14 Feb Episode #11: Paul Lowe from Sweet Paul Magazine
A publication where perfection is boring.
Today I’ll be talking to Paul Lowe. Paul is the Author of ‘Sweet Paul: Eat & Make‘ and Editor in Chief of Sweet Paul Magazine. Sweet Paul Magazine is a lifestyle magazine for anyone looking to make simple, elegant meals and stylishly easy crafts for the home.
What we talked about:
- Rediscovering your career in a new country: new culture, new approach.
- How a side project that starts as something to outfit your own creativity can become your full time business later on.
- Dealing with bullies online and how to grow a thick skin to not let them affect you.
- How an opportunity that knocks your door and seem impossible, will be the stepping stone of your empire.
- Being relatable online and put perfection on the side so your readers can feel encouraged to try your crafts and recipes.
I grew up is Oslo, Norway. I grew up with parents who worked a lot. They owned like a chain of restaurants and you know, were gone, you know a lot. So I ... was brought up by my grandmother and my great aunts and they were, you know, they were very old school, you know they made everything from scratch.
Words from Paul:
Jennifer Dopazo: Hi Paul. Thank you, welcome to The Fabricant Way. I’m so excited to have you here. I’ve been, you know, reading your magazine and just, I’ve been a fan for you for a while and I’m really really excited to have you here today.
Paul Lowe: Thank you. I’m excited to be here.
Jennifer Dopazo: So, for those of the people listening that are not familiar with Sweet Paul, which I love the name by the way, can you talk to us a little bit about you’re journey, how it all started, and how you got where you are today?
Paul Lowe: Well I think we have to start with the beginning. I think we have to start with why I’m Sweet Paul.
Jennifer Dopazo: Yes, okay.
Paul Lowe: That’s the question I get, you know, ten times a day.
Jennifer Dopazo: Aww
Paul Lowe: Why are you called Sweet Paul. And usually I say, well look at me I’m really freaking sweet. But, um, other than that, I grew up in Oslo, Norway. And my grandmother, who moved to America for a few years. She came back. She used to babysit me and she would call me Sweet Paul. And it kind of, I don’t know, it kind of stuck. So when I started my blog, about … oooh … maybe, oh God, maybe 9, 8, 9 years ago I was trying to figure out what to call it, and then I was like, oh Sweet Paul that’s kind of a cool name for a blog. So that’s how that kind of come about.
Jennifer Dopazo: I love that story. Yeah, I was also wondering the same thing. And I remember the first time I found out about it. And I think it was through some furniture designers that I was just checking out and they were having extra features in your magazine. And I was just like this is the best thing ever. And realized he’s Paul, Sweet Paul, oh my God that’s amazing.
Paul Lowe: Thank You.
Jennifer Dopazo: And then, starting a blog, I was reading and listening to different interviews. I know it started as a blog, then became a magazine, an online magazine, and you did the book and then you actually have a printed magazine. So can you walk us through about, why the book, when did you started it and the whole different mediums you are working on right now?
Paul Lowe: Yes, I started the blog and I always say I kind of started it out of blog envy. Because a friend of mine had a blog and she was like you know, whenever I talk to her she was like, “You know, I can’t really talk to you right now because I’m blogging”. I was like, (heavy laughing) I have to blog. Because you know I want to get comments and stuff. Because she got comments, I was like that’s so cool I want to get comments. So … and then I thought about, oh, what am I, you know what am I blogging about. Cause I didn’t want you know, I didn’t want to start another like, I call them shopping blog where it’s just like pretty pictures of things to buy.
Jennifer Dopazo: Mmmmm…
Paul Lowe: So, I came up with the idea that, I’m going to blog about myself and my work. So I kind of did my blog instead of a website. Back then I worked through the prop stylist here in New York. And it’s kind of you know, everyone has a website, but I thought, oh I think it’ll look cooler if I just turn it into a blog. So how that’s the way that started. And then … a few years later I sort of came up with the idea.
The idea of having my own magazine has always kind of lurked in the back of my head, but unless your last name is Rockefeller or you know, Hurst, it’s difficult because you know, it’s a lot of money. But then, the whole, online magazine thing came about and I was thinking, oh I can do that. So that’s how it started. And I started it as something outfits my own creativity. I just wanted to have something that was mine. No one could tell me, oh I don’t like blue plates, I don’t like your backgrounds. I just wanted to do something that was completely mine. And it just, you know, it kind of, it just took off.
