Hanging in Silver Lake with a Magazine Founder Who’s Changing the Game

We asked the rad, sneaker-loving ladies behind OHK to identify five women they admire to take us on a spin around their neighborhoods. Next up is Zarna Surti, the brains behind just-launched (and beautiful) Tonal Journal, sharing her haunts in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Silver Lake.

"I love the diversity of Los Angeles," says Zarna Surti, a Nashville native and longtime editor who has called laid-back Silver Lake her home for the past five years. “You can meet people from everywhere and experience their cultures so authentically.” That all-together-now vibe of inclusivity also carries over into Zarna’s day job, where she’s the creator of Tonal, an epic new print magazine, two years in the making, that spotlights women from a range of skin tones and cultures. (The first issue reads like a Who’s Who list of super-accomplished ladies: musicians Yuna, Amber Mark, Joyce Wrice, and VanJess; Afropunk founder Jocelyn Cooper; and activist Ericka Hart.)

Tonal is here to celebrate women of color and each volume will be based off of a different tone,” Surti says. Soooo...what color reminds her the most of Silver Lake? “The entire spectrum!” she says. “The tones are quite warm—oranges, pinks, reds—contrasted with the cool tones of the sky and nature in blues and greens. That’s the beauty of Los Angeles, it can provide the perfect backdrop.”

It’s this community (“I love that I’m half a block from Sunset,” she says) that invigorates and inspires her with its quirk and diversity. This community that has embraced her passion project with open arms. And this community that can serve up a strong drink, powerful night of poetry, or damn good taco right when you need one.

We spent a day with Zarna in Silver Lake checking out the places, often unassumingly tucked away, that she loves best, and talking about starting your own thing, where she escapes to when she needs a hit of positive female energy, and why adult Zarna in sneakers laughs at kid Zarna who only wanted to wear heels.

 

How did you dream up Tonal?
Zarna Surti: “I came up with the idea on an airplane! I had a cocktail napkin and I was scribbling the world ‘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.”

 

Why did you decide to publish a print magazine rather than do something digital?
ZS: “I wanted something you could touch, and something you could interact with, both physically and emotionally. With how far technology has come, the art of tangible products and physical human connections has gotten a bit lost, so I wanted to bring that back in my own way. That’s why I love things in my neighborhood like Twenty Stories, a little blue mobile bookstore that’s making print more accessible in the community. At the end of the day, I wanted a book that can be passed on from generation to generation—I wanted it to feel timeless.”

 

Having set such a focused vision for Tonal, how do you stay on task and feeling creatively authentic?
ZS: “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to hone in on what I love. Part of that comes with more financial freedom, and part of it comes with the creative perspective you gain. My biggest goal over the past two years has been to only work on things I’m genuinely excited about. I’ve learned that the more you do what you love, the more that type of work will come to you. If you keep doing things you don’t want to do, people will only know you for that type of work.”

 

Do you work from home—how do you stay motivated?
ZS: “Yes! I love working from home because I’ve curated a space that feels really good to work in and I get tons of sunlight, which is really important to me. If I need a break, I love going to Lamill—strangely enough, it was the first coffee shop I ever visited in Los Angeles, and when I was sitting out on their patio during my visit, it was in that moment that I decided I was going to move to Los Angeles.”

 

How does L.A. inspire you?
ZS: “I love the diversity in Los Angeles—you can meet people from everywhere and experience their cultures so authentically. I love going to Artesia because they have Gujarati stores, that’s where my family is from in India and it’s nice to really feel at home there. I also love going to Koreatown for the most epic food adventures and there’s nothing like boba and pastries in Chinatown!”

 

It’s obvious that you love L.A. How has the city embraced your project?
ZS: “I couldn’t believe the support we had at our launch party, which was at TWNHLL, a gallery in Chinatown. I was afraid it was going to be me and 200 books in a room! But it was packed from the moment it started to the moment it finished—seeing that was so incredible.”

 

Which L.A. women do you look to for inspiration?
ZS: “I’m so lucky to have a tribe of inspirational women of color around me. I’m inspired by people like Kendra Bracken-Ferguson, I’m working with her currently on a project and she is a force of nature. She founded Digital Brand Architects and then went on to start The Braintrust. I’m also constantly inspired by my friend Erica Chidi Cohen, the founder of LOOM. Her ability to be so supportive through the Tonal Journal journey has been incredible, and her business sense is just incredibly inspiring. And of course, I’m always amazed by my art director Esther Choi, because without her, none of this would be possible. Her eye for design is impeccable and her taste is just beyond.”

It sounds like you’re pretty plugged into the local creative community. What were you up to before Tonal?
ZS: “I’ve been in the editorial field for nine years, starting way back when blogs were the cool thing to do. 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. From there, I worked freelance for many fashion brands doing content and copywriting. When I moved to LA, I was at Nasty Gal, where I worked my way up to Managing Editor, and then I went on to be the Editorial Director at a creative agency, where I launched the multi-channel online platform for entrepreneurial creatives called WestwoodWestwood.”

 

You have a deep fashion background. How has your personal style changed over the years?
ZS: “Funny enough, as a kid I only wanted to wear heels! Now, I love Gazelles. I have them in a few different colors and they’re definitely my go-tos.”

We love a good 30-going-on-13 vibe! What's your go-to outfit to rock with sneakers nowadays?
ZS: “I keep it classic. I love a good monochromatic look, so here I had to go with the nude pair and the classic reds. I like pairing sneakers with more feminine silhouettes, and I normally pair more casual looks with heels. I just like to juxtapose things a bit.”

 

 

Zarna’s Silver Lake and L.A. Hit List

Here’s where you’ll find the creative mastermind out and about in her neighborhood and beyond.

I’m half a block away from Sunset Boulevard, so I can really walk everywhere.

My go-to order at Tacos Delta is the to-die-for red cheese enchiladas.

Babes on Legs is my vintage dream—I’ve bought so many pieces from there.

Bar Keeper has the cutest little things for your at-home bar.

For a dinner out, I’ll go for veggie potstickers or the Mapo tofu at Pine & Crane.

When I want to be out in nature, I go to the trails at Griffith Park.

I go into the Arts District to check out the amazing independent galleries.

My favorite flower shop is Gilly Flowers—their shop is stunning and their selection is always so incredible. I always prefer one or two “strange” flowers like thistle or protea versus a bouquet of generic ones.

I prefer to keep to the more local, low-key spots, but I do love a crisp glass of champagne on the L&E Oyster Bar rooftop.

For positive female energy my friend Sarah Kim, the founder of By Way Of Us magazine, has these amazing meetups called “Good Mornings,” that she curates with incredibly inspiring women. I love going to those, they’re always so energizing!

 

Shop Zarna's ONES

 

Written by Julie Vadnal, photos by Justin Chung, video by Rosanna Peng.

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