‘It’s quick, it’s easy to view’: Two UNC-Chapel Hill students create magazine during pandemic

By Lindsey Banks

It’s December 2019. Best friends Ken Davis and Cee Cee Huffman are sitting on a flea-infested couch in Ken’s college apartment when Cee Cee turns to Ken and says, “So, I had this idea yesterday.”

Ken sits up a little straighter, eyes wide. “I had a big idea yesterday that I wanted to tell you, too,” he says. “I want to start a magazine.”

“You’re fucking joking,” she laughs. “want to start a magazine.” She can’t tell if the hair on her skin is standing up because of the sweet bliss of coincidence or because a flea is dancing across her arm, but regardless, they both take this as a sign.

They had unknowingly been craving the same thing: an outlet in which they could create without any rules or limits, and never have to say the dreaded two-letter word to an idea.

With a shared love for journalism and fashion – and with an audience of fleas to witness

Looks Attached was born!

“I’d kind of always been envious of people who were confident enough to start their own thing and just really build something from the ground up,” Ken says. Cee Cee gave him the push off the diving board that he needed to swim.

Cee Cee, 24, and Ken, 21, met the year before at their part-time jobs at Carolina Brewery on Franklin Street, bonding over a Trisha Paytas YouTube video on break. Cee Cee was a server, and Ken was a host. Though their mutual love for Trisha was short-lived, Cee Cee and Ken have been best friends ever since.

Cee Cee graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2020 with a degree in broadcast journalism, and Ken is currently a senior public relations and advertising major at UNC.

Their original idea was to create an e-newsletter for fashion, culture and entertainment, which inspired the name, “Looks Attached” (the content would be sent as an email attachment to their subscribers). “Think theSkimm,” Ken says.

After landing on a name, Ken and Cee Cee texted all of their creative friends to ask if they wanted to help. Looks Attached was their baby, and they wanted people they could trust to help look after it.

Currently, the Looks Attached team consists of 24 college-aged individuals. Most of their staff consist of UNC students, but they have a few writers based in New York and Los Angeles.

A challenge most great leaders face, Ken and Cee Cee worked diligently to build trust between themselves and their team.

“It was really just about creating a space for people to feel comfortable to create what they wanted to without limits,” Ken says.

Cee Cee is the chief operations officer, and Ken is the chief creative director. The easiest way to explain it according to both of them: Cee Cee makes sure shit gets done on time and Ken makes sure it looks good. In other words, she handles the business and financial sides of Looks Attached and he works on the website, social media and styling.

“I never really vibed with the idea of one editor-in-chief, and basically they’re making all these decisions from a top-down format,” Ken said. “One of the biggest things that I really wanted to take with it is just creating a space where the entire team has a hand in the creative process.”

The money

Babies can be expensive, so the next step was to secure funding to get their idea off the ground. With just an idea, the most difficult part was pitching a concept without having anything to show yet.

Their first pitch was to 1789 Venture Lab, a workspace for student entrepreneurship and innovation. 1789 awarded them with a $500 grant before they even had a website. UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hogan Fellows Scholarship Fund awarded them an additional $4,000. Ken is a Carolina Scholar which made him eligible for the award.

After procuring the funds to get started, they decided to take Looks Attached on a different route.

A digital museum

“We were just going in with some hopes and dreams and hoping that they would trust our vision,” Ken says. “It’s hard to pitch something to somebody when they can’t even see what it is.”

One of Ken’s goals as chief creative director was to create an online format that was aesthetically pleasing. They came up with the idea of releasing their monthly editions in “rooms,” or separate pages on the website. Each room is designed around one central theme. All photos, articles, videos, staff-curated Spotify playlists and other digital content are connected by that theme.

“We wanted it to feel like a museum, like an exhibit room, and less of a digital gallery,” Cee Cee says.

Covid-19 pushed back its official launch to July 2020. During the first few months of the pandemic, they regrouped and started working on a new room called “We Are The Virus” that focused on the environmental impacts of disposable face masks.

In Sept. 2020, Looks Attached officially became an LLC. Cee Cee said the process was simple, and since Looks Attached doesn’t have an official office space, her studio apartment is listed as the address for their business.

Even now, Ken and Cee Cee are “winging it” as true first-time parents. They didn’t seek out mentorship from their professors at UNC, but Terrence Oliver, who has been teaching magazine design at UNC for 11 years, says Looks Attached covers all the important factors to consider. It’s relevant, easily accessible, understandable, engaging and piques its audience’s curiosity.

“There’s common ground with communication that a lot of us are visual learners, and visuals command attention even more so than long narratives because it’s quick, it’s easy to view,” Oliver says.

Going forward

With more positive feedback from their audience, Ken and Cee Cee realized that their concept was unique and needed legal protection from competitors. They purchased a copyright for their “room” innovation.

“If you think about Ford, when he was in the inception of the car, everybody was still focused on the horse and buggy, and there was resistance,” Oliver says. “Any new concept, there’s got to be a level of risk involved but then also there may be something to garner from adoption and innovation that can be progressive and forward-thinking, and maybe even change the path of the way people navigate and communicate.”

Ken and Cee Cee have grown their social media presence to over 8,000 followers on Instagram and have grown their markets in Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Durham, New York, Los Angeles, London, Canada, Australia and Brazil.

This year, they hope to grow the number of featured artists on their site and continue being a space for new and young artists to launch their creative careers. As for Ken and Cee Cee’s future with Looks Attached, they told themselves they would give it two years and re-evaluate. But it doesn’t sound like they’re quite ready to give Looks Attached up for adoption yet:

“Our entire business has been done during the pandemic,” Cee Cee says. “To see what we’ve been able to do now, I just can’t imagine what we’ll be able to do later, and I’m really excited for it.”

Edited by: Anna Blount