Bristol seems to be one of the major nesting grounds for indie mags in the UK, generating a multitude of thoughtful and well-designed publications, among which Lagom stands out as a bi-annual lifestyle magazine that explores the creative industries and delves into the lives of artists, designers and other creatives. Bearing the meaning of the Swedish word that can be loosely translated as “just the right amount”, Lagom was founded in 2014 by husband-and-wife team Samantha and Elliot Jay Stocks, and is now distributed across the globe as well as in several key places in the UK. Five years into their journey and with the 10th issue in the pipeline, we caught up with Sam and Elliot in the intimacy of their home where ‒ surrounded by the playful energy of their two young daughters, we chatted about their joint editorial venture, the perks of their collaborative relationship and their balanced approach to life.
Who are Sam and Elliot, the people behind Lagom Magazine? Tell us a bit about your backgrounds.
Sam: I’ve worked in editorial for 10 years and have always been drawn to writing. I went freelance in 2013 and very much enjoy the variety of work it brings me. I never know what project I’m going to be working on next. It brings with it an element of uncertainty, but it keeps things interesting!
Elliot: I’ve been a designer all of my professional life, initially focussing on web design. In 2010, I started the typography magazine 8 Faces, which was a reaction to the work I was doing on the web ‒ I wanted to make something more tangible; something that I could put on my bookshelf. This led to an increased interest in typography, print design, and publishing. When we closed 8 Faces after eight issues in 2014, Sam and I wanted to create something that would be equally our own ‒ 8 Faces was more my own thing ‒ and something that reached a wider audience.
What are your most vivid childhood memories?
Sam: I grew up in the countryside not far from Chester in Cheshire. We could see two castles from our house (Beeston Castle and Peckforton Castle), and my Mum was always dodging pheasants down the country lanes on our drive to and from school ‒ it felt like a bit of an eccentric place to grow up. I spent a lot of time outdoors and it instilled in me a real appreciation of nature and wildlife. When I wasn’t outside (or watching TV!) I was generally writing or drawing stories. I think I spent more time doing that in my notebooks at primary school than learning the things we were supposed to be learning! But fortunately the teachers there were really understanding ‒ they knew I was creative and they encouraged that side of me rather than discouraged it.
Elliot: I had a somewhat different upbringing to Sam, having grown up in a London suburb. However, some of my most poignant childhood memories were to do with the countryside, such as early family holidays to the Cotswolds, or the huge amount of time I spent playing outdoors in the woods behind our house. I think my first ever memory was watching the sunset with my Dad. Without question, though, I spent the vast majority of my childhood sat at the dining room table, drawing, drawing, and drawing.
How did you two meet?
Sam: We met online, back in the days where it wasn’t cool to meet someone online! We didn’t do ‘online dating’, but we got to know each other quite well as friends over email over a 6-month period before we finally met in London.
Elliot: It’s funny to think how it’s so normalised these days. Back then, our friends thought we were crazy.
Tell us a bit about your collaborative relationship. How do you influence each other and what are the most striking similarities between your visions?
Sam: I love working with Elliot ‒ I find him an inspiring and motivating person to be around. He has one of my favourite qualities in a person in that when he says he’s going to do something (even if it sounds like it’s something that probably won’t work out!), he goes ahead and gets it done. He’s a positive person ‒ in a work situation you couldn’t ask for better than that! Good for morale! I think the most striking similarity between our visions is that we share a general life view, which we can’t help but incorporate into our work outlook, and therefore our output.
Elliot: Ah, I’m blushing now! But yeah, I really love working with Sam. We’re partners in life, we’re partners in raising our family, we’re partners in business ‒ I don’t think these things really need to be separate. If you love someone, and you get on with them to the point of wanting to be with them for the majority of the time, and you feel the same way about things in life, then why should you not combine powers whenever possible? It’s hugely rewarding to be supported by your partner, to go through the same elations and struggles together. I feel like Sam always has my back, even during the tougher times.
What about the differences?
Sam: There are generally minor more pinickerty details that we can sometimes squabble over! And we have different methods and ways of working. I tend to procrastinate more!
Elliot: Yeah, I guess I get hung up on the details ‒ the typography, the particular images we select, that sort of thing ‒ but Sam always sees the bigger picture stuff. It was Sam who came up with our three pillars (Visit, Create, Unwind), and I feel like she’s always reminding me of how the whole thing works together. I’m proud of what we’ve achieved together, and I can confidently say that it’s a significantly better end result than if either of us had tried to go it alone.
What is the most frequent subject of your conversations?
Sam: At the moment it’s what’s to come next. We’re both driven creatively and we’re both keen to be more productive. As we have two young children, that’s difficult to achieve! But our oldest will soon be in school, while our youngest will be starting nursery, so it will give us just a bit more time to work on things other than parenting! Apart from those more interesting conversations about future projects, the most frequent subject we talk about is kids, and more tedious things, like what we need to do in the house and garden ‒ life!
