, but as a work of art.
“Magazines are temporary. Art is forever,” Lewis said. “We want people to treat Issue 6 like it’s part of your home. It’s something that’s part of your decoration, part of your life — something that you pick up to be inspired.”
For many in the By Design community, the coffee-table publication has become a statement piece, the duo noted.
“With these issues, we put a lot of ourselves into them,” Ikerionwu shared. “We’ve gone through ups and downs in our personal lives with health, family, school, work and relationships while creating. So when people tell us what sticks out to them in an issue or why they love a cover so much, it means a lot to us.”
Through By Design, Lewis and Ikerionwu realized that they could use their skills and creativity to make a difference while building a successful career.
“By Design genuinely changed our lives,” Ikerionwu said.
“I was a guy with a finance degree who hated his job,” Lewis shared. “Then I picked up a camera and got started with By Design, and that just changed everything for me.”
“My [current] boss asked me about By Design during my interview, and now I’ve been working on some designs for the company,” Ikerionwu said. “When we started out, I don’t think we realized that we were being paid through opportunities. It wasn’t about money. It was the cultural capital we were getting.”
The creators of By Design never took home a paycheck from the publication, they said, noting all the profits went back into creating and printing.
“I love our story because it’s a very non-traditional way of looking at success,” Lewis said. “The traditional sense tells you to build a business and get paid. There were times we could have probably paid ourselves, but we chose to invest it back into the business because ideas were the central heart of By Design.”
After four years of juggling building a publication, working other full-time jobs, studying for their Master’s degrees and everything else that comes along in life — the men are ready to tell the community one last story.
“I would hope that the legacy of By Design would be one that speaks to the heart of people who want to see more for themselves and those around them,” Ikerionwu. “Keep pushing forward, even if you can’t see what’s on the other side of it just yet.”
“As Kansas City continues to grow, I think the role of By Design lives beyond just print,” Lewis shared. “Print is a lot of work, and it’s a great medium. We’ve been able to express ideas and art so beautifully through print — but now it’s time for us to look beyond that. Hopefully the seeds we’ve sown begin to bloom and build the infrastructure that we’ve always wanted to see in Kansas City for Black creatives.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.