Creative Chats | Caroline Rowland – founding editor of 91 Magazine
We have had some wonderful creative businesses enrol on our Online Course and come along to our Pinterest Workshops. We have so enjoyed connecting with them online and in person and thought it would be great to share our Creative Chats with you here on our blog!
We have reached out to these artists, designers, makers and small business owners to share their business story with us. Details of their creative process, where they find inspiration and the highs and lows of running their own business.
Our 9th Creative Chat is with Caroline Rowland, founding editor of 91 Magazine, an independent interiors & lifestyle print magazine.
Tell us about your magazine and what is the story behind it?
91 Magazine is an independent interiors and lifestyle magazine which I founded back in 2011. I was working as a picture editor for the Financial Times but had also been blogging about interiors for a few years in my spare time. I loved blogging, but my experience working on a newspaper really made me want to create something with beautiful layouts which wasn’t really possible via blogging platforms. I’d also started to feel like none of the existing mainstream interior magazines were grabbing my attention anymore, so I wondered if I could fill the gap between high end interior magazines and the budget buy titles. So, I decided to go for it and launched 91 Magazine as an online publication initially. It was free to read back then, and I didn’t make any money from it, so after my daughter was born in 2014, I took a short break from publishing it to decide what to do. I’d taken redundancy in 2013, so I knew it had to become a proper business or I’d have to find something else to do. In 2016, I relaunched it as a biannual print magazine and I now work on it full time. The focus is very much on the interior spaces of creative people – their homes and workplaces – and we champion small independent business, both in the magazine and through our blog, quarterly e-zine and online workshops.
What is your favourite thing about your magazine and what are you most proud of?
There are lots of things I love about the magazine – I love the process of bringing it together, even though it can be stressful at times! I love the connections it makes between the creative community, and I love hearing from readers and how the magazine has brought them inspiration and joy, especially those who had almost given up on print magazines. Last year we published a bumper Special Anniversary Edition which was to celebrate 10 years since the magazine launched, and I am super proud of that. It really encapsulates everything that 91 is about and I think it’s really beautiful. I’m also proud to have been shortlisted for a BSME (British Society of Magazine Editors) award for two years running. Even though I didn’t win, it was an honour to be shortlisted alongside some of the well-known mainstream magazines, and to be representing the independent magazine community.
What is your background?
I’m originally from a small village in Northern Ireland and was always interested in art and being creative when I was young. I also studied ballet for my entire childhood, right up until I was about 19. I left school at 16 to go to art college in Belfast and after that I went on to do a degree in photography in London. I soon realised I didn’t want to be a photographer, but I knew I loved curating images so moving into publishing seemed the right path. Initially I really struggled to find a job in magazines, so I worked for Getty Images – one of the world’s biggest picture agencies – for a few years. I then ended up getting a job on the FT Weekend House & Home supplement as a picture editor. I learnt a lot there about how to put a publication together, but I’ve also learnt a lot on the job when I started publishing 91 on my own!
What do you enjoy about running your own business and which parts come most easily to you?
Like most self-employed people I love the freedom. I took redundancy from my job a year before my daughter was born, and I’m so thankful I did as I’ve been able to work around being a mother. I love that I always wake up in the morning and look forward to work, rather than dreading it. I really enjoy the curation side of making the magazine, pulling all the features together and making it all look beautiful.
What don’t you enjoy, what do you find difficult, and what are the challenges?
There are SO many challenges! Particularly in the last few years. We generally have to have a number of back up options for content as our ‘perfect’ line up for an issue doesn’t all work out, as sometimes there are reasons why we can’t feature someone. We often find ourselves going back to the drawing board which can be hard. I also find the sales side of it hard work – I’m not a natural salesperson and hate having to constantly promote the business, but it’s what you have to do! Publishing an independent magazine certainly isn’t as easy as it may look from the outside and many don’t survive very long, so I’m very grateful that 91 has made it this far!
Who is your perfect/ideal customer and what do they value from you?
I believe our readers are people who appreciate independent business; they love to support small brands and value authenticity and creativity. They enjoy creating a beautiful home that has personality and get inspired by other creative people that they see in the magazine. There is a really supportive community around the magazine, from my team and contributors to our stockists, advertisers and readers, it’s so lovely to have that.
Can you tell us about your creative process?
The process of bringing an issue of the magazine together begins with a loose theme. The theme helps myself and my editorial team to start building ideas through research and we have a Pinterest board which we are constantly adding possible locations to that we might like to feature. I also throw the theme out to our contributors who can put forward suggestions as well. We then have an editorial meeting and run through the ideas we have and work out a rough line up for the issue. As I said before, we usually have an ‘ideal’ plan, but we have to have some back up ideas too. We then start contacting people to see if they would like to be featured and then we start commissioning the photographers, writers and illustrators.
While contributors are working on shoots, writing copy etc, we then focus a bit on other things like ad sales. Once copy and images start flowing in, everything is edited and then my designer starts putting together the layouts. I am regularly checking them and tweaking them until we eventually have the final spreads, which are carefully proof-read and then the artwork is prepared for the printers. That is kind of it in a nutshell, but there is so much more going on around all of that!
Where do you work from and do you work on your own?
I work from home from one of our bedrooms which I turned into my office. I have a lot of books and magazines around me, and need space for packing orders, so I’m very thankful that we have room for me to spread out and do this. My husband works from home now too since the pandemic happened, but he works downstairs in the dining room. I can’t really have too much distraction as I only work until 3pm when I have to go collect my daughter from school, so it’s best we sit separately! I have a team of six other wonderful women that work part time for me, but everyone works remotely, and we just catch up over email, phone and occasionally in person. I couldn’t do it without them, they are all amazing!
Where does your content and design inspiration come from?
Our team does a lot of research online through Instagram, Pinterest, blogs, etc. or sometimes it’s just somewhere one of us has come across when out and about or on holiday. Sometimes people approach us directly to submit their home, shop or studio for a feature too. When it comes to new business ideas, I find they often come to me when I’m in the shower! – or other times when I’m not distracted by phones or screens – those times when your brain actually has a chance to think!
Do you have any news you’re excited about and you would like to share with us?
At the moment, I am having a brand-new website built by Studio Cotton which is due to launch in the Spring. We’ve been working on a few updates to the branding too and I’m so excited to see the website go live. We have got so much lovely content on our blog and across our other platforms (e-zines, online workshops etc), I really wanted to showcase it better and make it easier to navigate, so hopefully the new website will do this.
What are your passions and interests?
My main passion is definitely my work and I’m so happy I’m able to do what I love for a living. But outside of that, I enjoy doing a little bit of yoga every day if I can, and I really enjoy gardening too. I love growing things from seed and I find time spent in the garden really helps me if I’m ever feeling down or anxious. It’s a really mindful activity which you can get fully immersed in for a little while.
What was the best thing you learned from our Pinterest course and one-to-one session that has helped your business?
There are so many things! Aiming to pin every day has proved really beneficial and using Tailwind for this has been a revelation. Our recent one-to-one session really helped me to understand how to interpret the Pinterest analytics and how to use them and I’ve also learnt ways to not only drive traffic to my website through Pinterest but how to convert those visitors into customers.