And then after … I think after 5 issues online, about a year, Anthropology contacted me and said oh we love your magazine, we want to sell it. And I responded well you know that’s very flattering, but it’s an online magazine, so I think that’s going to be a little difficult. But they were very persistent, and they made sure that … they helped me find a printer, they helped me sort of like through that whole sort of process of having a print magazine. So I will have printed eventually, but maybe not that fast. So you can kind of thank Anthropology so I can print a magazine that fast.
Jennifer Dopazo: That’s fascinating.
Paul Lowe: Yeah, it’s great because you know they, and many companies like them are always looking for like, you know, for new things. Things that you know their readers or their people that go to their stores would like. And to this day, Anthropology is our biggest retailer.
Jennifer Dopazo: Mmmm … Were you still working as a prop stylist when you were with the magazine, or was there a point, like how …cause you say that it was an outlet and I can’t imagine how you were just doing the things that maybe you couldn’t do as a job, right? Because of clients, or whatever the type of project you were working on, so I was wondering if that was something that you were sort of like a side hustle sort of thing, like maybe that? Because you mentioned it was like your outlet. How long, how far along into the magazine were you still working as a prop stylist?
Paul Lowe: Yeah, it started basically as a side project. So it was just something I wanted to do on the side. And then, very fast it turned into like my full-time job. I would say, maybe like, you know two years after it completely turned into my full-time job. And you know, it was a great way for me to show off what I wanted to do. But you know, I also have a lot of friends who are photographers, and stylists, you know chefs, and I was, you know, very open to that. And I said hey, do you guys want to make some stuff for my magazine? You know, there’s no money, but you know, but it’s presented beautifully and you know you can use the tear sheets. People were super into it. And to this day, everyday I get emails from people all over the world who want to do stuff for the magazine and you know, so I’m always amazed by how much talent there is out there. You know, I would love to take it all, but you know I have to have a magazine that comes out every week.
Jennifer Dopazo: Yeah, that’s amazing, I can’t imagine how you feel just having all those people like reaching out to you and wanting to use the space you created for them to also have that outlet right, like share their work and just share what they do and what their about.
Paul Lowe: Yeah, a lot of people are looking for that kind of, you know, that kind of outlet. I’ve got into contact with so many amazing people. Right now in the magazine, you know, we have people working for us in Sweden, Norway, Germany, Australia, France, Asia, it’s like all over. I just love how the internet has sort of changed our whole like work environment. Like Sweet Paul, we don’t have an office. Everyone that works at Sweet Paul kind of works out of their, you know, second bedroom or their living room. We only have two full-time and everyone else is just free lance and it’s completely doable. You know, we don’t have to have to see each other all the time. You know if you want to have meetings we will have it Skype or Gchat, you know. The great thing is it saves us a ton of money because, you know, we don’t have to have a fancy office somewhere. The only downfall is of course when people email me and say “oh, can we come visit you at your office or your studio” and I’m like, I don’t think that’s going to happen because it’s my second bedroom.
Jennifer Dopazo: Yeah, that happens and I think, and that’s true I mean there are so many businesses. I do admire people who have brick and mortar businesses and for me that’s a whole different monster and a mystery. But I think the fact that we work with the internet it allows us to replace the overheard of a space for working and we live in New York. Even people who work in spaces are getting a little bit, over their heads with prices.
And there are so many, you know, even friends of mine and even myself though it’s kinda like remote teams or virtual agencies or virtual studios where everyone, you know, even if you live in the same city, you just, you know working from the own the space you have. I mean you might have an office space you might be from home but that works. And I think it’s really fascinating how like you said, so many people from around the world helping you make Sweet Paul. And that even opens the pool of your options for the people who come to work with you right?
Paul Lowe: Oh Yeah Absolutely, absolutely. The only drawback with like, of course, sitting alone in your second bedroom is that, you know, there are some days that where you don’t leave the house, so it’s a little, you know, it’s a little lonely … sometimes. So sometimes I just have to like really force myself to okay, lets put on pants and lets go outside.
Jennifer Dopazo: I know.
Paul Lowe: I have two dogs, I have two frenchies and they … and they you know, they have to get out so.
Jennifer Dopazo: Okay that’s a good excuse.
Paul Lowe: I do get some fresh air.
Jennifer Dopazo: Yeah, maybe just some coffee dates then with like friends.
Paul Lowe: Yeah exactly.
