Verena von Pfetten | In episode 93 of Light Culture Podcast, Paper Magazine founder David Hershkovits talks with Verena von Pfetten, the founder and editor of Gossamer Magazine, a magazine for people who also smoke
What would make an editor/writer with a Conde Nast and Huffington Post pedigree chuck it all to start a cannabis-centric lifestyle magazine? As the co-founder of Gossamer, von Pfetten has channeled her love for travel, design, art, culture et al into a print venture that looks to update the stoner aesthetic for the 21st Century. We talk with the Vancouver born von Pfetten about her pride for BC Bud, her love-hate relationship with “wellness,” women in weed and why she thinks we make fun of Gweneth Paltrow and Goop.Read Transcript
Verena von Pfetten – She Also Smokes Weed
What would make an editor/writer with a Conde Nast and Huffington Post pedigree chuck it all to start a cannabis-centric lifestyle magazine? As the co-founder of Gossamer, von Pfetten has channeled her love for travel, design, art, culture et al into a print venture that looks to update the stoner aesthetic for the 21st Century. We talk with the Vancouver born von Pfetten about her pride for BC Bud, her love-hate relationship with “wellness,” women in weed and why she thinks we make fun of Gweneth Paltrow and Goop.
David Hershkovits (00:00):
Verena von Pfetten is a certified rule breaker, not because she worked as the digital editorial director of Lucky Magazine or as the founding editor of the James Beard Award nominated site focused on the foodie industry, not because of her stint as the lifestyle editor at the Huffington Post. She’s a rule breaker because she checked a blossoming career in mainstream publishing to launch a print magazine. With print itself an endangered species, she doubled down on rule breaking and risk taking by conceiving the magazine with co-founder David Wiener around cannabis. Called Gossamer. It launched in 2017 with the mission to look at the world, travel, design, art culture, and food through a green lens. We tell stories that channels the mindset of someone having their best high. Welcome, Verena.
Verena von Pfetten (01:06):
What a lovely intro. Thank you for having me.
David Hershkovits (01:09):
Yeah, happy to have you. You know, I’ve been trying to get you on for a while, so I’m glad it finally worked out.
Verena von Pfetten (01:16):
Thank you, I appreciate the persistence.
David Hershkovits (01:20):
That’s right. It’s my middle name. So what’s your best high? You say, you tell stories that channel the mindset of someone having their best high, what would that be for you?
Verena von Pfetten (01:30):
My best time is always at the beach. It’s like a Saturday or a Sunday, or God, even better is if it’s a midweek, like playing a little hooky day, you know, like wake up on a Wednesday and just deciding today is not for work. And adjourn to the beach, joint or blunt, I don’t care about the format and like just being able to enjoy the sun, sand and high. That’s number one.
David Hershkovits (01:56):
Have you been out there yet this year?
Verena von Pfetten (01:59):
No, (laughs) not yet. I feel like I keep missing the weather, but I’m hoping to get out, this weekend. I was hoping last weekend would be it, but we had a miserable Memorial Day, uh-
David Hershkovits (02:10):
Verena von Pfetten (02:10):
Kickoff to summer weather wise.
David Hershkovits (02:12):
Where would you go? To which beach?
Verena von Pfetten (02:14):
I’m not a beach snob, any body of water will do for me. So obviously, I’m in Brooklyn. Jacob Riis, Rockaway, any of them. During the week, I like going to the more residential parts of the Rockaways where it’s just, you know, empty, empty beaches, but there’s no parking, a lot on weekends. So that’s my pro tip is if you can get out during the week and go somewhere that you can have the place to yourself. But yeah, I live in Red Hook. I joke that there’s actually a little mini beach here, over at the pier. There is sand, it touches the water, you know. I have yet to… Yeah, I have yet to go full bathing suit mode, but I am not averse to it.
David Hershkovits (03:01):
You’re gonna do it one day.
Verena von Pfetten (03:02):
Is Gossamer picking up where the much loved Lucky left off cannabis version, uh, cannabis friendly version of Lucky with pieces from your other jobs thrown in ’cause like lifestyle and design products and things like that, is it a kind of amalgamation throwing some cannabis on top of it?
Verena von Pfetten (03:45):
It’s interesting, I think by nature, my background informs what we do. And certainly some aspects of Lucky and I can get into that a little bit. I think the magazine, if anything, was like a hard pivot away from anything David or I had done. And very intentionally, we met working at the Huffington Post in 2006. We both spent over a decade exclusively almost in digital media, in New York, which was a grind and, in doing so sort of helped for better, for worse, write The playbook of what we would now consider some ways the problem of digital media, the pace, the churn, SEO, optimized content, the reliance on platforms for traffic. And just a whole lot of everyone doing the same thing, but pretending they’re doing something different.
Verena von Pfetten (04:53):
David and I were both consulting and freelancing at the time and, and trying to think of what we wanted our next move to be and we felt really strongly, we wanted to be able to do something that gave us the most creative flexibility possible. This was 2016, 2017, where we were first conceiving of Gossamer. We fully launched in 2018. And at that time it was just like, if I see another, Hadid deed on the cover of a magazine, my eyes are gonna roll so hard. They’re gonna fall out of my head and bounce into the beach. And I have nothing against the Hadids. It just was starting to feel like the same.
Verena von Pfetten (05:35):
And so we said, “What is something that we can do that gives us an entry point into anything? Any space, any coverage, any story.” And for us, that was cannabis. It was something that we had really bonded over. As young coworkers, we had smoked a lot of weed together
Verena von Pfetten (05:54):
When trying to decompress.
David Hershkovits (05:56):
Did you have to sneak out of the offices or how was the situation-
Verena von Pfetten (05:59):
No, I won’t speak for David. I don’t know if he ever did. I am not a particularly functional smoker. I can be, but that’s not how I wanna experience it. My work time is usually largely, uh, sober for lack of a better word. So no, but certainly after work or, or in the rare pockets when we weren’t working, you know, I think we were both doing probably 18 hour days, at HuffPost then.
