By everyone, I mean me, because I was supposed to go and then life intervened on the day of, and I am still not over it. Even though I missed the launch party (wah wah wah), I did get to dish with founder and editorial director Julie Gueraseva, who is extremely inspiring and entirely lovely. Read on to learn what it took to get the magazine off the ground, Julie’s recipe for a kinder magazine, and a myriad of exciting things that are on the horizon for Laika, veganism, and –hopefully– a more compassionate society overall.
ZE: So when did you first get the idea for Laika?
JG: It was a about a year ago. I saw a catalog for a popular clothing retail chain that was essentially a magazine selling the brand’s lifestyle. It was executed beautifully and was very effective, and had completely sold out when I tried to pick it up at the store. The manager had to go and retrieve a spare copy for me. A light bulb went off: “There needs to be something like this for veganism.”
Have you always wanted to start a magazine?
I’d worked in magazines for many years, but never had a particular ambition to start one until I became really passionate about veganism. Living vegan and relishing this lifestyle became a catalyst for many creative ideas. Ultimately, starting a vegan magazine seemed like an obvious way of spreading compassion via a creative outlet, using the skills I had acquired over the years.
What would you say was the most difficult part about starting the publication?
Well, there was that one time when my external hard drive suddenly died, and I had to redo two weeks of work… ha. There have been more than a few challenges, that’s for sure–big and small. But I’ve learned on this journey: never ever underestimate yourself and how much you’re capable of; trust your instincts; and a setback is often just a golden opportunity disguised as a setback, a chance to do things even better than before. But also, if you decide to take on a project you really truly believe in 100 percent, that involves the skills you’ve been honing for a number of years, and you’re genuinely ignited by it, even the most difficult of tasks have a profound joy to them.
I love that at first glance, the vegan aspect of the magazine is subtle. Is there a specific niche you are trying to fill?
I would say that the vegan aspect of the magazine is all-inclusive, more so than subtle. The content is uncompromising: there’s a feature on slaughterhouses in the same issue as a beauty story. But that’s the whole truth, isn’t it? The vegan lifestyle is multi-faceted: we’re passionate about defending animals, but we also like to have fun. We’re creative, inquisitive, with many pursuits and interests. So in that sense, our lifestyle overlaps with many others, and with those who may not yet be aware of the horrors of animal agriculture. We are all just people trying to live happy, full lives at the end of the day. So one of my hopes is for an omnivore to look through the magazine, be struck by the compelling and dynamic content, and get the sense that living ethically and compassionately is a beautiful and inspiring way to live.
I’m so excited for a new magazine in a time when most consider print to be dying for digital. How did you get it off the ground?
Since this launch was almost entirely self-funded, a large print run was never a realistic possibility. I always knew a digital version would be offered. Interestingly though, so far print subscription orders have outnumbered digital. Which supports my notion that human beings still want to be able to hold something tangible in their hands, to really dissolve into the experience of turning pages, especially when it comes to something new and different. The bond with a printed piece is stronger than with a digital one–this is undeniable. However, I believe there is a way to satisfy these natural human needs without being wasteful. So my goal for this was to produce just enough, and supplement with digital–which to many is preferred and more convenient, like international orders. The print version is printed on recycled paper with vegetable based inks. So I kind of now believe in a new publishing model: digital + small print run + create just enough to meet projected demand + offer high quality editorial that’s not disposable + keep overhead low = everyone’s happy. Something to that effect. And it doesn’t end up costing a ton of money or wreck our planet.
Tell me about the writers and staff! Are they all vegan?
