Thinking out loud with Julie Gueraseva, LAIKA magazine

By on May 16, 2013

Attention sophisticated thinking vegans: meet your new BFF, LAIKA. The recently debuted quarterly magazine has the glossy and stylish look and feel of a popular fashion mag – without the fur, leather, feathers, cosmetic cruelty, Kardashians, and other atrocities typically associated with chic lifestyle magazines. In addition to fashion, beauty, food, art, music, and travel, LAIKA delivers in-depth articles on animal activism, including people who are driven to make a difference.

Longtime activist Julie Gueraseva is LAIKA’s founder, creative and editorial director – its alpha female (though let’s also shout out to her twin and fellow activist, Stacy Gueraseva, whose work appears in the mag). Julie says the magazine as she envisioned it is “a clear assertion that a full, vibrant, exciting, interesting and satisfying life can be had – without ever having to inflict harm on another.” Like.

We spoke with Julie about the magazine and what it means for vegans.

First, congratulations on creating a brand-new title at a time when the media and publishing industry is at best struggling. What do you think the magazine accomplishes for veganism that is potentially different from and greater than other projects and campaigns you’ve been involved in, or that are currently available?

Thank you very much. Something like this is just one technique of many available at our disposal to help animals. This magazine, this whole endeavor, is completely, purely from the heart. It started as an idea, an ‘a-ha’ type of moment. And then it became kind of a ride that I was on, and there was no turning back. So I can’t really compare it to anything else that’s out there, or what’s come before. It’s totally rooted in the present moment, and completely driven by a desire to liberate animals, and to wake people up to compassion. And that’s all I can focus on. There is no other motive behind it.

This magazine is a culmination of all of my experience, I would say, as a designer who’s worked in different industries, observing things along the way; and as an activist and vegan, who’s learned some tactics in the past six years. And just as a human being, walking through life. It could’ve only happened now I think. A few years ago, I wasn’t ready to carry out something like this. But by the time I had art directed and designed multi-page publications from start to finish, I had the confidence to know a magazine like this was doable.

I suppose the magazine looks different, and has a different rhythm to it. It looks like a fashion magazine at first glance. But behind the style, there is much substance, which might catch someone off guard who picks it up who knows nothing about veganism or how animals are treated. It shakes up the traditional format.

LAIKA is ‘selling it’ with style and design, but you’re also covering harder-hitting subjects plus work from established journalists. Was this an intentional mission to expose readers to serious content inside a pretty package?

Yes. It was a strategic move and also an honest one. I wanted to pull people in with a “cool” visual vocabulary. But I also just really like good design, so it was a logical decision also. I was inspired to make a well-designed vegan magazine, with strong photography, illustration, etc. Based on what I’ve observed, a strong presentation does help people to absorb the message better. But yes, knowing what kind of world we function in, I wanted to employ the aesthetics people respond to in propelling a compassion forward. And yes, I did put some thought into the order of things…more fun stuff in the beginning, and then before you realize what’s happening, you’re reading about more serious things. But by that point, you’re already invested.

But what started as a strategy simply turned into a truthful reflection of the spirit of this movement, as I designed the magazine. There is such a sophistication of thought, ideas within this movement; there are so many truly fascinating people, who do interesting things. There’s all this innovation, frontiers being pushed. It’s an incredibly interesting movement. And it’s centered around animals, who themselves are amazing and mysterious, and so worthy of being portrayed in a dignified, intelligent way.

A lot of advertising and marketing out there is about distorting reality, creating a fantasy, exaggerating things, overselling the brand. And I realized nothing about veganism required overselling. I’ve always known the vegan lifestyle is a beautiful way to be. And I suppose if we think of it as a “brand” that we need to “sell” people on, then it deserves to be “packaged” in a compelling, beautiful way, because it is already that.

We are often critical of “capitalist solutions” to animal liberation – by which we mean the belief that if there were just more vegan products on store shelves, or enough vegan options on menus, we’ll bring about a vegan world. How does the magazine play in this intersection of consumerism and activism?

I’m not a big consumer myself. I’m not a fan of having a lot of “stuff.” If you look at the magazine, it’s actually quite light on product. I am most interested in innovation; I admire creativity. So I am definitely fascinated by products that fill a void, that offer an irresistible alternative and a paradigm shift. We need those types of products out there, because they can sometimes be a person’s first introduction to veganism. And those are the types of products I strive to showcase in the magazine.

But I am also incredibly fascinated by the bounty of our Mother Nature and how beautiful and versatile plant foods are before they are even converted to any type of product. So I would actually like to see humanity get to a place when don’t rely on so many products, and when we are able to find contentment in simpler things. I think maybe that would help us become calmer people in general, less stressed out, and more open to tapping into our empathy.