Verena von Pfetten (06:25):
So we just felt like an opportunity for us, again, to flex our creative muscles and, and also expand the areas in which we had spent a lot of time covering and creating stories. And, you know, the last thing I’ll say on that is that one thing we sort of say internally and sometimes publicly is that weed is often the least interesting part of weed. It’s rare that you share a joint with someone and then spend the next hour or two hours talking about weed. Maybe a little bit about the strain and how much fun you’re having, but at a certain point, the conversation kinda moves on and you’re either, just giggling about something ridiculous or telling funny stories, or you’re watching a show or you’re going to an art exhibit or going on a hike or lying on the beach and listening to music.
Verena von Pfetten (07:15):
Our thought was that if we use cannabis as our entry point and lens through which we look at the things that are interesting to us and how they are heightened or made better, through the experience of cannabis, the world is sort of our oyster. That, I think, is also very specific to Gossamer in the framework of a cannabis publication. Probably less than 15, 10% of our you know, the entry point or the lens through which we assume our readers are experiencing the magazine. That’s why we made a print magazine in the first place. You know, the last thing any of us needs to do is stare at another screen when you’re trying to decompress.
Verena von Pfetten (08:03):
So we really wanted to create something that felt immersive and that felt like an escape from the everyday world. That’s also why we try really hard to make our features evergreen. It’s not about hard news. Obviously we want them to be topical and relevant, but we want it to be something that you could pick up, six months ago or five years from now and find something that’s going to pique your curiosity or make you look at something from a different perspective.
David Hershkovits (08:28):
Yeah, and I must say it works for me, at least. I also enjoy the emails-
Verena von Pfetten (08:33):
David Hershkovits (08:34):
Another one is products and things to do and experience, again, back to Lucky because I just knew that-
Verena von Pfetten (08:49):
David Hershkovits (08:50):
That was such a model and so many people really loved Lucky, and it was one of the few magazines-
Verena von Pfetten (08:55):
David Hershkovits (08:55):
People actually missed when it, they got out of business.
Verena von Pfetten (09:00):
That is, I think also my, sort of number one, I don’t know if it’s motto, if it’s like a mission statement, a thing that just cycles on and on in my brain with anything I do professionally, but certainly, the way David and I have tried to build Gossamer is, if you disappeared tomorrow, would anyone miss you or would your, whatever you were doing, just be filled by other people? And I think if you can’t say that you’re doing something different or that someone else is not doing, then it’s probably not worth doing. (laughs)
Verena von Pfetten (09:37):
And I think that’s also really true on the product side of things. The last thing anyone needs is to make more shit, whether that’s products, whether that’s content, whether that’s a physical magazine. If you can’t really say “We are doing something so singular that no one else is doing it,” I think most people should rethink their business a little bit.
David Hershkovits (09:59):
Can I ask you a personal question?
Verena von Pfetten (10:01):
David Hershkovits (10:03):
Were you smoking when you came up with the idea with David? (laughs)
Verena von Pfetten (10:07):
No. Again, this is like I really… I have a very strong doing-
David Hershkovits (10:12):
No, you know, but you could have just been, you know-
Verena von Pfetten (10:12):
David Hershkovits (10:12):
Clearing the shit and whatever, brainstorming-
Verena von Pfetten (10:17):
We were working on some projects together at the time. So I think it really came up like in a coffee shop while we were working. I knew that I was interested in starting something of my own. I was actually more interested in the beauty space, to speak a little bit to my background, what you’ve said about Lucky, again, it’s so near and dear to my heart. Uh, and one of the best places I’ve ever worked, even though I worked there, through its dissolution, I feel like I still have professional PTSD from, it was such a beautiful, smart, communal magazine that genuinely people loved.
Verena von Pfetten (10:59):
Um, from there, I actually went on to focus more specifically on the content, the commerce space. So taking the Lucky model of, you know, it was people joke that it was a magalogue, it was a catalog, basically a shoppable magazine, um, which is just so funny now, how early Lucky was in a lot of ways for everything that we are talking about now in terms of Instagram being shoppable or, or platforms and influencers selling their own products.
Verena von Pfetten (11:25):
So I went to focus more specifically on that space. I did some work with the gloss and Glossier. I worked at Instagram, it was a platform, I did some work with ASOS. So a lot around how the stories we tell inform the purchases we make. And so for me, I was thinking, “What could I do that uses those skill sets and it’s something that I’m interested in?” And, and beauty was where my brain kept going, but I didn’t necessarily have the right idea. And, at some point, David sort of said, “You know, I’ve been thinking about doing something in the cannabis space. Would that be – ?” uh, I thought he was absolutely insane the first time he mentioned it, not for him. I was like, “That’s great. That sounds like a really smart business idea and, you know, you should get after it.”
Verena von Pfetten (12:14):
But it certainly felt like something that was just not doable for me from a professional perspective. I think at the time I was actually back doing some consulting at Conde and I just was like, I don’t know that I can walk into the building and, and then tell people I’ve been meeting with that I’m gonna be unavailable ’cause I’m starting a weed magazine. It felt like a form of professional suicide for lack of a better description. I just, I thought for sure that no one would ever hire me again.
Verena von Pfetten (12:43):
And then the more I thought about that, the angrier I got, and the more it appealed to me, because I think the moment someone tells me, “You can’t do something,” I feel obligated to try and do it. I also have always loved a sort of underdog. Those have been the jobs that I’ve wanted. When I went to Lucky, I knew the writing had been a little bit on the wall, but it felt much more exciting to me to go somewhere like that. I think when publications or businesses or, or anything that you’re interested in doing, when they’re floundering a little bit is when you have the most flexibility to try something new and when something is succeeding, people never wanna mess with the model.
Verena von Pfetten (13:22):
There’s a reason, you know, Vogue is very, very, very slowly trying to update (laughs) and get with the program. And it’s because what worked for them worked for them for so long that they become so risk averse and that’s true of almost any big brand that’s really, really successful. And so, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed compelling, the more I also reflected on the fact that someone like me felt so nervous to publicly talk about cannabis. I have an incredible professional network. I think that anyone who has worked for me or that for whom I have worked would have nothing particularly negative to say. I think I have really good references. I work really fucking hard. But I also recognize the other privileges I have. I knew there would be a conversation around like, “Former Conde editor, like going into weed” that might be newsworthy.