Elliot: And just generally lamenting the end of Game of Thrones.
Tell us about the inception of Lagom magazine. What made it worth pursuing and what perspective on design, travel and lifestyle are you trying to convey?
Sam: We had worked together before starting the magazine, and knew we wanted to work together and wanted to try to make it a more ongoing thing. We liked the idea of creating the kind of magazine that we would want to read ourselves ‒ something inspiring yet down-to-earth.
How would you describe Lagom’s voice alongside other lifestyle blogs and magazines?
Sam: We like to think we portray a level of aspiration that’s achievable. We don’t want to sell an unattainable dream; we want to tell the stories of people who’ve set off to start out on their own, and want to celebrate those who think outside the box. I personally find it motivating in continuing our own independent journey ‒ it’s great to hear about and meet other people who think about things in a similar way.
Elliot: A lot of people have told us that they appreciate the magazine for how down-to-earth it is, and that makes us really happy. There aren’t many explicit goals we have, but that’s definitely one of them. That said, we don’t see ourselves as arts-and-craft-y, or twee. There’s a middle ground there, and hopefully we occupy it.
What are the biggest challenges of running an independent magazine?
Sam: There are so many challenges. Having enough time and having enough money are definitely the two biggest ones! I’ve had to step back a lot recently having had our second child (who is now 16 months old), and as we don’t have the budget to hire anyone else to help with the running of the magazine, time has definitely been a struggle. People often think we’re a bigger team than we are, but the reality is it’s just the two of us ‒ although the latest issue has pretty much been Elliot as a one-man show!
Elliot: Oh, I don’t know about that. I mean, we have so many great contributors ‒ we owe most of it to them. In this issue in particular, I feel like we’ve got some especially strong content. But yeah, the financial side of things can be a challenge because, ultimately, whether you’re an indie mag or a massive, mainstream publisher, the only real way to make money is through advertising. Unit sales will never generate decent revenue alone. But in order to pull in advertising, you need to have someone who’s specialised in that area. Neither of us are, and in many ways we could do with taking on someone who is ‒ but it’s a catch-22 situation: you need to make the money to justify that salary. And that’s a hard hurdle to cross for any organisation, I think, especially one as tiny as ours.
Elliot, you are also the photographer behind some of the Lagom stories. Can you tell us about your approach to photography and what are you seeking for when portraying people in their environment?
Elliot: I think my main aim is simply to convey to the reader what it’s like to be in a certain place, or with a certain person, portraying the atmosphere of the moment. Honestly, it’s as simple as that. Some of my favourite portraits have not been particularly grand, but just ones where someone is clearly in their element, in that moment.
Sam, from the Editorial Director’s perspective, what are some of the perks and hardships of creating meaningful content?
Sam: The perks are definitely learning about and meeting others who have set out to become independent. It’s nice to hear from other people who are driven not by money or by climbing the career ladder, but by passion for their work. Because of this, people will generally have genuinely interesting, and often very meaningful things that they want to talk about when we interview them or ask them to write a piece for us. Occasionally this doesn’t transpire, and sometimes a location we’re featuring won’t have quite a compelling backstory, for example. It can also be a challenge to find content that is varied enough: we like to include stories from a range of locations around the world, and from men and women who come from different backgrounds, and having a good range across each issue is often the most difficult thing to do.
Elliot, you are also an electronic musician recording as Other Form, and you recently released a split EP with Decka on the label Unterwegs. Tell us about your passion for electronic music; how did it all start and where would you like to take it to?
Elliot: I’ve always made music on the side, but I started to get a bit more serious with it in recent years, around the time I discovered techno and analogue synths. In 2017 I started a label to release my own music as Other Form, and then from that point I’ve been trying to spend more and more time on music, collaborating with other musicians, doing remixes, putting out a few DJ mixes for podcasts, and of course working on new original material. A couple of months ago, I released the split EP on Unterwegs, and I’ve got some new stuff in the works, too. Right now, I’m aching to get into live performance, and start touring with some of my hardware.
Lagom was born in 2014. How has the independent publishing scene both in Bristol and worldwide changed since its first issue and what do you think is driving the transformation of the printed magazine culture?
Sam: There has definitely been a surge of interest in independent publishing, and an increased demand for it. I’m aware of much larger publishers trying to replicate the look and feel of indie mags in addition to the more traditional glossy mags they produce. I think what’s driving it is an increased desire for something more tangible in so many areas. Vinyl is enjoying a great comeback, for example. I think it has a lot to do with social media and massive advances in the digital world ‒ perhaps people like to escape this by turning to things they can touch in the ‘real world’: putting on a record instead of asking Alexa to play music on Spotify; and picking up a magazine with pages that feel nice to leaf through instead of scrolling through feeds on screen can give people a sense of connecting more with the immediate world around them. It’s much more of a sensory experience that perhaps has been lost to an extent by turning more to screens.