It’s a tricky thing because I can completely relate to the excitement of seeing a new vegan product on a grocery store shelf. But it’s a complicated thing functioning within the capitalist system, which is defined by greed and accumulation of wealth. I think the most important thing is that our hearts remain in the right place. As long as our new product developments are not driven by greed, ego and the pursuit of status, then having more vegan products on the shelves could very well be part of the solution. We just have to be mindful of who we are competing with. It’s not each other, it’s the animal exploitation industry that we are trying to put out of business. This one thing Darius Fullmer said in an interview always stuck with me. It was something like, “We don’t know what the key is that will open the lock to animal liberation, so our best bet is to do what feels right in our heart, that feels the most effective, and hopefully one of us is right.”

Sometimes I notice that when we get too fixated on discussing cool new products, we talk about animals less. So in the pursuit of the most awesome new vegan products, we just have to remember to continue to talk about animals as much as possible and as loudly as possible. Because their situation is still dire and desperate.

Someone picks up a copy of the magazine, and commits themselves to becoming more active for animals. Or maybe they’re motivated to turn their activism into a lifelong career. Give them your best advice.

Well, first and foremost I would recommend spending time with animals. Being around animals is a transformative experience and is a huge catalyst for becoming a passionate advocate in their defense. So I would recommend finding out where your nearest animal sanctuary is, and going there for a long visit. And if you’ve already visited a sanctuary once or twice, make sure you go again and soon. If you’re unable to or don’t have the means to travel, then go to your nearest shelter and volunteer.

Another good first step is to just start taking action — go from talking about it to doing something about it. I think a good place to begin is by utilizing what you already know how to do. For me, as soon as I stopped eating meat, I started thinking about how I could implement my design skills to help animals. And it was actually designing a little brochure for a group called Compassionate Action for Animals that helped me go from vegetarian to vegan fairly quickly. I think applying an existing passion towards your new passion for saving animals really strengthens convictions. I’ve seen it happen time and time again with people.

I’m also a big believer in protests, in being out there in the streets, speaking out for change. I think participating in protests in essential. Protests have impact, and they also offer a chance to feel a part of a community, meet other activists who share your passion, and put forth a united front — which is an amazing and energizing feeling for a new activist. Exploring the vegan community is important. If there’s something like a Vegan Drinks in your town, go check it out. Once I became a vegan, The NYC Vegan Drinks was the place where I met other vegans for the first time. It was amazing to talk to other people who wanted to help animals.

Find out what events are happening in your town, like a Veg Fest, or something like an Animal Rights Conference, or a book signing for a vegan author — and attend. Talk to people who have been doing this for a long time, who can offer you special insight. Seek knowledge. Learn about the animal agriculture industry, about the legislation out there, marketing tactics, how things are made, how leather is produced, the statistics of animal exploitation, nutritional facts…Seek knowledge and truth by any means necessary — whether from other people, books, films, places, the internet. Be an observer, because this will constantly inform your activism and provide you with ideas on how to solve problems. The animal exploitation industry is a massive problem, but we can solve it. I truly believe we will find the solution.

And if you’ve decided to dedicate your life to helping animals, then follow your inner compass and let it guide to where you feel you’d be most effective — whether being a campaign manager for a nonprofit, running a vegan blog, writing about animal rights, rescuing animals, caring for them at a sanctuary, and so forth. And then seek out opportunities, or get inventive and create your own.

What can people look forward to in future issues?

Page count is increasing, with an even greater diversity of stories. The next issue will have a theme, and that will be the plan for all following issues. The approach will always be to remain uncompromising. The content won’t shy away from serious, difficult topics, but the magazine is also committed to showcasing the full range of a compassionate lifestyle, which includes plenty of fun things. We are going to put the spotlight on cool things and people that are still under the radar, while presenting more well-known things and people in an unexpected light. In the next issue, we profile really incredible people — some who are about to break out in a major way, and some who have already left a mark. We have a photo essay with comments from a veteran photographer on the lives of animals in captivity. We’ll be showcasing innovative food and the people who create that food. The goal is to be original, experimental and inspiring. The purpose of the magazine is to show the beauty of a vegan lifestyle in a truthful way, and really do it justice.

What’s not changing is we will always prominently and honestly feature the lives of animals, whether they are free or still in trapped in the animal exploitation matrix.

As of this week, the magazine has achieved a huge milestone for a new title: mainstream distribution! Dozens and dozens of newsstands have agreed to carry LAIKA – right alongside magazines like Women’s Health and Maxim – and more distribution points are being added daily. Can’t wait? Get it delivered right to your mailbox or your inbox, or view online content at

P.S. You’re welcome.


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