Verena von Pfetten (14:19):
What that meant was the fact that if I feel like that, and I know what I look like and what background I come from, I’m white. I know you said you’re doing this on video, but in case people are listening to the audio, I am very white. Um, (laughs) and, I have a support system. I have a community that supports me and I have a professional network that supports me and what does it mean for people that don’t have that? And if I’m scared, it’s even worse for others. And so the last piece of the puzzle then was that David had also always been very, very passionate about politics and particularly criminal justice and prison reform. He spent almost two years volunteering at a maximum security prison upstate, and has been very invested in those political conversations in a way that has taught me so much, ’cause it’s just not something I had ever really paid attention to. And when we started talking about cannabis and all of these pieces came together, one it would be creatively fulfilling, two there was, yes, potentially a business opportunity here because this is a new industry that people are interested in and everyone smokes weed, obviously not everyone, but a lot of people smoke weed.
David Hershkovits (15:30):
Almost everyone (laughing).
Verena von Pfetten (15:31):
It cuts across almost everyone, or they have a relationship with people who do. And then for it to also feel like there was an opportunity to do some real social good. And I know a lot of companies say that and certainly even not in the cannabis space, every startup and brand is supposed to tell their mission or have some, like, you know, ulterior motive that’s for the greater good.
David Hershkovits (16:01):
For any product.
Verena von Pfetten (16:01):
And a lot of those-
David Hershkovits (16:02):
For everything today-
Verena von Pfetten (16:05):
David Hershkovits (16:05):
… not just cannabis, I mean, everyone-
Verena von Pfetten (16:07):
David Hershkovits (16:07):
… claims to care, right?
Verena von Pfetten (16:09):
Right, exactly. And part of that is marketing, part of that is the social conditioning that we have to tell ourselves these things and that’s why, you know, we’re not capitalists, we’re doing this for the greater good. I have a cynic’s view on that, but it did feel like there was genuinely an opportunity to try and do something that would allow me to sleep at night, and that was both, again, creatively fulfilling but, a second level and not necessarily to that, but on another level, the idea that we could build a platform, host conversations, tell the stories in a way that were palatable and available and accessible to the people who could potentially actually affect change. That felt really exciting to us.
David Hershkovits (17:05):
Yeah, so there’s a couple of things you said that I wanna go back to. One is, you know, how you imagined people would respond, but in fact, from what I saw in an article written on Bustle back in 2018-
Verena von Pfetten (17:19):
David Hershkovits (17:19):
… so many- so many years ago, how, women in the media declined to interview you because they had concerns about aligning with the cannabis space. So, rather than, “Oh wow, isn’t this interesting?” They’d go, “Uh-oh, not sure this is the right thing to do.”
Verena von Pfetten (17:36):
Yeah. It was truly so… yes, I think, uh, one on the advertising side of things, you know, that’s what makes the world go round, right? Certainly that’s what makes, you know, editorial go round. We knew that brands would have a hard time feeling comfortable with the cannabis space. Certainly even from the nuts and bolts of getting a small business off the ground, you’re asking for a huge amount of support from your community. Um, whether that’s your friends, your family or just, your, social media following is. That could be five people, that could be 5000 people, whatever.
Verena von Pfetten (18:18):
Starting a business is a whole lot of just asking for favors and asking for support. I expected it but didn’t quite expect, how hard it would be for some people to publicly support what I was doing, even if privately they told me they loved it. And it’s still true. You know, I still have people in my network that I would consider friends, that I would consider private supporters, um, who have, platforms that I think could make a really big difference in the life of any small business, who just say, “I’m sorry, I can’t touch this because it’s weed. I- I can’t publicly touch this.”
Verena von Pfetten (19:01):
That’s still something I think about, not in a negative way, like, not like I begrudge them, it’s just informs how we think about gossamer and what we put out into the world because, the more we talk about weed, obviously the less stigmatized it gets, but I think often the industry as a whole still forgets (laughing) like what the conversation around cannabis is like across the country and around the world in pockets where it’s not legal or even where it is legal, just depending on, your background and your professional setting and whatever you’re comfortable with. And I would say, most people are still not entirely comfortable talking about cannabis.
Verena von Pfetten (19:39):
The media, we all cover it in a way that it’s kind of everywhere, and I think editors themselves are even getting bored with the idea of weed. Like, it’s not that new, it’s not that interesting.
David Hershkovits (19:50):
Verena von Pfetten (19:51):
Um, but I think you know, a lot of people are still scared.
David Hershkovits (19:57):
Yeah, I think a part of that is the age- gating aspect of it, the legal side and- and the medical side there’s an age.
Verena von Pfetten (20:08):
David Hershkovits (20:08):
So, when you have a piece of media that goes out to everyone, it’s very hard for them to figure out how to handle this. And I’ve seen this, also from back in the day when, at Paper magazine when we had liquor ads for example, and we had to prove to them and do a whole bunch of studies to show that our demographics are over 21.
Verena von Pfetten (20:50):
David Hershkovits (20:50):
And cigarettes before that, before they were outlawed altogether, the government came in and put in all these restrictions around advertising these products. And today, cannabis is sitting in the same space.
Verena von Pfetten (21:06):
David Hershkovits (21:06):
Because of its history it had started out as this terrible substance, which it never was, but now they’re always trying to make those corrections. I feel that’s built into this whole thing and with marketing and telling the stories and drawing pictures and connecting with people through the other media, that’s like a big issue I think.
Verena von Pfetten (21:32):
I think there’s a couple things, one on a personal level, I don’t think anyone has a problem with anybody posting an Instagram story of themselves drinking wine. Like, no one even thinks-
David Hershkovits (21:45):
Verena von Pfetten (21:45):
… twice about putting that out into the world. Whereas a lot of people would think twice even doing something where there was maybe, an edible in the background, or anything visible with a pot leaf. Two I think, what you said about the idea of cannabis being this super harmful thing and the way it has been politicized and stigmatized, there’s so much education that has to go into undoing that, not least of which is the facts that we know about what it currently does and does not do but even how we came to be convinced it was bad in the first place.
Verena von Pfetten (22:19):
You know, cannabis was legal in this country, a little over 100 years ago. It was made illegal as a way to criminalize immigrants. Most people don’t realize that. They think it was illegal because, like, there was actually something wrong with it. It was made illegal to criminalize immigrants, and it was made illegal so that pharmaceutical companies could restrict it from a medical sense and from a patent sense.
