Let’s imagine Anna Wintour, Sade Adu, and Georgia O’Keeffe had a baby. Her name is Sydney Ballesteros, the powerhouse woman behind Territory Magazine.
Territory is the first of its kind, an annual arts and culture publication banded by the breadth of land from Southern California to West Texas. It’s written, photographed and designed exclusively by desert dwellers themselves. Inside the colossal pages of Territory you’ll find fashion stories in obscure desert landscapes only locals would know about. Interviews with artists and activists who’ve shaped southwestern culture (a personal favorite is with Katie Lee, Goddess of the Desert, right before she passed away). And stunning architecture and interior spreads of modern rammed-earth homes, century-old adobes, and art deco bungalows. The southwest is endlessly rich in culture and design but has never been accurately represented in the publication industry because it is damn near impossible to produce a first-rate magazine without the resources larger cities have. That is, until Sydney Ballesteros got to work. With the help of her small team in Tucson, they are in the midst of working on their third issue.
Besides being Editor-in-Chief and Creative Director for Territory, Sydney is stylist, a mother and recently starting a path into real estate as a result of her magnetic ability in locating quintessential desert homes.
“I believe that carrying a piece of my mother's energy with me all the time grounds me to never forget who I am and where I come from.”
Sydney has an iconic look—a blend of modern and vintage clothing, stunning silhouettes and statement jewelry. We asked her to put together a few looks with her favorite Golightly pieces. She unabashedly went all-out and declared, “This may be a little over the top, but I don’t care, that’s just me.” - She’s amazing. We photographed Sydney at Adobe Libre in the neighborhood of Barrio Viejo, Tucson AZ- A very special neighborhood where much of Territory is inspired and conceived. We talked with her about the magazine and her life in the southwest.
Tell us the story behind 4 objects in your life that carry your energy.
My glasses for sure: they are apart of my identity at this point. I feel naked when I don't wear them. Plus I really am as blind as a bat without them.
Double silver Patania cuffs: they exude such a strong and powerful energy. I feel like I can conquer anything I set my mind to do with those things on, truly. They make me feel confident and unstoppable.
Black onyx ring that belonged to my mother: I believe that carrying a piece of my mother's energy with me all the time grounds me to never forget who I am and where I come from. She is such a strong-willed and determined woman who maneuvers through life with so much grace and patience, through a share of her own hurdles. It's a reminder that with that same spirit and will, I can gracefully do the same. In this technical world we live in, it's so easy to get caught up in feelings of comparison and instant gratification. We forget the unique journey to get where you are going is the most important and different for everyone. The personal perspective, learning takeaways, knowledge you gained, and how you actually handle the journey is surely the better story to share.
My red lipstick: the final touch of feeling pulled together even when I'm not, and delivering the dose of confidence needed since I was 16 years old.
You’re doing the impossible by publishing a nationally read magazine in Tucson, AZ. How’d you get here?? In other words, what in your life lead you to this point?
My background as a creative director and stylist is what carved the path of tenacity for me to take this passion project head on. I had experience in production and editorial work. It came full circle in 2015 after I decided that I wanted to put all of that energy and experience into creating an art-forward publication that represented the authentic voice of the southwest with the same care and attention to detail as other independent and slow journal format publications. The in-depth storytelling and sort of underground content, combined with high visual appeal and refined design sensibilities was something that was lacking in publications representing the southwest. I did not have publishing experience, so all of that part of the business I had to learn along the way and am still navigating through. There are so many moving parts to publishing a magazine, from the creative side through executing production and research, and into advertising, marketing and distribution. It's a Hercules task and not for the faint of heart. I am a big believer in learning things by just taking the leap of faith to jump in and do them in a hands-on way. This may be the longer, more painful (at times) route, but I believe in the value of learning things this way from the inside out, making the mistakes and all. The passion and dedication it takes to overcome the obstacles and learning curves takes pure determination and dedication. It's about carving out your own path, from where you are, with what you have. No one is going to do it for you, or give you a hand-out in life, so that instills a drive in you to be self-made and to take control of making things happen.
Creating a niche, soulful magazine requires integrity; from the tasteful ads, to the original content, to the quality of print. You seem to be uncompromising all the way though. What do you feel is most important to have integrity about when creating a magazine in the long run?
