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Meet Alaia Manley of Disposable Magazine

Today we’d like to introduce you to Alaia Manley.

Alaia, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I am Alaia, a human, a graphic designer, a person that likes to take photos, a person that likes collecting music, a dj, and a co-owner of Disposable Magazine.

Alaia, the graphic designer:
As a young teenager in the early aughts of social media aka myspace, I was at a computer consistently. I would take the time to learn how to customize myspace, play with code, add all the images that reflected *me*. I was playing with type and images, formatting things, editing things, arranging things somehow with Microsoft word??? I would find booklets that I liked that had A LOT of types and would literally write down what was in it in a separate little notebook but I would organize it the way I thought it made sense more. I would change the hierarchy and add my own touches here and there. I had no idea what this was all called but I was just doing it.

This was also around the time where my mom, sister, and I moved out of the small apartment we were living in for a few years after my parents got a divorce. The new place was very close to the old, (we moved from apartment D to A lol) but it was amazing. It was the first time I had my own room in maybe six years? I was collecting magazines and collaging every inch of two-bedroom walls with inspiration (literally the whole wall top to bottom side to side, I wish I still had photos): clothing, pretty pictures, interesting letters (I learned later that it was the “typeface” I was interested in lol) The other two bedroom walls were covered in chalk doodles and graffiti. I hope my mom doesn’t read this lol but I became friends with some boys in my school that used to write names in detailed block letters like I was doing. I never comprehended how similar it was the colorful letters I’d see on the streets that were *illegal*. I started doing it beyond my little notebooks. I learned how to use a spray can, I wasn’t the best with the spray technique but I was good enough to get the job done. I liked the name I came up with and thought I had cute letters lol. I learned how weak my index finger was, how I had to build up my wrists, biceps, triceps. Going to friends’ houses to plan out where we’d go paint, then we’d go paint, was meeting up with friends in local train yards and abandoned buildings. The first time I ever went painting, I was so eager and stupid but exhilarated. I took a backpack of spray paint to school with me on a day where we got out early then left directly to the spot of choice. It was cold and looked like it was about to rain. The train yard we went to had a long walk from the closest bus stop. Long story short, walked a while, slid down a hill to the spot, we got all muddy, did our thing, and it started pouring. I was completely soaked waiting for the bus home, but I was happy. It was a new medium for me to experience. My graffiti “career” was short lived, maybe about three years? But I was still always fascinated by it and surrounded by it and the people and still am to this day. I’m just not willing to risk it anymore lol.

I began doing graphic design professionally when I was about 19 or 20. I never went to school for it, and I learned everything formal about design on the job with the oversight of talented graphic designers and am still learning to this day as we all should be. I worked professionally in fashion almost my whole career until just recently, about two weeks ago.

I’ve always wanted to connect my interest for music and design, and luckily I have the chance to do so. I do most of the recent graphics and album artwork for a Los Angeles based label called Hobo Camp. This label speaks to me mostly because of the playful sexy fusion of music, nu disco, modern funk, modern boogie, house-adjacent, indie soul, bridging an homage to soul from the past and showcasing talented emerging artists with their hands in many genres.

Alaia the person that likes to take photos:
For my 16th birthday I think, my mom gifted me a had a huge DSLR that I used to take everywhere. I converted the shoulder strap to a chain that I thought was cuter to accessorize lol. I was always taking pictures and always documenting everything from all the normal bullshit I would do with my friends, street graffiti, parties, art shows, live music shows, city exploration, you name it. But I never thought I had the eye to be a professional photographer. It was just fun for me. Into my early 20s, I would be contacted to conduct photoshoots for people but I almost never took those opportunities. I can count the opportunities where I was the “photographer” w/ a model on one hand. Having worked at American Apparel in the photo studio and on the graphics team for a year or two when I was 19ish (which was my teenage dream job that I was stoked to have achieved), I was surrounded by a whole team of amazing creatives, photographers, managers, and these are all people I still look up to creatively. Amidst the chaos and bad rumors of American Apparel (that kind of gossip I will save for another time), I was truly amongst young, talented individuals with visions and drive. I knew all the experience that went into orchestrating and directing shoots and campaigns and I didn’t feel like I was ready yet.