Verena von Pfetten (22:44):
You have to go back and do that education so that when you’re talking to… whether it’s your family or your friends, or your friends’ parents. I get a lot of questions from friends saying, you know, “My parents still just are like, ‘Hell no’, you know, ‘Don’t touch that stuff. I don’t wanna talk about it.'”
David Hershkovits (23:01):
Right, no that’s true.
Verena von Pfetten (23:02):
How can I, how can I explain this to them? And for us certainly, we call ourselves a lifestyle publication. One sort of pejorative spin would be that we’re glorifying the cannabis lifestyle. I don’t think that’s what we’re trying to do but what I do try to use is that lifestyle angle in order to Trojan horse a more serious conversation in front of people who maybe wouldn’t see it otherwise.
Verena von Pfetten (23:31):
I’m not saying anything that’s new, you know, I’m not saying Gossamer’s the first person to cover the deeply unequal history of cannabis, but it wasn’t reaching people. We’re not necessarily reaching everyone either, but I want to make sure that the people that participate or are curious or are drawn to us or drawn to a beautiful bong that we photographed in an issue.
Verena von Pfetten (23:55):
I want that to be next to something that contextualizes the history of this industry of this plant, of the way it is policed and of the way it is sold and of the way it is being monetized now, so that they can understand what their dollars and their participation means. In an industry this new, the number one thing that’s gotta move the needle is consumers. Consumers saying, “I don’t wanna buy this unless I know that you are doing X. I don’t want to give you my money unless I know that you are helping make this better for people who have been in prison for something that, like, we all enjoy.”
Verena von Pfetten (24:30):
And that is the only thing that’s gonna change how this industry is being written, and that’s how you’re seeing that happen, even as states legalized. You know, New York legalized with some of the theoretically most progressive laws around cannabis and equality that we’ve seen to date. They’ve now got to go in effect, and they’ve gotta be done right, but part of that is because consumers are saying we want that too. You know, I don’t want an industry in New York that is run by nothing but, White VCs, though, that may well happen because we also know that the second thing that makes things happen is money. So… (laughing)
David Hershkovits (25:06):
Verena von Pfetten (25:07):
Consumer dollars are a huge source of money-
David Hershkovits (25:09):
Verena von Pfetten (25:09):
… and then venture capitalists are a huge source of money. (laughing)
David Hershkovits (25:12):
Right, we have to go through deprogramming. Not only do we have this history, but billions of dollars was spent in the war on drugs and propaganda-
Verena von Pfetten (25:21):
David Hershkovits (25:21):
… globally, to convince everyone this is a terrible thing. So, you know, it’s success, right?
Verena von Pfetten (25:28):
David Hershkovits (25:28):
And even we people who have been indulging all these years weren’t quite sure ourselves all that time whether this was a good thing or not a good thing? A lot of it changed, obviously, when the wellness aspect came in, which is all like-
Verena von Pfetten (25:44):
David Hershkovits (25:44):
… part of the modern, new wave cannabis, I think you call it. When did you start thinking about that as part of the culture that you could explore-
Verena von Pfetten (26:00):
David Hershkovits (26:00):
write about and report on?
Verena von Pfetten (26:03):
Yeah, it’s interesting. I have a real love, hate (laughing) relationship with the word wellness. I’m sure a lot of people do. I don’t think I’m alone there. I think from a cannabis perspective, it’s really interesting because what we’re really talking about here is, yes, there certainly is a wellness and cannabis conversation, but we’re talking about CBD, right? We’re talking about the proliferation, I mean, we make CBD tinctures, of CBD as a subset of this industry because CBD has so many of the benefits that, THC, the cannaboid, that part of the plant that gets you high, has so many of the same benefits without the intoxication.
Verena von Pfetten (26:45):
So, there’s a way to separate this conversation, right? All of a sudden, now you’re saying, “Oh wait, we- we can really have a conversation about the medical benefits or the physical benefits around anxiety, around sleep, around relaxation, around muscle pain. And none of that’s getting muddied by the idea that, oh and you’re getting high. You know? And you’re getting intoxicated. I think that’s a benefit in a lot of ways to the industry.
Verena von Pfetten (27:10):
I am the daughter of much older German parents. My mother’s name is Heidi, she grew up in World War II in (laughing) and is very conservative and- and she’s, in her late 70s, and getting her on board with the fact that I’m in the cannabis industry was a very long, slow conversation. And CBD was the thing that finally pushed it over the edge for her. To be able to try a product, it didn’t scare her, it didn’t get her high and it helped her sleep better, that really helps people understand the value.
Verena von Pfetten (27:48):
That said, the flip side of that is, also, a way to really whitewash the industry. Wellness is a very, very, very white business (laughing) um, and I- I- I’m sort of using that term loosely, but it is.
Verena von Pfetten (28:02):
There’s a reason that we make fun of Gwenyth Paltrow and Goop even though I’ve got a soft spot for Goop too, and that’s a hugely successful business that she’s made. We’re talking about women of a certain caliber of socioeconomic status and the money they’re willing to spend on themselves to make themselves feel better. Because theoretically they also have a lot of time on their hands (laughing), you don’t have a lot of wellness conversations in poorer communities or often communities of color because people are trying to survive, they’re not trying to optimize. They’re just trying to survive.
Verena von Pfetten (28:38):
Now when then you start to marry those two things, particularly with wellness and particularly with something like cannabis, which, you know, frankly is a form of self medication for a lot of people, and I think we use the term self medication often as a negative and I really would like to take that back with regards to cannabis because sometimes people are smoking because it helps them. It helps them with anxiety, it helps them with pain, because they don’t have access to traditional medicine because they can’t afford traditional medicine because it is the way they are feeding their families. And so then when you start to talk about, like, wait, what is cannabis and wellness and who is now marketing as that versus who has been using it to survive? You start to have a really, um, combative… two things are coming at the same answer, um, but they’re not necessarily helping each other.
David Hershkovits (29:35):
You’ve spoken as well about cannabis as a luxury product and even CBD, it’s expensive.
Verena von Pfetten (29:42):
David Hershkovits (29:43):
So, there’s that whole other socioeconomic aspect to this whole industry.
Verena von Pfetten (29:49):
David Hershkovits (29:49):
At every level basically.