Jennifer Dopazo: So and I love the whole story and I was listening to your interview with Grace Bonney, which it was so sweet and I loved it and I had so much fun. I listened to it yesterday. There was this whole idea of how your love for cooking and crafting and it just comes from your family and they really, you know, kinda like they injected this interest in you and I was wondering if you could share a little bit more about that with us. And
I’m assuming it has to do you know with, your childhood and even like culturally where you come from so can you share a little bit about that with us?
Paul Lowe: Yeah, no completely it’s all about my childhood, as I said I grew up is Oslo, Norway. I grew up with parents who worked a lot. They owned like a chain of restaurants and you know, were gone, you know a lot.
So I … was brought up by my grandmother and my great aunts and they were, you know, they were very old school, you know they made everything from scratch. You know they cooked and cleaned and, you know sewed and crafted. They realized from a very early age that I was interested in what they were doing and they were smart because they let me help. So I was like five and I had my own little chopping block and my own you know little, very dull knife. So they helped me, they showed me how to make things. By when I started school I could make like cakes and cookies and I could make Bechamel sauce and tomato sauce. You know it was definitely a household that was, you know, all around you know, cooking and eating and crafting and sort of enjoying life.
We had a big garden. Summer and fall we would, you know, take everything from the garden and make chutneys and jam, you know, different kinds of liquids. It was kind of amazing. It was a really amazing childhood. I always say to people who has kids, you know, try to get them interested in you know, cooking and crafting and stuff. Because I do believe that if there are more cooks and crafters in the world it’s actually a better place.
Jennifer Dopazo: I love that. And I’m assuming that has to do then with you becoming a prop stylist as you mentioned, the interest for that.
Paul Lowe: Yeah
Jennifer Dopazo: Did that, so did you work as a prop stylist back in Norway or was that something that you started here in New York?
Paul Lowe: No, I did. I worked, I started out as a florist.
Jennifer Dopazo: Okay.
Paul Lowe: And I turned into to prop suite stylist back then. I worked there for like 25 years. Then I moved here about 10 years ago. And I did the same here. I just felt that it was really different working here from working, you know, around Europe that I was used to. I feel like for instance much freer in Europe. I wasn’t really super happy with the jobs I got, I felt like I wasn’t being used to my full potential and that’s kinda of like why I started the side project with the magazine. Because I was like I need to get, I need to get an outlet.
And I also have a very different, you know, philosophy with food and stuff because I … I come from, my grandmother would always say, “perfection is boring”. And I so agree and I remember when I moved here it was still like that whole trend where I felt everything looked very plastic. You know, it was chicken, it was like perfectly plump, painted. It looked like it was like painted golden chicken, and you know it was painted, that’s why it would look like that. Well I want to show a chicken that actually looks like someone has made, you know. It’s a little, you know, it’s not completely evenly brown, it has like some little black spots and its a little wrinkly.
It’s taken me a little while to sort of like get people to understand where I was coming from that is, you know, that is real food, that is actually how people cook. It’s more, how should I say it. It takes away the mystery and it makes it a little more approachable when you show things that’s not so perfect and we also try to do that with the magazine. I’m never interested in like, I’m never interested in showing like a perfect, completely even chocolate cake. If I make a cake for a shoot for my magazine and it is a little lopsided, I will show it lopsided because it’s still super delicious, it’s all about the flavor and I feel like if I do that and people are like, oh well if he shows it then, you know I shouldn’t be so upset if my cakes come out a little lopsided. Cause lets face it, you know, cakes sometimes unfortunately come out a little lopsided. So there’s nothing wrong with it, as long as it tastes good.
Jennifer Dopazo: That’s, I mean, I love that, because my main thing with when I go to these websites with beautiful recipes and beautiful photography is that, I do know that my dish is not going to look the same.
So it’s kind of like, uh … okay let’s just try this. And I love that you say, that its just kinda making it approachable. It’s the truth, that’s how cooking looks like right? It’s not always perfect, it’s not always symmetrical.
Paul Lowe: No, the main thing is that it taste good. And I remember … I remember the first time I heard that expression, I think I was like maybe six. My grandmother had made me a chocolate cake for my birthday and the other kids were about to come and she put the cake on the table and I look at it and I look at her and I’m like….grandma it’s a little, it’s a little like crooked. And she looks at me and I can still remember like she took a puff at her cigarette, “Oh honey, perfection is so boring”. So that kind of where it came from and it’s always …I don’t know it’s always in the back of my head.
