Zarna Surti

Photographer:  Bukunmi Grace

Photographer: Bukunmi Grace

Name: Zarna Surti

Current City: Los Angeles, CA

Hometown: Nashville, TN

Occupation: Founder + Editor in Chief of Tonal Journal, Founder of Tonal Studios

Zarna Surti, founder and editor in chief of Tonal Journal, has been in the editorial field for over a decade, back before blogs were the cool thing to do as she says. "I had a site of my own that led me to write for publications like Vogue India, Refinery29, MTV and many others in my early twenties," shares Sutri. "From there, I worked freelance for many fashion brands doing content and copywriting."

Eventually, she moved to the City of Angels and worked as Managing Editor of Nasty Gal prior to hopping ship to The dFm, where she launched WestwoodWestwood, a multi-channel online platform for entrepreneurs.

Now, she serves as founder Tonal Studios, a creative studio that works with music, film, beauty and fashion brands to bring their vision to life. "All of these things helped me to build Tonal Journal and the platform that it is today," chimes in Surti.  

Photographer:  Carmen Chan

Photographer: Carmen Chan

What's the origin story of TONAL, and what are your goals for the future?
I came up with the idea for Tonal Journal on an airplane! I had a cocktail napkin and I was scribbling the word “tone” on it, and eventually wrote down the word “tonal.” When I looked up the definition, it said “relating to the tone of music, color, or writing.” Those were my three favorite things, so it felt pretty serendipitous.

From there, I spoke to Tonal Journal’s art director Esther Choi about it and she was in. We spent two years creating our 288-page magazine/artbook hybrid and we’re so incredibly proud of it. It’s here to celebrate women of color and each volume will be based off of a different tone, the first being nude. It’s no nudity, rather, it’s an exploration in skin tones and cultures.

It's a limited edition book series, so our goals are to do eight books and create a series that truly inspires everyone—while pushing the creative and highlighting women of color that we're inspired by.

Your inaugural issue was titled Nude. Walk us through your journey with releasing the issue, and why you choose Nude as the focal point?
Nude is whatever color your skin tone is, and I wanted to really play into those palettes.

There's no nudity, rather it's an exploration of what that tone evokes through photos, videos, topics, and design.

I wanted to make something that made me feel something in the core of my bones. I wanted to create words that really meant something, and I wanted to make a short film that made people really feel something. Nude to me is very emotional, personal, and raw. Other volumes might be more light-hearted, but this one, in particular, is so beautifully emotional to me.

What were some of the challenges in launching the first issue, and how did you navigate through each?
Esther and I both have strong digital backgrounds—but neither one of us had never worked in print full-time. We had to learn every part of the process—which was difficult, but our printer, Edition One Books, was incredible (and Google was our best friend!).

Do you have a second issue in the works?
Yes! It'll be out in Spring 2018—we're announcing the next tone very soon.

Did you know you wanted to be the creator of your own publication?
I knew I wanted to be able to have final say on creative—Esther and I both wanted that.

When you're working for brands or clients, you don't have complete creative control, so I was really craving that. More than anything, I wanted to highlight women of color and create a space for them to be celebrated!

Discuss the importance of paying it forward?
This is huge! I am a firm believer that small actions you make throughout the day can have an impact on those around you. I also believe in doing projects with a purpose and for me, Tonal Journal is rooted in purpose.

Photographer:  Bukunmi Grace

Photographer: Bukunmi Grace

Photographer:  Tristan Kallas

Photographer: Tristan Kallas

If you could give one piece of advice to young individuals around the globe, what would it be and why?
Everyone starts projects, but I recommend finishing them. And just remember, not having time isn't an excuse. We always say Tonal was created between 8pm-4am. That's when we worked on it because we had full-time jobs.

Who are some of your greatest influences?
My mom, my dad, and my brother—we're a tight knit family and they are so inspiring, supportive, and loving.

What does empowerment mean to you?
It means having power over your personal and work life. I feel most empowered when I have a balance of the two. I believe in working very hard, but without family, friends, and love, it doesn't mean a thing to me.

If you could have dinner with any woman in history, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Michelle Obama! I say this quite a bit, so I'm hoping it will come to fruition!

What/who are you grateful for?
My family, my boyfriend, and my wonderful friends. I'm so thankful to have such a supportive tribe. I've never in my life felt alone, and that's something not many people can say.


Follow Tonal's adventures on their Website or Instagram, and you can shop the issue HERE. To see what Zarna is up to, follow her personal Instagram