Verena von Pfetten (29:51):
David Hershkovits (29:52):
Do you feel that, that’s changing or have things evolved since you started,going into it professionally,
David Hershkovits (30:00):
And looking at it. I know you’ve learned a lot about CBD along the way, give you perspective
Verena von Pfetten (30:04):
David Hershkovits (30:05):
I’ve heard you talked about it as, as pretty scientifically.
Verena von Pfetten (30:09):
I feel like I did like a crash course. I was never science, and chemistry and biology were never my strong suits. But um, you know, (laughs) I’ve, you, it’s amazing what still percolates back there when you talk about homeostasis and things like that. (laughing)
Verena von Pfetten (30:23):
But cannabis as a luxury industry, is something that I think is an inherently fraught conversation. Aspects of it are inevitable, you know? Any industry, any space, you’re always gonna have a spectrum of stuff that a brand wants to position as luxury and exclusive, in order to charge more for it. And then you’ll always have products that are more mass and more attainable. I think the best brands straddle those really well, you know? Or have the ability to feel sophisticated while still being accessible.
Verena von Pfetten (31:04):
But I think you’re always gonna see the spread. I just think this goes back to my point earlier, which is I don’t really care what someone wants to do in the cannabis space. Um, if they wanna put out the Hermes of weed or whatever, (laughing) that’s fine.
David Hershkovits (31:22):
Verena von Pfetten (31:23):
Um, and, you know, I think there’s a lot of brands that think they’re the Hermes of weed…
David Hershkovits (31:26):
Verena von Pfetten (31:26):
… which is what’s so funny about it.
David Hershkovits (31:28):
Well, if they’re not the Apple.
Verena von Pfetten (31:28):
Or the Apple Store of weed.
David Hershkovits (31:30):
Yeah, the Apple. Yeah, the other one.
Verena von Pfetten (31:33):
Yeah. Exactly. (laughs) Apple or Hermes of weed. You know, that, that’s fine. If that’s your brand marketing proposition and that’s like the angle you wanna take, I have no…
David Hershkovits (31:41):
Well I am just-
Verena von Pfetten (31:41):
David Hershkovits (31:42):
I was, I was just gonna say, often that’s actually the media calls them that. It’s not that they…
Verena von Pfetten (31:47):
David Hershkovits (31:47):
Come out and say, I’m the Hermes. I think you’re talking about Beboe, which has had the New York Times give them that label and it…
Verena von Pfetten (31:56):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I love Beboe. I do think there is one brand that I won’t say that definitely refers to themselves as that, um.
David Hershkovits (32:03):
Okay. Followed, yeah.
Verena von Pfetten (32:05):
(laughs) But I have no problem with that. Everyone’s got to pick a lane and pick their angle. My thing though is the more you charge, the more you should have to be able to give back. And the more you charge, the more you’re reaching an extremely influential subset or community or group of customers who have a lot of money in order to affect change.
Verena von Pfetten (32:29):
And so, to me, the more luxury your brand is, the more, obligation and the more you should be giving back. However you wanna market it and I think some people describe Gossamer as luxury. I know from the get go, internally, we have like said, we are not luxury, we’ve always wanted to be quality. And the way we describe that is sometimes the best meal of your life costs two dollars and sometimes the best meal of your life costs $300. They’re both exceptional. They’re not necessarily just better or worse because of cost.
Verena von Pfetten (33:08):
And so that’s sort of the framework through which we think about what we do with Gossamer. But I really just think if you’re in this space and wanna make money, and, unless you’re running a non-profit, that’s what we’re all trying to do. You should think long and hard about what you are doing with that money, um, and how much of it, uh, you’re doing that with.
David Hershkovits (33:33):
We talked about stigmatization, with cannabis in general, for everyone. But I think women are even more stigmatized because, it’s just not a good look, for a stoned woman particularly, in culture, overall. Even though we love looking at the photos on Instagram of a (laughs)…
Verena von Pfetten (33:53):
David Hershkovits (33:54):
… hashtag cannabis, uh, which is basically an endless stream of women in weed and so on.
Verena von Pfetten (33:59):
Women in weed. Yeah.
David Hershkovits (34:00):
Was that an additional factor for you, as well? And how do you feel about that
Verena von Pfetten (34:06):
Oh, for sure.
David Hershkovits (34:07):
And is it changing?
Verena von Pfetten (34:07):
Yeah. I mean, yeah, look. I think historically, the industry or, or the consumer hasn’t necessarily, it’s not dominated by men. It’s just been largely marketed to, by men and for men but women have always smoked weed. I think anything that is a little subversive, or you know, feels edgy is always going to be harder on women than it is on men. It’s also always going to be harder on people of color than it is on white women.
Verena von Pfetten (34:37):
So, like, there’s a sliding scale here. Um, (laughs) I get that. When we launched, we definitely wanted to make sure we were speaking to and reaching women, um, but we are not a for women only brand. And part of that is, well, I absolutely love and respect any brand or publication that does that. You know, there’s a reason people have to do that in order to really carve out that space and say, we’re gonna take up a little more room so that we get, you know, maybe even close to parity.
Verena von Pfetten (35:15):
For us, I wanted to make it just feel, across the board, as inclusive as possible. And I think one of my favorite compliments is when, a male reader, is saying what’s your audience breakdown? Or like, so you know, uh, is it mostly men? And then I say like, no, we’re actually, like, 79% female. And, you know, they would say to me, oh, I thought this was for me.
David Hershkovits (35:40):
Verena von Pfetten (35:41):
Um, and it’s like, you know what it is. (laughs) Those two things are not mutually exclusive. Especially, as we continue to progress the conversation around, what is for men and for men, or like, what is masculine versus feminine. And those lines just increasingly, blurry.
David Hershkovits (35:59):
Verena von Pfetten (36:00):
You have to have a larger conversation around what it means to make something that you think is for one specific gender, so to speak, or, gender identity.
David Hershkovits (36:11):
Yeah. The whole category of women’s magazines is up for grabs. Did you envision it as a magazine for women originally?
