Erika Rae Owen is one of the coolest, multi-faceted people you'll ever meet - by day, she works on brand initiatives at Bon Appetit, but she's also an Iceland enthusiast, expert crafter and writer, and the sweetest friend. She recently led one of our Learnings @ And Comfort events teaching Postcard Embroidery in her lovely apartment in Brooklyn. Read on to learn more about Erika and what inspires her.
Please introduce yourself!
Hi! I’m Erika. I spend most of my time in Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill neighborhood making stuff on my giant wooden dining table, finding quirky decor items for the apartment I live in with my partner, or reading surreal short stories. We recently moved into a one-bedroom apartment after four years of living in a 300-square-foot studio with four bikes and we’ve been having so much fun figuring out how to make the space our own.
I’ve been living in Brooklyn for five years, but I was born in Dallas, Texas and grew up in Wisconsin. I try to make it back to the Dairy State a few times a year to swim in lakes and take mini road trips with my family.
I love making things and I want people to be able to have something that comes from a very genuine and vulnerable place in my heart.
How did you get to working in media/journalism?
I went to college at Drake University in Des Moines and graduated with degrees in Magazine Journalism and International Relations. I’ve worked for a handful of the big media companies since starting college — Meredith Corporation, Time Inc (RIP!), and now Condé Nast. I had an internship at GQ while I was in college that really solidified my desire to work in on an editorial team — I could not get enough of the energy that exists when you get an entire magazine staff into the same room to discuss a new project. I have always known that I wanted to write professionally since I ran my high school newspaper, but my interest in audience development and engagement grew from a job I had at Travel + Leisure. Being able to cultivate a large group of people who interact with your content on social media is really interesting to me — especially in a time when social media can be so toxic. Creating a positive experience for brand fans is such a special thing.
What’s a normal day like for you at Bon Appétit?
There is no normal day! I spend a lot of my time looking at data around brand initiatives and creating development plans around big projects and campaigns for Bon Appetit and Epicurious. While those are my two main brands, there are sub-brands within those titles that I also have a hand in: Healthyish, Basically, and Small Plates.
A lot of my day is spent with newsletters — we have a ton that go out from these brands and we’re always trying to make them better. I run testing on the subject lines, time of day that they’re sent, the kind of content we feature; the list goes on. I’m also a bridge between my brands and the corporate teams Conde has (newsletter, search engine optimization, social, custom research). For example, if we want to know more about our sub-brand demographics, I would work with the custom research team to provide insight for the editorial teams.
Another thing I love about this position is that it allows me the freedom to pitch and write about things I’m passionate about. Writing is not part of my job responsibilities, so I fit it in wherever I can.
Being able to cultivate a large group of people who interact with your content on social media is really interesting to me — especially in a time when social media can be so toxic. Creating a positive experience for brand fans is such a special thing.
What are some of your favorite things to write about?
Iceland! I think it’s so important for everyone to find a place where they can fully relax, whether that’s in your hometown or across an ocean. I’ve found mine in Iceland and I love sharing what a special place it is. My most recent Iceland-focused story was about this hair and skincare brand that I can’t get enough of called Soley Organics. I really do visit Iceland once a year to go back and stock up on my favorite shampoo in the world. Despite how that last sentence sounds, I’m the least high-maintenance person I know — give it a read for yourself.
I’m also really into design. My first full-time job was at an industrial design website called Core77 and I will always be so thankful for the world it introduced me to. I would love to do more writing around interior trends and how to DIY your own space to make it truly yours.
Why are you so passionate about Iceland? What do you love about it?
I’d like to think I am always 100% myself, but I feel like I’ve discovered a new, relaxed version of me while I’m there. Growing up in Wisconsin, I was outside constantly. But I never experienced nature in a grand scale like you do in Iceland — driving through mountains, riding an ATV over the black sand beaches, snorkeling between two tectonic plates. There are so many things to do in Iceland that you can’t do anywhere else in the world. I’m always surprised at the quiet state my brain finds itself in after being there for a few days.
