Here at Team Vilda, we’re in love with chic magazine LAIKA that takes compassionate publishing to a whole new level. Julie Gueraseva, the founder and mastermind behind the magazine, took some time out of her busy schedule and answered our questions. Please meet Julie!
Would you be so kind and introduce yourself.
I’m Julie Gueraseva, founder of the NYC-based vegan lifestyle magazine LAIKA, of which I’m also the editorial director and designer. Thanks for giving me an opportunity to answer your questions!
Creating your own magazine – how did you come up with your vision for LAIKA?
I had spent a number of years working as a designer and art director in a range of industries – publishing, music industry, advertising. Along the way I became vegan, and started taking on vegan projects. I was always passionate about good design, and appreciated its significant role in how messages are communicated, particularly in social justice movements. I realized that veganism needed to be showcased in a bolder, more visually dynamic way. At one point I was doing a lot of work in magazines, so one day after a photo shoot for a client, the initial spark of an idea for LAIKA was born. I thought, “What if there was a vegan magazine that stood shoulder to shoulder with the most stylish fashion magazines out there, but contained a depth of compelling and complex subject matter that raised the profile of veganism and animal rights? What if there was a magazine that showed how creative, vibrant, and innovative this movement is? What if the stories of animals were told with the same dignity, respect and attention as the human ones?” And so LAIKA became that magazine.
How long did it take from the idea to the first issue?
From the very first germ of an idea to the finished product took about 10 months, with the bulk of the most intense work taking 6 months. I remember the very first hour of when I got the idea for LAIKA. It took hold of my brain and wouldn’t let go. When I saw the possibilities for it, I became overwhelmed with excitement. I knew that it was something I had to act on right away and create momentum. This wasn’t the first “big idea” I’ve gotten for a project. But it was the first related to veganism. And I’ve wondered since, why was this the one to flourish relatively quickly? And I think it is precisely because this is a vegan project. What we are trying to do – us, the vegan community, the animal rights movement – I believe it has the force of righteousness behind it. The universe wants us to succeed. We have to go forth with confidence.
Were there any obstacles you had to overcome?
There have are always obstacles and will continue to be, with anything in life – big and small. But I’ve found along this journey that ultimately the biggest obstacle is ourselves. Meaning, self-doubt. Once we overcome self-doubt, anything is possible.
Although I had worked as a designer in magazines, I had never started a magazine before. I didn’t know the first thing about starting a magazine. But the idea and the passion was bigger than any lack of knowledge. I learned many things as I went along. Initially it was tempting to worry that anyone would even want to get involved in this then-unknown, not-yet-real thing. How would I ever galvanize people around it, get them to participate? But I realized there was no need to underestimate people’s potential interest, nor my ability to communicate this idea. And sure enough, people got involved. Then, after the first issue was completed, there were so many various technicalities to operating a magazine—from making a website, to planning a launch party, to getting distribution. I had no idea how to get a magazine on newsstands. It seemed completely intimidating, almost impossible. Who would want to carry a brand new vegan, animal rights-themed magazine? But again, asking that simple question, “What if?” opens you up to thinking big. There is magic and possibility in that. It’s so important to dream. Eventually, I found a distributor. When people see your passion, when they see how much you believe in something, they get on board. Positive energy is contagious.
And these days of course, there are still countless challenges. From conceptualizing, generating ideas out of thin air, then making them a reality step by step… putting photo shoots together, finding writers, illustrators, promoting the magazine, editing, and on and on. I still design the entire magazine, every page. The day-to-day tasks can be overwhelming. Running a magazine – sustaining a magazine – is a complex thing. This is a grassroots operation, entirely self-published and self-funded, so lots of ingenuity is required to make the absolute most of out of limited resources. I mean, I still work on a 2006 iMac in a tiny office! But there’s always more than one way to look at something. A challenge is also an extremely beautiful opportunity to learn, to grow, to discover how strong you really are—I can’t emphasize that enough. We are all unstoppable.
What inspires you?
Simple encounters with everyday people. The kindness of strangers. Ordinary acts of kindness. When I see someone do something nice for someone else- I’m inspired. It shows me that goodness lives in all of us, it’s the foundation for everything positive in this world. Animals inspire me. I’ve learned so much about them through making this magazine. I thought I knew before… but I had barely scratched the surface. Their wisdom, their resilience, their capacity for forgiveness is incredible. They leave me in awe. I wish for every human to get to a point where it doesn’t cross their mind to regard animals as anything for humans to use and exploit, but as beings that exist alongside us on this planet, who are our equals, whose innocence is a source of peace and comfort for us. My head is filled with their stories. Stories of tragedy, triumph, rescue, loyalty, survival against all odds. And their spirit. When they are given the chance to live, to be free – it is palpable how much they savor life. I really experienced it when I got to spend time with Ellie, a rescued chicken who was found by one of our readers wandering through Crown Heights, Brooklyn. I have rarely seen such an unyielding life force as I saw in Ellie. She inspired me. I wrote about her in my editor’s letter.
Of course, I’m always inspired by music, art, nature. I listen to a ton of different music that kind of creates a soundtrack for each issue. During the making of the new issue, I listened a lot to Shlohmo, Disclosure, Blood Orange. I get super inspired and excited about discovering and trying new vegan restaurants in new places. The more out of the way, the better. It’s so fun! It’s like a little scavenger hunt, it makes you feel like a kid. Veganism is a continuous adventure, and that inspires me. I love comedy, it’s so important to laugh. It’s like a brain vacation on any given day. I got hooked on episodes of “Comedy Bang Bang”- a comedy variety show – while in the final stretch of making the new issue. It became a nightly ritual after a long day of hard work.