Verena von Pfetten (36:20):
Yes. Again, we wanted to make sure we’re reaching women so, like, female forward. But we definitely envisioned it as a magazine that, I don’t know if that was your question, but definitely as a magazine out of the gate. The other side of it is, I, I also firmly believe that, where women go, men follow. (laughs)
David Hershkovits (36:39):
I heard that, yeah. (laughs)
Verena von Pfetten (36:40):
Um, I do. (laughs) Uh, you know, and that is true, both, on a sort of, superficial level but also on a financial level, on a, who’s making the real decisions in the household on a day-to-day basis. When you talk about what that sort of like, division of labor looks like and how, if a woman decides she really likes something or thinks something is valuable or worth engaging with, like, you know, you’re gonna get a community and a family behind her, that, that is going to follow.
Verena von Pfetten (37:12):
So, for us, it was definitely important and again, women were underserved, there was nothing. It’s funny ’cause sometimes I get asked in interviews or, or people talk about like, oh. Well, now, there’s so much for women in weed. Um, what, so much? I don’t know. (laughing) There’s still room for everybody. This is such a huge industry. This is such, uh, such an early stage that there is nowhere near enough for anyone yet, as far as I’m concerned.
Verena von Pfetten (37:45):
Um, and people should take up as much space as they want.
David Hershkovits (37:47):
Do you think there’s gonna be an influx of stores retail, catering to these consumers but not necessarily, selling products but selling accessories or the kind of products that you show, whether it plates…
Verena von Pfetten (38:01):
David Hershkovits (38:01):
… or vases or things that have that aspect of the psychedelic
Verena von Pfetten (38:09):
Yeah. Oh, absolutely. I think the main reason that’s gonna be true is because of the unfortunate regulations around cannabis, you know? If you wanna be participating in the space and, you know, hopefully making money off of it, if they wanna open a store. Why try, and sell something that is hard for you to sell and potentially, illegal. Or your bank won’t take the money, when you could sell things that are less regulated.
Verena von Pfetten (38:37):
I think that’s gonna be the entry point for a lot of people, both on the business side and on the consumer side. You know, some people are still nervous walking into a dispensary. My mom, now, she’s like, all-in on weed. She loves it. (laughs) And she lives in Vancouver, in Canada, where weed is legal. I’d taken her to a dispensary a couple of times. I’ve introduced her to, you know, owners, to make her feel special and comfortable, and she still won’t go alone. It’s just not something she’s comfortable doing.
Verena von Pfetten (39:07):
And so I think for a lot of consumers, their entry point is going to be in a store that is maybe a little more reflective of the traditional spaces they’re comfortable in. And that could be a home goods store, that could be a bookstore, that could be a jewelry shop that has accessories, as well. People will always go first to where they’re most comfortable. So that’s gonna be the entry point.
David Hershkovits (39:32):
Now, you mentioned Vancouver. I wanted to talk about that, as well, ’cause you know…
Verena von Pfetten (39:35):
David Hershkovits (39:36):
… the show is sponsored by Burb. Which is, uh…
Verena von Pfetten (39:38):
David Hershkovits (39:39):
… a Vancouver based, uh, retail, uh, operation.
Verena von Pfetten (39:43):
Love a hometown, uh, love to support a hometown crew.
David Hershkovits (39:45):
Yeah, we should send your mom there.
Verena von Pfetten (39:46):
Oh, yeah. We should.
David Hershkovits (39:47):
Yeah, we could, I can hook her up there.
Verena von Pfetten (39:48):
I’ll try Burb. Maybe she’ll like it better there. (laughs)
David Hershkovits (39:49):
Yeah. Yeah, make sure she gets the royal treatments.
Verena von Pfetten (39:52):
David Hershkovits (39:53):
Vancouver itself, is such an interesting story that I don’t think, people really know enough about here.
Verena von Pfetten (40:01):
David Hershkovits (40:02):
As a kind of the Amsterdam of North America, of, of what it was all these years, prior to legalization.
Verena von Pfetten (40:08):
David Hershkovits (40:08):
Even after legalization, when I started going out there because I would visit Burb. I was kinda shocked to see that they still had, stores open in the main streets where you could go in and have a lounge.
Verena von Pfetten (40:22):
David Hershkovits (40:23):
And it was totally illegal, quotes, but nobody really bothered. What was that like, growing up in Vancouver? And give me a little taste for that as a kid.
Verena von Pfetten (40:34):
I grew up with really, really strict parents. So there was a little bit of a dichotomy, um, (laughs) there, in terms of my experience of it. But I definitely, like, weed was not criminalized in my mind, as a kid. I recognized, of course, some of that could have had to do with, like, the neighborhoods in which I was hanging out and smoking weed. But I certainly remember as a teenager like, I, I have, uh, the most visceral memory of, um, sharing a joint with some friends (laughs) near a playground, I think. And a couple of cops walking over and being like could you guys just like, take it down the block a little, bit? Like, at least just try to just hide it a little, bit.
David Hershkovits (41:19):
And how old were you then?
Verena von Pfetten (41:21):
Oh, I, I don’t know, 15 maybe? Young. (laughs) I recognize the immense amount of privilege in that story. And I would love to talk to, you know, those who don’t look like me and what their experience was and what neighborhoods they were in.
David Hershkovits (41:37):
Verena von Pfetten (41:37):
But I do think that there is something to Vancouver that cuts a little, bit beyond socio-economic or color of your skin, policing of weed. It was very much part of a culture, like, cannabis has been grown in British Columbia forever.
Verena von Pfetten (41:53):
I remember as a kid, we used to drive up into the interior BC, like, Kamloops, Vernon, Prince George. I did a lot of camping and, and outdoor stuff as a kid. And I remember even my parents pointing at the fields we were driving by. I think they were often marketed as ginseng fields.
David Hershkovits (42:11):
Oh, really? (laughs)
Verena von Pfetten (42:12):
Um, but they always, were, like, that’s weed. They’d be like, no. Those are all the cannabis fields. Like, you see them going by.
Verena von Pfetten (42:18):
So it was something that I just knew of, where it was part of the British Columbia ecosystem. I think it’s a similar experience to, maybe, how a lot of people who grew up in San Francisco or parts of California, feel about weed.
David Hershkovits (42:35):
Verena von Pfetten (42:35):
Where it just feels culturally there.