Not all the writers and photographers in the first issue are vegan, however the few that weren’t have been very affected by their experiences of working on the magazine. For example, Sasha Bezzubov who photographed the feature on rescued farm animals, was not veg before the shoot, but after the experience of interacting with the animals, wrote me that it had a “transformative” effect on him, and decided to go vegetarian with his wife. My sister Stacy Gueraseva, who wrote that story, is vegan. As is James McWilliams, who wrote the story on slaughterhouses, and a number of other writers and photographers. Samantha Gilewicz, a former editor at Nylon, who wrote the story on Vaute Couture is vegetarian, but doesn’t wear leather, fur, etc. On the beauty story shoot, for example, we had an amazing nail artist–Simcha Whitehill. She’s not vegan, but after the shoot, has become very passionate about cruelty-free products, and now won’t even accept an assignment unless the client can prove to her all the products are 100 percent not tested on animals. Even with the subject matter being all vegan and all cruelty-free, at some point I realized that it would beneficial to involve creative people from a variety of backgrounds. Art has proven itself to be very fertile soil to raise awareness among those involved in an endeavor, especially when people are excited about the project they are working on. And so far, this approach has been successful in affecting perceptions, and also getting the word out to people who may have not known much about veganism or animals prior to this.
That’s great, and in many ways, I think that type of positive interaction with non-vegan professionals has an even larger impact than if everyone was vegan from the start. What’s next for you? Any more events coming up?
I am starting to conceptualize and map out the next issue, alongside of continuing to launch the magazine, which will be an ongoing process for the near future. Every day, I get more and more excited about it. I am totally in love with this project. In terms of events, I’d love to have some kind of party in Los Angeles soon. The NYC one went so well, and many of the omnivores who came had such a positive response to the magazine, that it would be smart to replicate that experience on the West Coast.
Exciting! Now tell me, do you think being vegan is an important part of this? Many larger companies are recognizing the market potential veganism has now that it is “trendy” and many are getting involved despite not actually being vegan.
I love being vegan. I love my vegan lifestyle. I love the new discoveries, the food, the clothes. I love advocating for animals. I love animals. And these feelings have only grown over the years, and echo the sentiments of 99.99 percent of vegans out there. So what does that say? The reality of this lifestyle is in direct contradiction to the popular misconceptions out there: it has absolutely nothing to do with self-depravation or sacrifice. We are happy, healthy, we’re having interesting experiences, exciting adventures, etc etc. So in that sense, being vegan is a very desirable way to be. It offers so much to the individual. I’m happier as a vegan, no question about it. I’m in a better mood, more focused, I hardly get sick, etc etc. If we start thinking of all this in marketable terms, then yes, it’s a highly marketable lifestyle. And as veganism grows in acceptance and popularity, so does curiosity about it.
But there’s something very important in veganism that doesn’t fit that conventional consumerism model…Compassion is not trendy, empathy is not trendy, justice is not trendy, non-violence is not trendy. These things are and have always been a part of us. They’re real. They can’t be compartmentalized under fictional labels. And they can’t be replaced with other trends. They’re here to stay, as long as we stay human and don’t turn into machines. So while an opportunistic corporation may decide to start marketing a brand of almond milk as trendy, the foundation of veganism is not built on any kind of trends or trendy behavior.
But could following trends- the good kind of trends – unwittingly lead to some plausible changes? I don’t rule it out. One good example is Silk. Silk is owned by one of the largest dairy-producers in the world. For that reason, I avoid buying it, unless it’s the sole option. Is that corporation capitalizing on the vegan “trend?” Yes. But to play devil’s advocate for a moment: perhaps in doing so, they are actually unbeknown to themselves transitioning their company into being dairy-free. Perhaps a day will come when their profits from non-dairy milk will start outweighing dairy milk, and they will make some cataclysmic changes to their company. Who knows.
So the bottom line is, there will be people who will be ready to take advantage of any “trend” just to make a buck, whether it’s veganism, or hip hop music (once dismissed as a mere trend). But there is something in veganism that endures, because it actually connects deeply to the human soul. And for that reason, I believe we will see a totally different world, perhaps even within our lifetimes.
For more from Julie, and more info on the magazine, visit www.laikamagazine.com.