Tell us about the brand new Fourth Issue!
“The Future Issue” is like a glimpse into the future we all dream about, but the amazing thing is that everything featured in this issue is happening right now. And that’s what I realized the vegan movement is – it has one foot in the future, while making the absolute most of the present moment. It’s super exciting to have Emily Deschanel on the cover. She has been a subscriber of the magazine from the beginning which was always so awesome, so it’s a little surreal to now have her on the cover. I love the cover, I’m just crazy about it. It was shot in LA by Andrew Stiles, and Emily had her regular team at the shoot – the stylist, hair person and makeup artist which I think played a role in the comfort level and positive energy on set and yielded such great shots. I actually had to art direct the shoot remotely from NYC, which could have presented a challenge but ultimately worked out beautifully. I find that it’s not necessary to micro-manage people, and it’s not a requirement for me to be at every single shoot. That’s my philosophy when it comes to creative direction in general. When there is a strong vision that’s communicated well, able people will know exactly how to interpret it. It’s so important to nurture trust and believe in people. It brings out the best in them. I think that’s why the magazine looks as good as it does. There is a lot of good spirit, shared passion, and trust behind it. I love challenging people, getting them out of their comfort zones, giving them assignments that give them a chance to grow and try something new. LAIKA is truly a magazine that nurtures creativity and self-expression. And I think the new issue demonstrates that so vividly.
Every story in this issue is so close to my heart. Each one was its own journey. “Will To Live” originated as a determination to convey the fundamental principle that animals have the will to live, the desire to live- just like people do. And I realized how equally apparent this was in their moments of utter crisis, like en route to a slaughterhouse; and in moments of joy, like when they are first liberated. To accomplish this task, I knew we had to show the full story: we had to show the transport trucks, the live kill market; in addition to the sanctuaries. In Mike Hrinewski I found the perfect collaborator, as he is not only an incredibly talented photographer, but also rescues animals himself. He photographed the story over a period of two months and took personal risks to get certain shots so that we could show the whole truth. We have narrative from veteran activists and rescuers in the feature. There was a lot of material gathered, that then had to be edited and woven into a cohesive structure. And I think the end result is so powerful and emotional. I believe this is the kind of journalism that can and will create a paradigm shift in the average reader. “The Futurists” – wow, that felt about as an ambitious story as any to try to pull off. Along with writer and illustrator Sophie Lucido Johnson, we got exclusive interviews from a bunch of incredibly accomplished, notable people like Sam Simon, Jill Robinson and Steven Wise; wrote engaging profiles on them, and Sophie did beautiful illustrations. And yes, these people happen to be vegan. But they are just amazing, period, in the broadest sense. I want to establish that with the magazine. Veganism is not some kind of marginal, “radical” lifestyle. It is an extension of our better selves, our best self- that lives inside each one of us. This lifestyle is fertile soil for brilliant ideas, inventions, artistic creations, compelling philosophies. The topics that are prevalent in veganism are topics that should (and do) appeal to every curious mind out there. Who doesn’t want to know about the depth of animal sentience? These are beings we do share our planet with, after all. Who doesn’t want to know the versatility of coconut milk and cashews, and how all these simple earth-sourced foods can be transformed into culinary innovations? All this stuff is so fascinating!
I must say, I think this issue is my favorite. And that’s the feedback I’ve been getting from my peers that I respect as well. Michelle Schwegermann from Herbivore said it was her fave also. It’s so wonderful to get feedback like that from peers that I look up to. I go into each issue slightly terrified – in a good way. With each one, I think there’s no way I could make the new one even half as good as the previous one. And then the fun challenge becomes, or more like a dare to myself becomes to make it even better. I’m so incredibly proud of this issue.
Seven things you do not want to live without?
Well, in all honesty, I am not a big consumer. I sort of believe in a simpler way of life, less possessions, less attachments to objects. My most prized possession is probably my bicycle. That said, I do appreciate innovative products that elevate quality of life, or provide simple pleasures. Food-wise, I adore Dr Cow cheese. And if I could, I would eat lunch every day at Stuff I Eat in Inglewood, California. With beauty products, I love things that multi-task like Mineral Fusion’s Volumizing Beauty Balm for Hair that pretty much rolls every hair product into one, and makes hair look amazing (and is vegan, of course); the Multi-Pot from Gabriel Cosmetics in Magnolia that is like the quickest way to add lovely, natural color to cheeks, and can also be used on lips and eyes; and NCLA is the nicest company that makes gorgeous nail wraps that are so easy to apply. Location-wise, we shot a food story for this issue in Tulum, Mexico and that place will forever hold a special place in my heart. It is magical and uplifting.
What’s next on the horizon?
The goal is to have wider reach, and I think one way to do that is to create an impactful mobile version of the magazine, an app, and similar projects. I would love to have a video channel on YouTube as well. There’s so many possibilities with LAIKA. So we are currently planning our first crowd-sourcing campaign and exploring investor opportunities, so that we could make all these dreams a reality. We just introduced international shipping and subscriptions, which is so cool and exciting. So far there’s been orders from countries like Germany, Taiwan, Finland, Austria, Philippines, Slovak Republic, Russia, Denmark, Spain and many more. So maybe a LAIKA in another language is in the future, who knows? The most orders have actually come from Australia. There’s definitely a major vegan movement brewing there. I’ve actually been inviting to speak at a Veg festival in Sydney in late October, so I’m really looking forward to that.
Pictures: Julie Gueraseva / Laika Magazine