David Hershkovits (42:37):
Verena von Pfetten (42:37):
I remember coming to New York, for college and being extremely proud of BC bud. Once I finally smoked in the US and whatever I was getting in New York, in college, at the time was, probably, not very good. (laughs) Not very good. Um, and just being astonished. Sort of being like, oh, this is what you guys smoke? (laughing) Um, and also what that did to my tolerance when I went back, for the holidays or for summer. And I would try to smoke the weed that my friends were smoking and I’d be like, just laid out, um. (laughing) So yeah. I do feel some hometown pride. It’s just funny because it’s hard to get a sense of what the rest of the world thinks about it. But there is definitely a sense of pride if you are someone who smokes weed and you’re from British Columbia, you feel pretty good about the weed you’re smoking. (laughs)
David Hershkovits (43:31):
Yeah. And you grew up there and…
Verena von Pfetten (43:33):
David Hershkovits (43:34):
… just, unusual. ‘Cause then, when you come to New York, suddenly you have to hide everything. Uh, it’s you know…
Verena von Pfetten (43:40):
David Hershkovits (43:40):
… this is how we lived for like, forever. Now, you’re allowed to smoke in the street, apparently, right?
Verena von Pfetten (43:47):
David Hershkovits (43:47):
You can smoke in the street and feel…
Verena von Pfetten (43:48):
But it still feels weird. I still don’t feel super comfortable doing that, even though I know it’s fine. Also, I think, part of me feels like, maybe I’ll be fine. But is that really true for everyone else? It doesn’t feel like something that I feel comfortable taking advantage of, until I can feel assured that everyone has that same level of comfort. And I think, New York, unfortunately with the way it’s policed, is still a little, bit, far away from that.
David Hershkovits (44:21):
Yeah. Well, it’s much better, I’d have to say that.
Verena von Pfetten (44:23):
David Hershkovits (44:25):
And we’ll see, ’cause even now, with new laws, it’s hard to know exactly what’s gonna happen when they write-up it. ‘Cause they haven’t actually written that into law.
Verena von Pfetten (44:32):
Exactly, written, yeah.
David Hershkovits (44:34):
So we don’t really know what’s gonna happen. And we’re already hearing of people complaining about smelling weed on the street everywhere you go and things like that
Verena von Pfetten (44:45):
You’ll be fine, your kids will be fine, everyone’s gonna be fine. (laughing)
David Hershkovits (44:48):
The tagline for your magazine…
Verena von Pfetten (44:54):
David Hershkovits (44:54):
… is a magazine for people who also smoke. Which I love because that’s how I feel about this podcast,
Verena von Pfetten (45:00):
David Hershkovits (45:00):
…past as well, it’s not-
Verena von Pfetten (45:01):
David Hershkovits (45:01):
You know, today we’re talking a lot about weed because that’s kind of the subject. You have a magazine-
Verena von Pfetten (45:06):
David Hershkovits (45:06):
… and, uh, you know, that’s what we’re talking about. We’re talking about other things as well.
Verena von Pfetten (45:11):
David Hershkovits (45:12):
But sometimes they’ll have guests on that don’t have anything to do with it and we don’t even mention it-
Verena von Pfetten (45:17):
David Hershkovits (45:17):
But I feel like it still connects because the people who are still gonna be interested in those people, just because you smoke doesn’t mean … going back briefly to you and your partner, the yin and yang, the social and the more design side. Not to say you’re not into it but that was primarily his focus, basically, you know, as you were saying, I think it’s a great mix ’cause then you come up with something that has both elements and-
Verena von Pfetten (45:51):
David Hershkovits (45:52):
… you know, it’s really enjoyable, so-
Verena von Pfetten (45:54):
Snd for us it felt a little bit more inclusive. You were also talking about, going down the Instagram hole of women smoking weed and- Yeah, I work in this industry, and I’m the more public facing partner of the company, so I obviously am very comfortable talking about weed, but if not for that I would never be someone posting, hashtag women in business .
David Hershkovits (46:20):
Verena von Pfetten (46:21):
That’s (laughs) no judgement on what other people do. That’s just not, I don’t think that’s the most interesting thing about me, um, or that’s not the thing that I wanna put out first, and where that tagline came from was that exact feeling of if you’re introducing yourself to someone, you know, and you’re starting casual conversation, you’re not, hi, I’m Verena, I smoke weed, you know. That’s, like, the 10th thing-
David Hershkovits (46:43):
Verena von Pfetten (46:43):
… or the 12th thing or the 20th thing that someone (laughs)-
David Hershkovits (46:46):
No, we should try that. I think it would be cool (laughs).
Verena von Pfetten (46:49):
Yeah, that someone finds out about you. And so we wanted to speak to people who smoke weed but aren’t defined by that. In the same way, I love wine and I can get really into it, but I’m not a sommelier, and so my love of wine doesn’t define me. My love of weed doesn’t define me. That said, I think that there are certain attributes that we felt a community of people who smoke weed had in common. That’s not to say everybody because, you know, weed is also, uh, or cannabis is- very bipartisan. You know, most people don’t necessarily realize that, but it’s like 50/50 down the party lines in terms of, like, who likes weed and who wants it legalized for different reasons obviously.
Verena von Pfetten (47:33):
Not all weed smokers are the same, for us, the community that we wanted to reach and- and that we wanted to build or offer a space to are people who are curious. I think if you are willing to smoke weed or try a substance that is going to alter your perception, and that could be anything, you’re a little more open-minded and curious. You’re willing to put yourself in maybe a slightly uncomfortable space to look at something from a different perspective. I think you are probably, or can be, empathetic or more empathetic because you have a curiosity about other experiences and other people’s lived experiences. I think you are intellectually curious and culturally aware and possibly also care a little bit more about the environment.
Verena von Pfetten (48:21):
I’m sort of riffing, but these are all things that I felt like there’s a real community here in these … One thing that- that these people have in common could be that they smoke weed, um, and that that informs a lot of the way they look at the world. Again, that’s not everyone, but that’s the community we wanted to speak to.
David Hershkovits (48:40):
That’s your community, yeah, ’cause I’m thinking-
Verena von Pfetten (48:42):
David Hershkovits (48:42):
Those, uh, people who marched on- on Washington and to the Capitol building-
Verena von Pfetten (48:49):
David Hershkovits (48:49):
I imagine a lot of them were weed smokers.
Verena von Pfetten (48:51):
I’m sure. I’m certain.
David Hershkovits (48:53):
Right? But –
Verena von Pfetten (48:53):
No interest in reaching that community.
David Hershkovits (48:54):
Verena von Pfetten (48:55):
They can stay over there (laughs).
