I (cofounder Marianna) first connected with Erin Spens of Boat Magazine last summer through email coming off a world backpacking journey and landing back in LA. I reached out to Boat because the nomadic spirit of the magazine really resonated with me. A publication that dedicates each issue to a different city around the world? I’m in. The heart of Boat though was what I fell in love with. It’s not only a beautiful magazine but the stories within the pages are full of soul. At the time Erin was still living in the UK and she serendipitously asked, “Where are you based? We are moving to LA and our next issue is going to be an LA issue.” The stars aligned and the next thing I knew I was working on the LA issue.
In terms of heart, the apple does not fall too far from the tree. It’s easy to see why Boat is so rich with authenticity–Erin is lovely, eloquent, and inspiring. She just got back from Bangkok where she was working on the next Boat issue (pre-order here) and I snagged an hour with her to chat over tacos at Pinches in Culver City.
HOW DID BOAT START?
I just moved to England and was working as a pastry chef but wasn’t enjoying it like I thought I would. I ended up starting a design agency with my husband and it was going really well until we had this one slow month. We decided to do something to show off what we could do and use it as a marketing tool for the agency. We decided to create some stories, photos, and illustrations from another city and it just kind of grew from there. That’s the practical side of it but on a personal note I’ve always been really interested in telling stories that help the western world understand the rest of the world. Learning more stories about human connections help lessen fear.
WHAT WAS THE FIRST CITY YOU FEATURED?
The first trip we booked was to Sarajevo in the winter and we brought a team of photographers and writers with us. We spent a month with the locals, meeting artists, and diving into the culture. We returned to England with several amazing stories and that was our first issue. Initially we made the magazine more so with the intention to give it away to people we wanted to work with but the first issue sold out so we made another one, and another one, and that’s how it all started.
WHY THE NAME BOAT?
Boat was the name of the design agency we started so we wanted it to align but I think the name works in the travel space as well because of the romantic idea of traveling, going slow, and pulling together a small team. However, we get put in the boating section at bookstores all the time. Our first big break was when WH Smiths in the UK said they would stock us and we were so pumped and we went in to see it on the shelves and it was in the boating section.
Beyond that, Boat started right at the beginning of the independent magazine wave and we looked really indie so it was tricky because Boat just didn’t work on these big newsstands. So it’s been a learning process since the beginning.
WHAT HAVE BEEN THE HIGH POINTS AND THE LOW POINTS?
The highest moments are always getting the content back from each issue and reading the stories. They just always blow my expectations out of the water. To pinpoint some specific highs, the opening essay of our Detroit issue was written by Jeffrey Eugenides who is a hero of mine and equally so Nick Hornby's opening essay for our London issue. They both are these literary giants so to have them write for Boat was incredible.
The lows would have to be the financial side of it and making it sustainable. That’s something that we have to reassess every issue. And so far it’s not a sustainable thing, which is why we have to reassess every issue. It doesn’t feel like I have a sustainable job. But we really believe in it and love it and I think it’s important so it’s worth it to me.
WHAT KEEPS YOU GOING IN THOSE LOW POINTS
I really strongly believe in independent media being able to survive in the world and for things to not have to have a brand attached to it and for all the content to not have to be sponsored by someone. I really believe in freedom of expression and freedom of speech existing and people wanting it and paying for it. I think it’s a fine line for journalists’ and publishers’ because everyone expects content to be free and so much content can be found online for free so then it’s like how do you convince people that this is worth paying for? It’s really hard.
HOW DO YOU JUGGLE BEING A MOTHER, A WIFE, AND AN ENTREPRENEUR?
I just work all the time. I don’t know that there’s any real answer apart from you just find a way to do it. And every year you adjust things to make it work. For example my new years resolution this year was to not use my phone in front of my daughter as much as I have been and to just stay conscious of it. That’s just one little thing I can do to keep work separate. But when she goes to bed I’ll work. Almost every night I work, almost every weekend I work a little bit. That’s just the world I work in. It’s fluid, it’s not a 9 to 5, it’s international with time differences so it’s kind of around the clock.
WOULD YOU HAVE IT ANY OTHER WAY?
No. Because I love it. I love what I do. My husband is the same, he loves his work. We both understand that. We are constantly in dialogue about making sure we have face to face time, screens off time. So we aware of it, but we are both the same in the same that if we try to force ourselves to go a whole weekend without doing a little bit of work, we are both actually more nervous and stressed. Actually for us, it’s a little bit relaxing on the weekend to wake up, do an hour of work and then start our day. The whole work life balance thing is so subjective.