Out with the stuffy old corporate office spaces and in with the swanky creative co-working spaces and social clubs, it seems like the way we work has shifted from isolation to placing immense importance on belonging and fostering community. From Wework, to The Bond Collective and The Wing, these spaces have taken over the American workplace.
There is a certain feeling that a Wework is supposed to evoke when you walk into one. There is a sense of welcoming that visitors are supposed to feel, like working from home or a friend’s house. However, if you’re not a white male, you may not be privy to that feeling all the time.
“I think my whole life, I’ve always craved and sought out spaces and communities that made me feel safe,” said Naj Austin, founder and CEO of Ethel’s Club when asked about the genesis of her venture. “Whenever I enter a space, I always hope that I’m able to leave my burdens at the door and feel fully comfortable in all facets of my identity. However, as a black woman, this often isn’t my reality,” she added.
After looking within the landscape, the young entrepreneur became obsessed with filling the gap that exists when looking for inclusive workspaces. Today, Austin’s idea is no longer a dream but a reality.
Ethels Club is the first private membership club and workspace created with people of color in mind. The club’s mission is to build a network of branded spaces that help shift the narrative around coworking and social clubs into a platform that empowers their members and their communities. Beyond just a physical space to unite and collaborate, Ethel’s club is positioning themselves to be a cultural anchor and an intentional wellness space that centers POC life and experiences.
When Ethel’s Club first started in Jan. 2019, there was an immediate positive response on social media. One 10-year lease with Hudson Companies Inc. later, and membership is already over-subscribed, with a waitlist of over 4,000 people. Since launching, the club has already attracted investment opportunities from the likes of Roxane Gay and celebrity endorsements from Hollywood heavyweights like Hannibal Buress.
Located at 315 Meserole Street in East Williamsburg, Ethel’s Club is a beautifully designed 4,570 square foot hub where members can go to collaborate, create and network all while being unapologetically themselves.
While Ethel’s club has garnered a lot of support, there are still skeptics that question whether a space like this is actually necessary. But founder, Austin agues differently. “There is both power and safety in shared, collective experience. People of color deserve a space where they can show up and not fear being excluded, considered or discriminated against,” said Austin.
Without regurgitating Maslow’s hierarchy of need, belonging is a major source of human motivation and Austin and her team recognize this need in their community.
“The creative, professional and social potential that comes with being able to bring your full self to the table is what we hope our members can access and achieve through a people-of-color-centered space.”
Along with skeptics, there are also questions of accessibility. How will this benefit the Brooklyn community? Is this a space that is for our residents or another place where transplants can gather while Brooklynites of color watch through the window?
“We are hoping to bring a new kind of space that centers marginalized voices. We are building out our programming so that it is accessible to non-members and ideally some are even free down the line,” said Austin.
“We want to give people of color more options in how they can spend their capital. We need to be met and catered to where we are, not where or who society says we’re supposed to be.”
Aside from being able to collaborate and relax in a space beautifully designed by Shannon Maldonado, head of Interior design, members get all access to the clubhouse and event’s hosted at the space. There are two tiers of membership; a House membership which allows all access to events and guest passes and a Culture membership which gives access to 5 events per month. Alongside their membership club, Ethel’s Club also has a public facing boutique for people who would like to purchase curated products from designers and artisans of color.
Naj Austin and the team at Ethel’s Club recognize the need for a space where people of color can thrive, a space where they can create and relate. As Austin pointed out, “there is power in the POC dollar and People of color are investing in spaces and companies that invest in them and that is certainly something for all businesses to take note of.”
Cover and article images courtesy of Naj Austin.
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