However in my early 20s though, I sort of lost inspiration. I just wasn’t around the right people, I was in a relationship that was pretty draining emotionally, I wasn’t socially active like I used to be, I was still in a bit of a shell, slightly self-conscious about being creative after having left American Apparel. I questioned everything creatively. I hadn’t touched that camera in maybe two years. Also with the rise of smartphones, it almost felt like having a large bulky digital was obsolete if you weren’t operating it professionally. So I sold it.

I was approached by my dear friend Anais, who had been talking to me about a project where she would send disposable cameras to people all over the world in an effort to see excerpts of their lives in 27 film shots. I fell in love of course with this idea. I hadn’t shot with film since I was a kid and was excited that it would be a bit more of a challenge rather than taking a bunch of digital shots and selecting the best. There was no time limit on this project, so I held on to that disposable camera for about eight months. I took it with me to Brooklyn, to graffiti yards in my neighborhood, on a quick trip to San Diego, took it sight-seeing around my own neighborhood. I feel like that was my key to getting back into taking photos: film. I was excited to develop it. It was so crisp and grainy, so natural and fun, reliving everything on the camera over a span of months. I soon joined Anais on this film project now called Disposable Magazine.

The Alaia, the dj and collector of music:
Born and raised in Los Angeles, The Alaia is attracted to music that has a feeling of perpetual summer and heat: soulful boogie funk, sexy disco, smooth g-funk, hard gangsta rap. She aspires to play you music that moves you, that gets you off your ass, that makes you want to cry, that makes you wanna go home with a stranger, that makes you feel hard enough to catch an attitude.

As a kid, Alaia had vivid memories of her mom reminiscing about nightlife in her 20s, playing sounds of Earth Wind & Fire, SOS Band, Chaka Khan. Her dad would continually show her new Prince, had Marvin Gaye on repeat and introduced her to the songs of Roy Ayers. The only radio stations she remembered in her youth were KDAY and The Beat, peaking her interest in hip hop, rap, and R&B. Soul and boogie still hit Alaia hard. She dove beyond the classics that she grew up listening to when she stumbled into the legendary Funkmosphere at Carbon Bar on her 18th birthday.

Always discovering and rediscovering, she collects mostly vinyl and cassettes, some CDs here and there. She is the co-host of a monthly VPN Radio show Offline Goldmine and made her NTS Radio debut in April 2019 with a g funk gangsta rap guest mix.

There’s a certain point in life where we all adopt our own taste in culture beyond what we receive from our parents. I can’t remember exactly when that was but some of my earliest self-taught interests came probably around middle school. The spark notes version: I had a strict mom and wasn’t really allowed to go out much. So all I did was look for music to listen to put on my iPod (I still have an use one to this day lol). The interest in graffiti came hand in hand with hip hop. Golden era 90s rap, smooth west coast gangsta rap, gritty new york rap, southern underground hip hop, Pete Rock, CL Smooth, Nate Dogg, Black Moon, One Be Lo, Aceyalone, Little Brother, Madlib, etc. etc. Was a huge fan of learning where their beats originated as we all are. Starting looking for what sampled what and who sampled who, and was connecting a lot of artists from the new era to older. Became interested in Roy Ayers, Galt MacDermot, Dorothy Ashby, David Axelrod, jumped around from decade to decade and found myself mostly looking into disco boogie soul funk that I mostly collect now.