Jennifer Dopazo: It’s great, I love it. And I read that on your website and I was actually….Because you mention that’s your motto, right? “Perfection is boring” And the one thing, so how do you keep it up? How do you keep reminding yourself of about that? Is it something that it’s with you all the time or you have to keep being like, you have your moments during the day?
Paul Lowe: No, it’s kinda with me all the time. It’s also like, you know, what is also means is don’t sweat the small things, there’s more important things in life to get upset about, then you know a lopsided chocolate cake. Or you made curtains and the seams aren’t exactly straight. Who cares as long as it looks good, as long as it’s chic and as long as it tastes good, then I don’t care.
Jennifer Dopazo: That’s wonderful. Really lovely.
Paul Lowe: And also, I think it’s very important for people to understand that I didn’t, I didn’t want to make a magazine to show you how clever I am, to show you how amazing I am at all kinds of things. I wanted to show you, I wanted to give you a magazine that you could actually use. That’s why we very …you know we make sure all of the recipes are easy, they’re doable, you don’t have to go to like five different stores to find it. Our craft projects are like, you know, they’re easy, they’re doable, they’re chic. Because I feel like, you know, we all want to be creative. We all want to be creative like, maybe, some of us every day, some of us maybe once a week. And we don’t want to … in my mind, I’m not going to show people a craft project that’s going to take three days. I can show you something we were called to do in 30 minutes, with you know, few things that you need, you don’t have to spend $250 to create something fabulous. You can make any [inaudible 00:18:59] I mean and they say, oh that’s cool, where did you get that, you can be like “made it myself”.
That for me is the ultimate. And when people like tell me that they made it and it looks good or it tastes good, that’s like for me is the ultimate …the ultimate gratification.
Jennifer Dopazo: Definitely. And I think most of the times we’re the only ones are going to be aware or see those details that we think make what we are doing away from perfection. And if you think about it the people around you they won’t even notice.
Paul Lowe: No they’ll notice, and that really annoys me so I feel like this like crafts and like cooking like slut shaming. You know if you make something that’s not perfect and put it online and people kind of make fun of it and then you’re going to end up on some website where its like, oh 50 most horrendous craft projects ever, like craft disasters. And I don’t like that, I feel you know, at least I tried.
Jennifer Dopazo: That’s awful.
Paul Lowe: I’m sure these people that have these websites they never tried, they never did anything. It’s the same thing, it’s kind of the same thing if I post. We have a strong social media following and you know sometimes people can be a little, sometimes people can be mean. They complained about oh well you’re doing this, you’re doing that. Kind of my response is, Okay, well why don’t you show me your magazine, you know, at least I’m trying to do something.
Jennifer Dopazo: Yeah, that’s pretty common, yeah the snarkiness of the internet is just something that … there’s very dark corners online that …
Paul Lowe: Yep, I mean we kind of stopped it with the whole root approach. Oh don’t get direct with them, don’t say anything but we cut off that, we were kind like if you’re bitches with us, we are going to give it right back to you.
Jennifer Dopazo: I love it. Yeah because I feel like most of the time the whole thing with the haters, you try to ignore them and be graceful about it, but yeah. I meant it’s I don’t know sometimes it’s like people I follow or even companies or brands that I follow that I love I see some comments and I’m like really, you just took some time of your day to write this awful thing and I mean why, why are you doing and I mean how’s this even making it better. There’s too much of that.
Paul Lowe: It’s not making it better. That’s the thing, it’s not making it better. It’s just .. I don’t know …It’s their problem, not mine.
Jennifer Dopazo: I’m glad we talked on that point. Because I think that everyone out there who wants to, you know, put their brand out there maybe with social media or anything that might do like I don’t know right now Facebook live and stuff like that. When it [inaudible 00:21:53]there was always this risk I would say of having one of those like really smart, like you know, they think they’re very smart and very snarky to comment and just say something and destruct the whole thing so I’m glad you brought it up.
Paul Lowe: Good.
Jennifer Dopazo: So what’s up with paper napkins. I heard something about that in an interview that I read about you.
Paul Lowe: That I don’t like paper napkins.
Jennifer Dopazo: Yeah
Paul Lowe: I never have. I refused as a kid to use paper napkins. I was a very peculiar little boy. Apparently my mom and dad told me that I would insist of having like fabric napkins for dinner. And that I would take one bite and then they let me use the napkin to wipe both sides of my mouth and then I would take another bite.
