The Road (Way) Less Traveled: a Conversation with the Collective Quarterly

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Consider it the B side to the American dream—instead of the white picket fence and the well-manicured lawn, there are those whose fantasy involves sweeping expanses of wild terrain, no neighbors in sight and a general willingness to do things the hard way.

It’s those types of people whom Seth Putnam, Chicago-based editorial director of the Collective Quarterlyseeks out. The journal, which he created with cofounder Jesse Lenz in 2013, explores local life in a different hard-to-reach location each issue. The newest, out now, explores the Mojave Desert, and we were lucky enough to work with CQ and one of their latest issue’s featured subjects, Alison Carroll. Alison traded LA for the desert, where she’s building a house and producing her own line of olive oil. (Jealous yet? If not, you will be when you scroll down and see the pic of her and her four-legged friend enjoying an alfresco soak). Read on to learn more about the journal—and enjoy a few more photos of Alison from the issue.

So, how did the Collective Quarterly come to be?

Seth Putnam: I was working as a magazine journalist in Chicago a few years ago but had an itch. I liked the idea of starting a magazine but knew print was tough to get into. I had reservations. But Jesse—my business partner and creative director—is sort of a force of nature. He’s very good at coming up with a vision. He has a way of getting you on board with something before you even realize what’s happening.

Your first issue focused on Marfa, Texas—why did you decide on that location?

SP: It’s a place that people in certain niche circles know about, but it’s still unknown to the mainstream. We’re always looking for interesting places that are emerging and culturally relevant but that are also off the beaten path. We try to stay away from places that are overexposed and focus on the ones that are hard to get to and hard to make a life in.

What gets you most excited about a place?

SP: The best places are going through some sort of identity evolution. When we travel, we’re aiming to capture an anthropological snapshot of a place during a specific moment in time.

And how do you find these places?

SP: We do a lot of scouting, take multiple trips, and we try to connect with a linchpin in the community and develop a relationship with them before we go. But there really is no substitute for being there. You need to see what’s going on to understand the place.

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At the very top: Alison wears the Courier ShirtCruiser Straight Jeans: Shadow-Pocket Edition and The Frankie Chelsea Boot.

Right here: the Madewell x Biltmore® Leather-Band Felt Fedora chills on a cactus.

So, tell us more about Alison.

SP: Alison is definitely a Madewell woman. She and her husband, Jay, both have an incredible sense of design and the kind of unbridled curiosity we’re drawn to. We thought about how they’d just moved from LA to Joshua Tree, the nexus of the issue, and how they exemplify a breed of creative people who are flocking to more rural areas and seeing the beauty in them.

And making olive oil!

SP: Their brand, Wonder Valley, is a beautiful home goods line, with the flagship product being olive oil that they produce in California. They use some of the old Greek and Italian traditions but are experimenting as well—it’s reminiscent of the way craft beer is exploring new techniques in a traditional industry.

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Who needs a towel when you’ve got the Denim Pocket Popover at the ready?

Last question: What’s working at the Collective Quarterly like?

SP: No team member is in the same city, so Slack is our saving grace. There was a period of time where it seemed like all of our editorial meetings happened when we were together in a hot spring somewhere. We had to be in some sort of heated body of water to get things done.

Reminder: You don’t need to move to the middle of nowhere to have an adventure. For wherever you’re going (near or far), shop our newest arrivals.