As so many business partnerships have, this relationship began with CGI dinosaurs and mermaid pics.
Flashback to early 2020: Jeff Weiner, a 30-year vet of the tech industry, was working with a start-up incubator involving UNLV and other partners. But then the pandemic hit and everything went kaput.
“Staring at the ceiling, 60-something, like, what the hell do I do now?” Weiner says, sitting barefoot outside a Starbucks on an overcast Wednesday afternoon as a storm approaches. “My daughter says, ‘Dad, you like art. So do art?’ So, that’s what I did.”
“I had an idea of compositing Instagram mermaids with dinosaurs,” he continues. “I ran into the mermaids, just by accident. It starts off as art. That’s silly, right? But super fun.”
And with that came a series of luminous images blending real-life shots of mermaids swimming with computer-generated stegosauruses and sharp-toothed aquatic beasties inspired by the feminine-masculine dichotomy often found in the works of renowned fantasy/science fiction artist Frank Frazetta, a Weiner favorite.
Eventually, Weiner was contacted by Fins founder Pat Pastrano about featuring his art in the magazine. She had started Fins at a similar career crossroads a few years earlier. A longtime business analyst for a precious metals company, she lost her job when the business moved overseas. She had a passion for photography, and began doing it professionally as a side-hustle while pursuing a full-time job.
“I saw mermaids building my portfolio, and then I heard how much they were spending on their tails. I thought, ‘This is pretty cool,’” Pastrano says. “I found a lot of indie magazines, but there wasn’t anybody taking mermaid submissions — and there’s all these mermaids. I started building Fins just as a way for photographers and mermaids who enjoyed shooting to kind of come together and have a place to be published.”
After she approached Weiner about his mermaid composites, a business relationship soon formed, with Weiner coming aboard as chief executive officer and co-owner.
“I said, ‘Let me help you build this,” Weiner says. “‘That’s what I’ve been doing for a gazillion years. The market is amazing, the people are cool, there’s just magic to the whole thing. Let me help.’”
Published quarterly, Fins has doubled in size since debuting in 2019, its sixth and latest issue coming in at 160 pages, with articles on mermaids for environmental education, the Devil Lionfish and how to construct your own DIY mermaid tail stand, among others.
Mermaid safety is a central concern of the magazine.
“You tie up your legs to jump in the water, you better know how to swim,” Weiner says. “You have to learn how to use the monofin, how your body moves. There’s a lot of nuances to it. Not that they’re complicated, you just need to learn it and not be naive and think you can jump in a monofin and hop in the ocean.”
The overriding goal of Fins, according to Weiner, is to serve as a central, unifying hub of a scattered community.
“You’ve got a passionate but fragmented audience,” he says. “It’s an aggregator of like minds. It’s a vehicle for us to go out and learn things, find out what’s really happening and take that and say, ‘What can we do to make things better as an industry from that?’ And then try to lead with that.”
Photographer Brett Stanley, who’s featured in the current issue of Fins, says the culture could use this kind of cohesion.
“It’s something that the community needs,” he says. “There’s not a formal community, as such. Having Fins come in and create this magazine that is showcasing a lot of the culture and a lot of the personalities in the culture I think can only help to lift it up even higher.”