Elliot: I think one of the most significant things is that around the turn of this decade, the iPad came along and all these magazines started making iPad editions, and everyone said it was the end of print. Fast forward a few years, and I’m not sure the independent publishing scene has ever been more vibrant, prolific, or popular.
What makes the city of Bristol the perfect hotbed for Lagom?
Sam: We moved to Bristol on a whim because we liked the atmosphere. It seemed to have a lot going on, and it felt friendly. First impressions didn’t disappoint and we’ve remained here since (although we live in a village a little drive out). I think it’s the perfect hotbed for Lagom, because it’s perfect for us! We live in the countryside, with fantastic walks and a great community, and just a short drive away Bristol offers us great music, art, and great food and drink (we do enjoy eating!). It just so happens that there is a really good community here for independent publishing. Who knows why ‒ maybe the creative community just motivate one-another!
Elliot: Yeah, Bristol is permeated by an independent spirit, whether it’s the coffee shops, the breweries, the local businesses, or the vast number of creative folks living here. It’s also a real draw for people trying to live more conscious lifestyles, and naturally that’s woven into so many of the independent businesses here.
How do you deal with the fact that so many people nowadays read online, a medium that facilitates a direct input through comments and sharing? What’s your take on print vs. digital and how does a printed magazine interact with its readers?
Sam: I think I covered this in one of my answers above, so I’ll let Elliot cover this one!
Elliot: I think we’ve swung back and forth between how important the digital side of things really is. It’s 2019, so not having an online presence, or not having active social channels, just isn’t really an option. But at the same time, maintaining these things is hugely resource-intensive, and honestly, times when we’ve put loads of effort into the digital side of things haven’t yielded great results in terms of magazine sales or advertiser enquiries or general awareness. Of course, it’s hard to quantify this stuff. Loosely, the more we post on Instagram, the more online orders we get, but still, we try to keep the focus on the printed magazine itself, and when we do stuff online, it’s considered. These days we’re very much taking a quality-over-quantity approach. We tried the opposite and it didn’t work ‒ or feel right. Most importantly, I think we all collectively need to move away from this idea that the more likes or shares or comments or whatever is in some way a meaningful measure of success.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned about yourselves since starting Lagom?
Sam: That’s a tough question to answer! It’s been a brilliant learning experience, and that combined with having two kids and taking more time stepping back from work has been interesting and insightful. I love working for myself, and most of all I love the experience of making, from having the idea for the magazine to seeing it all the way through to getting it printed and seeing it on shelves in shops from Bristol to London and much further afield. I feel like it’s possible to achieve what you really put your mind to achieving. I don’t think I realised this fully before, and it’s definitely a realisation that I want to keep at the front of my mind going forward.
Elliot: I was surprised to learn that I really quite enjoy a lot of the logistical, organisational side of things. It’s not as sexy as the designing, or the writing, or the photographing ‒ the stuff that makes people start a magazine in the first place ‒ but it’s very rewarding being able to bring something together and put a physical artefact out there in the world. For that to happen, a lot needs to happen behind-the-scenes.
What stands out to you in terms of leading a balanced life?
Sam: That it’s hard to accomplish, and there is always a level of compromise to be had. Life goes through many phases and changes, so it’s always important to reassess what you want to achieve in terms of balance, and make adjustments when and where necessary.
Elliot: That’s a great answer! Yes, ‘balance’ is totally a moving target.
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Sam: Probably Elliot telling me to stay positive, and to try my hand at doing different endeavours even if I think they’re doomed to fail! If you don’t try, you’ll never know, and you’ll always wonder.
Elliot: That there’s never going to be the ‘right’ time to indulge in your passion project, so just do it now. I very much subscribe to the advice given in Elle Luna’s The Crossroads of Should and Must.
What lies in store for the readers of Lagom #10?
Sam: Some beautiful photography ‒ some of the best yet, in fact ‒ and a stunning guide to Tokyo’s best coffee shops.
What does the future hold for you?
Sam: That’s always something to ponder! Hopefully much more creative output, including written and illustrative ‒ I have plenty of ideas I’m determined to see through to fruition… when I have the time!
Elliot: Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve started to get pretty serious about music-making recently, and I’d really like to spend more and more time on that. There are also some changes coming to Lagom in the near future. A tenth issue feels like a milestone ‒ as does five years.
Finally, can you recommend us:
A place to visit:
Sam: Little Victories at Bristol’s Wapping Wharf is a lovely little coffee shop serving beautiful coffee, right next to the harbourside where you can walk along beside the boats and see the SS Great Britain in the distance.
A place to escape:
Sam: The Jurassic coastline isn’t too far a drive from us, so it’s a good place to be able to escape to without needing to do much planning! Branscombe Bay has good walks, a lovely cafe serving cake (I love me some cake), and it can be a beautiful place to swim toward the end of summer.
A place to unwind:
Sam: Chew Valley has some beautiful walks for people who like to get outdoors and enjoy a bit of space, from woodlands and moors, to riverside and lakeside walks.