I think the most important thing is to stick to your vision and to the core of what sets your vision apart from the mainstream, when it feels as though everything starts to look and feel the same. It's important to constantly remind yourself why you started a project and what got you so excited about it in its beginning stages. Respect the process of journey and always reset your feet to the ground of self-reflection on a positive note. Take the moments to stop and give yourself credit to enjoy the fruits of your labor and the awareness that good things take time to develop. Not being afraid to ask for help when you need it, and keeping a close support system who genuinely wants you to succeed. Constantly being open to receive a flow of inspiration and ideas for content, creating a system to organize those ideas when they feel overwhelming. Also, it's important to have a clear understanding of what constantly fuels your passion and drive. The passion and heart for something is what continues to set the tone to wake up in the morning and push through what feels impossible at times. I grew up and live in the Sonoran desert of Tucson, AZ, so I felt like I had the confidence to speak on it genuinely, and not just on a surface level, or hyper social media version. I'm truly immersed in my own reality and surrounded by so many talented people, who share a love for these parts. I wanted a home to cultivate all of these things and a legacy to share that insight and perspective with whoever would appreciate it, presented in a slow journalism format, that can also be considered an educational piece.
Being a young mother isn’t easy, but it seemed to instill a powerful work ethic in everything you do. Do you feel like becoming a mother at a young age made you stronger in your 30s? Do you have any advice for working moms?
Yes, I absolutely do. My advice would be to incorporate motherhood into all of your goals and dreams and more importantly your hustle. In a traditional sense we are brought up to believe that there is a certain order in which to do things. I don't believe that at all. I believe that you go on about life with whatever the universe delivered in your stars or curveballs are thrown your way and you make them work for you. There is really never a right time for anything, the time is always to live and make the present the best it can be. While I believe that my child is always my first priority, I never stopped what I was working on or working towards because of him, nor did I treat my situation like a set-back; my son was always along for the ride, watching and learning. I pushed on, at a slower pace of course (with plenty of sacrifices and frustrations along the way) but I set out to accomplish the things I wanted to, one day at a time, while incorporating this little person into my life instead of dwelling on how much harder life was at times. In the end, it actually has made him a more in-tune with the world, and well-rounded, cultured human being, with a humble upbringing at the core of how goals and dreams are attainable, even when they feel impossible, and how hard you to have to work to achieve them. It instills an un-sheltered view of how the world really works, an understanding of how important it is to constantly communicate to yourself and to others what you need and what you want, to believe in manifestation. Also, to never take anything for granted and be constantly open to learning and developing your skills and attributes to the world. Being a young mother forced me to grow up very fast and to be a responsible adult when I was still a child myself. It taught me a humility and perseverance that developed my character early on to work really hard and to overcome whatever so called failures or statistics society categorized me into. We grew up together, or rather he watched me grow up making the road by walking it.
It can be a virtue to know what your personal style is—to know who you are and steer clear of trends. On the other hand, it can be detrimental to pigeonhole yourself into a look and not allow for growth or change. I’m curious about your journey with developing a personal style. What is your relationship with clothing now?
I have never been a believer in pigeonholing oneself. Through my journey with style I have carried the influence of many different decades of style and people with me throughout the years, I regret none of them. They have made me evolve into who I truly am and are all attached to a sentimental time and place in my life. I truly believe each one held a place in developing my personal style. There is a point when you start to settle down into a groove or look that you identify with most and also a point in life when comfort and convenience starts to play a major factor in daily dressing, the older and busier you get. I have always felt confident in dressing and never afraid to take chances or just wear what I personally loved at the time. Incorporating vintage into my dressing was always an outlet for me to fuel my creativity, to feel unique and in my own world. I have never followed trends or even followed "fashion" per se. I think throughout the style journey, you end up carrying pieces of details from those influences with you. Little touches of them have always surfaced themselves as I've evolved, because when you dress with things you've truly loved, you can't help yourself, and I think that it's really important to give yourself that, one still needs to feel individual and happy exuding self-expression.
Share one thing you love to see/do in the southwest for each season.
Fall/Winter (since they are basically the same season here): Spending as much time outside as possible. Late night fireside conversations with friends, while sipping on red wine.
Summer: plenty of stay-cations at the Arizona Inn, and road trips to the cooler parts of the Southwest like New Mexico and Colorado. Lots of afternoon post monsoon pour down—porch hangs and hot summer nights with friends and plenty of cold rosé. PS: weekly trips to Eegees' or to Oasis for raspados or an ice cold beer at 4:00 in the afternoon, when it's 105 degrees outside. The morning rains in the summertime months are one of my favorite things in life to be immersed in. The smell of the wet desert is one that leaves a spell.
Spring: Hiking season and watching all of the desert flora blooms come to life.