David Hershkovits (48:57):
Yeah, so just to say so, weed is not politicized. You know, people try to claim that that, uh, represents a certain segment, but no, you know, that’s really across all- all cultures.
Verena von Pfetten (49:08):
Yeah, and then the last thing I’ll say about the tagline, which like, you know, for people who also smoke weed, for us it also felt, open ended, you know. Well, what else do you do? I have an endless curiosity about the way humans, people in general, like the substances we engage with. This is something we’ve been doing for as long as there have been people, you know. They discover something that, across cultures and across time alters their lived experience, and they make something of it and that can be religious and that can be cultural and that can be societal, and I think that that’s a really interesting conversation.
Verena von Pfetten (49:48):
And as we are also progressing I’ll speak to the U.S. but certainly globally, around the stigmatization of some of these substances and the way they have been so divorced from their medical and cultural uses, but we could potentially be bringing those things back. I’m open, you know. I’m someone who said publicly, “I love mushrooms.” There are people for whom acid is really helpful, and- and I think the more that you have a conversation around these things and open that up and make sure it doesn’t define you, um, that’s more interesting.
Verena von Pfetten (50:24):
And then the last thing I’ll say is, also, you start to get older. I know I’m still not that old, I recognize that. I’m in my late 30s, but I certainly feel like I hit a point where all of a sudden I realized, like, everyone around me was just always doing drugs and no one talks about it (laughs).
David Hershkovits (50:39):
Verena von Pfetten (50:41):
I just think that there needs to be a little more conversation in the same way everyone grows up and realizes their parents smoked weed too, you know. If it wasn’t such a secret, what would the conversation actually look like?
Verena von Pfetten (50:56):
What would people’s experiences look like? How much healthier or safer might they feel if they had an understanding that, oh, wait, like, I’m not a deviant for trying this or- or being curious about this experience? That’s something that gets me excited and interested in furthering that conversation.
David Hershkovits (51:16):
And one last point if we have a few more minutes to talk about it is this-
Verena von Pfetten (51:20):
David Hershkovits (51:21):
… this legacy culture, you know, the culture of cannabis as it was-
Verena von Pfetten (51:24):
David Hershkovits (51:25):
Prior to when it was the ’80s, when the medical came in-
Verena von Pfetten (51:31):
David Hershkovits (51:31):
… with AIDS patients that was the entryway for a lot of what we’re talking about today, that opened the doors for where we are today. And so, what about all those people who have problems with the new- new cannabis world, with the corporate cannabis, with seeing liquor companies and cigarette companies moving into the space, people becoming CEOs of cannabis companies who have actually nothing to do with the culture or history.
Verena von Pfetten (52:06):
I have a lot of thoughts. I think the number one thing I feel and think is that people who are newer entrants to the cannabis industry need to educate themselves. I feel that about anything. If I’m gonna go do something that is new to me, I am going to research the shit out of it before I start doing it. That’s just how I operate. I wanna know what, I wanna make sure I’m coming in with context. I wanna make sure I have the baseline education in order to figure out how to do the thing I wanna do the most efficient way, the best way, the way that, again, will let me sleep at night.
Verena von Pfetten (52:48):
And so, I think anybody in this space should be taking a long hard look at themselves. I don’t think everyone has to do something for purely altruistic reasons. That’s not realistic. That’s not how this world works, but I think you certainly have an obligation to understand the history of what you are walking into, um, be as open-minded and as welcoming and ideally outright supportive of the people that paved the way for you to even be doing what you’re doing. I have a lot of these conversations publicly and I think the thing that really shocks me too is some of the types of people that we’re talking about.
Verena von Pfetten (53:41):
Let’s say, like, you know, some business school bros who decide they wanna come into cannabis ’cause … They don’t even like smoking weed but they know that they can make money and there’s, like, a business opportunity … Great, good for you for recognizing a business opportunity and probably figuring out how to- to earn some revenue off to it. I have no problem with that, that’s how you wanna live your life, go for it. I don’t understand how you can have a business background and not understand the marketing implications of what you’re trying to do, and if one of the things we already set out, uh, at the onset of this podcast is that, almost any brand, uh, that exists now is expected to have some sort of stance, um, or social mission. How do you exist in cannabis without participating in that?
Verena von Pfetten (54:27):
Even if the only fucking reason you’re doing it is for the marketing bottom line, even if the only reason you’re doing it is so that you can protect yourselves and make more money, I would at least argue that, like, if you’re doing it for the wrong reasons and you’re still doing it (laughs), and that’s what I want to see. I want to see every person who is participating in this space who is not a legacy member doing something to make it better, and the first step with that I think is education. I said this at the onset when I first thought about weed and what we could do in this space. I didn’t think about it from a social good, per social equity perspective. That was a conversation David and I had really early on where he was sort of like, you know, here’s what this action looks like, how it’s policed, who’s in prisons, what these prisons look like.
Verena von Pfetten (55:13):
It was conversations I had early on with other women, women of color, who were interested in this space and were like, “Holy shit, I love what you’re doing. I can’t believe that you can say it.” I still don’t feel comfortable saying it, you know. I remember talking to a young woman and saying she worked in the music industry, and that she would be in meetings with a bunch of men who all talked about smoking weed but she felt like she couldn’t even participate in that conversation because they would look at her like there was something wrong or bad or that she wasn’t as accomplished or successful or professional as they were. Um, and all of that happened before we even had a name for the company.
Verena von Pfetten (55:53):
I’m still learning, you know. I feel like I am still trying to make sure I understand what the ramifications are, uh, you know, the idea that the, the queer community is almost single-handedly responsible for pushing forward medical marijuana in the first place. Like, that’s a conversation that people need to be paying more attention to. We’ve talked a lot about people of color. We need to also make sure we are including the, you know, queer community in California who really, like, paved the way for this to happen and put literally their lives on the lines in order to be able to have access to this form of medicine, um, and, you know, do with that information what you will. I think everyone can figure out how that informs their decision-making but, you can’t make any good decisions if you don’t at least have the context.
David Hershkovits (56:45):
Well, thank you, Verena von Pfetten, for your educating us and helping us to understand what’s going on here, and I enjoy your magazine and look forward to more issues.
Verena von Pfetten (56:58):
Thank you for having me. This was a delight.