I didn’t really start collecting vinyl until just a few years ago. I had been doing all my music searching digitally for years. The first actual record I purchased was “Eye Witness” by Mickey De Grande, a modern musician/producer in the nu funk boogie sector from Miami. I heard a song (maybe you call it an edit? idk) on an online radio show, probably Dublab. It was the coolest thing I heard in a long time and I wanted to own it. I couldn’t find anywhere to buy it online and a friend reminded me that exists. I only used discogs in my youth to find information about albums, tracklists, year, label, etc. Never realized you could buy physical media. So I bought the record. And had no turntable to even listen to it. So I bought a turntable. That record was my theme music for the rest of the year. I have such vivid memories when I play it now. I think of how I moved into my first apartment ever where my name was on the lease (I lived on my own for a while already but this one was truly my first home away from home), I think about how it was October and it was starting to get cold, I think about the scent of the perfume I was wearing during that time in my life, it was my general mood music no matter who came over to visit me. It was a new chapter in my life for many reasons, but that album really made a mark on me. I continued collecting records, made music friends going to the venues I was going to, sharing music with these friends, playing records at parties, but not with any real skill lol. Collecting more records, bought another turntable, became social enough to ask the friends around me what it was like to dj, they were open enough to give me some tips, I bought a mixer, I started playing around on turntables. A very kind friend and mentor gave me the chance to play records at a lowkey night in Chinatown. It was tight. I kept doing it again and again, practicing so I don’t sound horrible when I’m out there, eager to get better and share music and make people dance.

Alaia, the co-owner of Disposable Magazine:
Disposable Magazine is an independent, LA-based publication run by a small all-girl team, myself, Alx Ascencio, Anais Vandenbosch, and Chrissy Choi. The four of us collectively send disposable cameras to individuals from as many countries we can reach in an effort to continually discover new inspirations and document unseen surroundings. It’s a humble tool that puts all our contributors on the same level of quality when it comes to photography. No fancy lens, no filters, and of course no photoshop. We seek that raw and real vision of the world, where imperfections are accepted and even cherished, where everyone finds a place and time to share their vision.

We all met in LA while working at American Apparel, even though we all had very different backgrounds and personalities, our passion for art, people, and making the world a better place was our common point. We became the friends we are today because of Disposable.

The idea traveled a long way before becoming reality. Anaïs was living in Japan when she sent a first disposable camera to Jakarta out of curiosity for what people we wearing in that part of the world (circa 2009 and the fashion blog trend). It took another five years for Anaïs to meet Chrissy, initially from Seoul, who herself just arrived to LA, then Alex and myself both born and raised in Los Angeles. Together we transformed that simple act of curiosity into a global art project and publication.

Our big project for the year is to become an official non-profit, that way we can gather more funding and attention. That way, we can send more cameras, tell more stories, organize creative networks and workshops, and even produce grants and donations systems towards certain cause and subjects.

Alaia, the human: I’m a Gemini, June 2, 1993 holla. I love vanity license plates, I love seeing animals on the street. I wish I had a pet. Grew up in San Gabriel Valley (Alhambra, CA), live in Los Angeles. If I weren’t a graphic designer, I wish I was a backup singer for a b-list musician (just someone high profile enough that they’re have a good enough sized band, but lowkey enough that we wouldn’t be playing arenas and stadiums)

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I definitely wouldn’t say it’s been a smooth road. Having a somewhat strict upbringing, being in a relationship where I didn’t feel like I could truly be myself, feeling like I was being judged for my choices, being self-conscious about my role in the world, struggling with identity being a person of mixed ethnicities, never having a thorough education of finances and learning the hard way, getting laid off multiple times in my career, being taken advantage of in the workplace, being overworked and underpaid, etc.

Please tell us about Disposable Magazine.
In a contemporary landscape where culture becomes increasingly commercialized and disposable by the day, we seek to create something lasting by using the most humble of tools—the disposable camera. We believe that the medium of film remains the ideal mode for expressing these principles. With a disposable camera, we level the playing field for all that wish to share. No fancy equipment, no second chances, what you give is what you get.

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