Print publication and cannabis lifestyle brand Gossamer is far more purposeful than it looks. The Serious Review talks to Verena Von Pfetten and David Weiner about the sensational thrills of the industry, the confrontations, and the design risks that come with it.
Words and Interview by Reena Mesias
Photos c/o Gossamer
Let’s talk about Gossamer’s brand story.
David: We look at the brand story as the founding story. We knew from day one that we wanted the design to be a cut above and to stand out in subtle and sophisticated ways that, at least at that time in the cannabis industry, you didn’t see. Back then, everything was kind of on the nose. It really was kind of, “Cannabis is a plant, therefore, I should have things that have to do with green.” But going with the name Gossamer and thinking through the design elements, we wanted to make sure that Gossamer stood for more than just a plant or the cannabis itself, and really to a larger experience that comes with cannabis when you consume it recreationally, traditionally, socially, and personally.
Do you have a guiding design principle?
Verena: I think the way we view everything visually about Gossamer is that it should feel immersive. We’re speaking to an audience that is comfortable looking at something from a different perspective or a slightly colored perspective. Are we taking these visuals and making them special? We also try to think to the medium itself. We have a website, a newsletter, and Instagram, but what we do in the print magazine, which is something that you are physically holding in your hands, [is something] we very much take into account. We make sure it feels incredibly immersive and engaging [for the] rare moments when you’re sitting with something that isn’t your phone or a screen.
How do you think a company with a soul like yours do it better?
Verena: Any company, specifically in the cannabis space, should have some sort of mission. If you’re doing something purely to make money, that can work. But it usually feels very cold and deeply uninteresting.
Cannabis is obviously very broad because there are people who are suffering aggressively under the guise of it being illegal and are punished for transgressions that David and I are now doing legally. So part of what we try to do with the visual design is to destigmatize that. We try to make people feel comfortable with something they often feel uncomfortable with. And we go a level beyond that, when we make people understand that this isn’t an inherently bad thing. We work with a lot of non-profit in the space, particularly people who work with social justice reform, prison reform, and Women’s Prison Association in New York, and we use our resources to try and support them. So that is also key in what we do with Gossamer, and that, I think, is very important in any company that wants to engage the community.
David: Yeah, and those design partnerships are almost always part of larger ones. How can we create a message that our audience from organization to nonprofit will take in and share? So a lot of times, starting with design is kind of like the creative kick-off for a larger way of [supporting] people whose lives are dedicated to doing really good work.
What’s next for you?
Verena: We have two new products in the works. We’ll obviously start working on the fifth issue which will come out in the spring.
David: The nice thing about building Gossamer [is] we can grow into areas that we want, but also be a little reactive to things that come up. Events are really something. The thing about cannabis in particular is that a lot of it, if done right or spoken truthfully, is about the experience and communal gathering. And so [we replicate] that or [speak through] that when we can.
[Gossamer’s design cue] is more of in the aftereffect of the product or culture versus just the product itself.
David: Yeah, our background, Verena and I, is more on editorial and some marketing. We actually both have strong design sensibilities and aesthetic, but we know that we’re not artists or designers. So we really try and have a couple of people we work with on every print issue, a lot of our assets, design elements and things like that. But the magazine, in particular, really allows us to work on a wide variety of international designers and photographers, writers, artists, illustrators. It’s funny because their styles are often incredibly different, distinct and far from each other… It sounds cliche, but it’s quality. We really try [to push for it] and we pay for it—like, literally.
What’s interesting or what captures someone’s eye is obviously on an individual basis. It’s very personal and subjective. There are things in the magazine, for example, that not everyone will love, but the thing that you can’t deny is that every single person we work with is incredibly talented. The work that they do is amazing.
Verena: I think we have a fairly consistent sort of visual framework with Gossamer. We do try and give every volume of the print issue its own sort of vibe on its own, which allows us to be fairly flexible.
David: The way we really look in terms of our design, is we’ll look at people or artists or studios and say, we really liked what they’d done and we really like what they do. A lot of times, people hire or work with photographers, illustrators and say, “I love what you do. Now, completely change your style because I want it to conform to what I have in my head.” And that just never made sense to either of us. I worked in advertising. If you’re gonna work with someone because of how they shoot, how they work, how they design, that should be on display or front and center. Our favorite thing to say to people is we do it with every person we worked with is simply, “What’s the thing you’re most passionate about or what’s the thing you really wanna do? We’re gonna try to accommodate that. We’ll try to make sure that it fits in Gossamer.”
Which type of customers do you wanna attract with Gossamer?
Verena: I think we feel mostly on par at least in terms of who we wanna reach and who we are reaching with a couple of interesting exceptions. David sort of spoke to this earlier but we wanted to make sure, our audience, broadly speaking, are people who had a relationship with cannabis in some form or another but weren’t necessarily defined by it. Then the next layer beyond that is we’re thinking about what are the attributes of people who smoke weed and particularly within that, the people we wanted to reach. And we thought about an audience that was intellectually curious, very open-minded and culturally-aware. Because we’re talking about something that’s still stigmatized aggressively in the majority of the world, so [it’s also] people who sort of like understand what’s happening in the world and their place in it, what their personal decisions mean. We try to create a visual and editorial brand that played to that and again, that’s why we don’t focus so much on weed or green, but try to focus on art and travel and culture, and a visual language around that. Our audience is mostly that. It’s fairly urban, like New York, LA, San Francisco.
Verena: Yeah. I was gonna say we hoped it would be, but we are pleasantly surprised by how international it is. We are based in New York. We figured we’d have the majority American audience. But 20% of our readers are international, and probably about 75% of our contributors are international. That was also most important to us. Because if you get contributors from a wide variety, that includes countries they’re from, like socio-economic backgrounds, so you’re also gonna be bringing in an audience that comes with them.
What, to you, is an outlier and his role in society?
David: When we started Gossamer, we became outliers. I don’t say that as a point of pride or anything. That’s just a fact. 3 years ago, when we started talking about doing something for people who consumed cannabis, and it was gonna be a print magazine and have these products and extensions, most people in our lives told us that we should probably do something else. Sometimes an outlier can be something that deviates from the norm. An outlier can be a negative thing obviously, and in the kind of thing where it’s like, “Oh, ignore that one. That’s not right.” But sometimes if you’re labeled an outlier or considered one, you have to just own it and kind of go deeper into it. We faced a fair amount of resistance from friends and foes as well. Years later, a lot of people are contributors or [they understand the] cannabis industry. The world’s completely changed.
Verena: I wish there was a lot less cheesy way to put this but like, I think we continued to try to do that within the cannabis space, too. I think it’s anyone who’s taking a broad view of what conventional wisdom for like a space that might be, sort of, say, “I wonder what would happen if I went over here instead of this way?” I think that can be really compelling because an outlier by definition, means you’re doing something unique. You’re doing something no one else is doing. People tend to wanna play it really safe and sometimes get scared to take those risks. I think there’s always a benefit from being different. It might not pay off right away, but I think anything that makes you stand out, there’s also probably someone else who aligns with that, and there’s probably someone who aligns with them, and it becomes a really organic way in building a community for allowing people to sort of find something that means something to them.