Jennifer Dopazo: That’s adorable.
Paul Lowe: I’m over that, but I still use fabric napkins.
Jennifer Dopazo: I love it. So why do we need Sweet Paul in our lives? And this is just a question I ask everyone and I just want to put it out there. Why do you think we need it?
Paul Lowe: I think you need someone, we kinda talked about it already, but I feel like you need someone to tell you that you know, chill, relax. It’s not that important, you know. If everything doesn’t come out exactly like you planned it, as long as it looks fabulous, as long as it tastes really good, who cares you know. I want to give you the magazine, And I just want to show you that you can make something fabulous with not that much effort and not that much money. I’m like the perfect, for example the perfect craft project for me is if I can take something that I already have in the house and transform it let’s say with $10 and make that fabulous that’s the perfect project for me and that’s what I want to show you. And the same with cooking, I just want, you know, to give you the best recipes that I can. Things that are doable and easy but the result is always fabulous.
Jennifer Dopazo: That’s wonderful.
Paul Lowe: That’s why you need me.
Jennifer Dopazo: I love it. I love it so much. What’s next for Sweet Paul? Is it anything that you’re planning, anything that you want to share with us?
Paul Lowe: Yeah, actually quite a lot. We are doing … we have something called the Sweet Paul Makery, have you heard about that?
Jennifer Dopazo: No.
Paul Lowe: So the Sweet Paul Makery we doing once a year. It’s a creative retreat. That’s … It’s a Saturday / Sunday. This year it’s going to be early April here in Brooklyn. It’s about 100 people come together and we do classes, we eat, we drink, we laugh and it’s just a really fabulous weekend. If you’re a participant you take four classes during two days and it’s everything from like make your own pair of shoes to dying with natural dyes, book binding, marbling, screen printing, make your own perfume. It’s really cool classes and we have it at a beautiful location here in Brooklyn. That’s going to be fun. I’m starting to plan a new book, so I’m working on that. And then we have …we just did a wedding issue with Mathew Robbins design that is coming out I think late January. So you know, there’s stuff happening.
Jennifer Dopazo: I love that you have the Makery, that’s is so wonderful. I’m going to make sure I put a link into the page of the episode and just share it because I think it’s wonderful. I need to check it out.
Paul Lowe: Yeah, it’s great because the fun things that you are surrounded by very like minded people. People that are interested in crafting and making and having a you know … it’s a weekend that gives me so much pleasure doing it because you know it’s such an amazing experience. We have people coming from all over the world. We have people from Australia, from Norway, from Denmark, from Cayman Islands, Switzerland, it’s kind of amazing.
Jennifer Dopazo: That’s lovely. And then just to end this wonderful conversation. Is there anything, you know, from all the experiences you’ve had, not only coming from a different country, getting here, you know the change of career you did, having this outlet, is there one thing you would give us, you know advice to someone who might be interested in getting into something similar or just need that, you know that sort of like advice of the day to just keep going?
Paul Lowe: If there are someone who wants to do something similar you have to have, I think my biggest advice is that you have to have a voice. There has to be something different about you. You know, you have to think about … I tell that to people who want to start a blog or write a book or make a magazine what is different about you? Why does people want to spend money and time on your product? So you have to realize that first. And then my second advice and that is to everyone, all over the world, is to be nice. You come … it’s so much easier to ask for something if you have a smile on your face and just be nice to people. Respond to emails, be generous and courteous, and you know just be nice, that’s my biggest advice in life.
Jennifer Dopazo: That’s true. That is so true. Oh Paul thank you so much it’s been a delight to talk to you today. And I cannot wait to you know join the Makery and see what else comes in the future. And I hope everyone else falls in love with you of course. I have already.
Paul Lowe: Thank you.
Jennifer Dopazo: Thank you. So I am recording a couple of episodes today and I’m kind of setting up the dates it’s gonna comes out. When it comes out I’m going to let you know and I’m going to prepare some tweets somethings if you want to share on social media. One thing is could you send me a photo an image you want me to use to promote the episode. That’s the only thing I need from you.
Paul Lowe: Yeah, I’ll do it right away.
Jennifer Dopazo: Wonderful, and that’s it. If there’s anything you need I’m always here.
Paul Lowe: Perfect, thank you so much.
Jennifer Dopazo: Thank you , have a good day
Paul Lowe: Bye Bye
Jennifer Dopazo: Bye