You recently led a Learnings @ And Comfort event teaching postcard embroidery - how long have you been crafting? Why do you like it? What’s your favorite thing to make?
I’ve been making things as long as I can remember, but my motivation to make things with my hands went into overdrive after the most recent election. I have never been an anxious person, but found myself needing an outlet. I sit in front of a computer all day, writing emails and strategizing, so there’s an entire side of my brain that doesn’t get much use for a majority of the day.
One day a few years back, I sat down on my bed in my old apartment with some embroidery thread and some photographs I bought at the Brooklyn Flea Market and decided to create some wall decor — in part because I couldn’t afford more than a cheap frame and some dollar-bin photographs and because my mother had just sent a care package with some embroidery thread. Since that day, I’ve started hosting crafternoons in my apartment with friends; a great excuse for us to catch up and make something in the process.
I think making things with your hands is such a therapeutic process and I can only hope to bring a new interest into someone’s life that has a positive impact.
I should say here that I really have no idea to sew in a technical sense. I just started making stitches in a geometric pattern and I really love what I made. I turned this into a project called Postcard Friends, and I encourage my buddies to send me postcards so I can sew them up and send them back. It’s such a therapeutic thing — I totally lose myself in it and make a couple of them in one sitting. I love how unpretentious crafting is; anyone can do it and there is never a wrong way to do it.
My favorite thing to make, right now, are painted totes. It’s 100% not an original idea — taking a boring tote and adding some paint to it — but I love having something that no one else has. The quintessential New Yorker tote was my first project and I had so many people comment on it. The design is always the same: amoeba-shaped blobs in primary colors. My partner describes it as “joyful,” which I love.
What are a few things you’re working on crafting-wise right now? Any resources that you love to look at for inspiration?
I actually just kicked off an Etsy account called Erika Owen Makes Things with some of my crafts. I love making things and I want people to be able to have something that comes from a very genuine and vulnerable place in my heart. For that, I’m focusing on painted totes, digital doodles, and embroidered leaves (another fun thing I like to do). I’ve also been posting these projects to a new Instagram page dedicated to things I make (follow it here).
There are so many people who inspire me. There’s one artist in particular on Instagram who turned me on to hand-altered photographs — her name is Julie Cockburn, and she does some impeccable work on found images. My friend Megan West — and a fellow tote painter! — does some really fun pattern work that she turns into gift wrap (among other things). I love her use of color and it certainly inspires some of the thread hues I use in my postcards.
Another thing I want to do is expand the crafternoon classes I’ve been hosting for friends. I think making things with your hands is such a therapeutic process and I can only hope to bring a new interest into someone’s life that has a positive impact. I’m thinking a window-filled studio space somewhere with a giant table and tons of plants… More to come on that in the future!
The philosophy that drives And Comfort is the idea of finding delight in the everyday What’s something that brings you delight or keeps you inspired?
I find a lot of delight and joy from the people around me — I am very much the kind of person who gains energy from interacting with others. My friends are family, and I love hearing from them throughout the day or making something with them on the weekends. Once, during an especially stressful week, my friend Mariah and I spent upwards of five hours baking cookies from scratch. I get a lot of delight and inspiration from human connection like that.
If we’re talking a specific thing, I absolutely love the window closest to my bed. My partner and I live on the second floor of a three-floor brownstone and our fire escape attracts a lot of birds. The light that flows in from that window in the morning is so beautiful. I’ll lie in bed for an extra hour on Saturdays and plan what I’m going to do with my day or make that morning. It’s a very inspiring place to do some thinking. I’m always changing the scene on that window ledge: a mix of vases, handmade items, a painted college graduation card from two very special friends, a green tea-scented candle, my own ceramics. We were lucky enough to move into this new apartment in October and still catch some of the changing leaves out that window — my absolute favorite time of year.