Coworking spaces have replaced traditional offices, becoming almost a second home for creatives. Ethel’s Club is no different except that their space takes an important next step — centering and celebrating people of color through conversation, wellness and creativity. Sparking interest on Instagram months prior to launching in the fall of 2019, founder Naj Austin knew a space like this was missing in communities.
“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” says Austin. As she looked closer into available social clubs, it further proved her point. This ignited Ethel’s Club as not only an idea, but as a necessity.
With spaces like WeWork and The Wing, POC have not been the center of the conversation, at least not organically. At Ethel’s Club, everything from the art to the plants to the furniture, to the electrician and contractors was “influenced, created, or sourced by someone who believes in the same credo – for us, by us,” according to Austin. All the items in the clubhouse were sourced from Shannon Maldonado, who had never been an interior designer before working with Austin. Austin had never been a CEO before Ethel’s Club either.
Pivoting The Business Model
Despite running a business for the first time, Austin and her team already had to make a quick pivot from their physical space to a digital one because of COVID-19. The clubhouse has grown to include a digital membership (which Austin excitedly mentions was built in one day!) that allows anyone from around the world to be part of the community.
Members can make a profile, attend virtual events throughout the day, connect with other members, and share content on a community newsfeed. It has been an interactive way to keep people together even when most are staying apart.
“We knew it was critical that we still show up for our community. We still need connection, we still want to find joy and wellness,” according to Austin. Members have access to thought-provoking programming, wellness offerings, and events centered on therapy, cooking, music, culture, etc. The latest digital events have prioritized wellness and culture sessions highlighting creatives of color across the country. Podcasting workshops, musical performances, and morning yoga flows were some of the latest events.
Most recently, Ethel’s Club took quick action after a string of racist incidents involving civilians like Amy Cooper, and police resulting in the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. They are offering two free healing and grieving group sessions to provide support to the Black community. All 1,000 spots have been filled prompting the team to work to offer a third session.
Author Meredith Talusan shared in her recent newsletter that she joined the clubhouse stating, “I forget how much I miss POC-only spaces… until I’m in them and am like whewwwww.” The need for more social and wellness club designed to celebrate POC online and in real life is apparent when members have this type of reaction. The lack of these spaces proved to Austin that it was important to be “unapologetic about who we were centering and why.”
Centering Wellness And Community
Austin’s personal favorite clubhouse resource are the wellness programs. She says it has meant a lot to the members, especially during the pandemic. “There are very few places you can go online and in real life that center wellness through the lens of our community. We constantly show up and enable people to feel reflected in ways they have never been.” During the uncertain climate many businesses are in, diversifying content and streams of income have become more important than ever. Luckily Ethel’s Club managed to diversify their business model early on in its inception, well before introducing their digital membership.
Earlier in the year, the team launched an online boutique, providing yet another platform for creatives of color to share their work–from home goods to apparel–and make a living doing so. Austin says that club members are directly entering a business model that gives money and opportunities for the creatives. “The boutique allows us to shed a light on the amazing artisans and makers that live within our community,”Austin expressed.
Her company has been more than a coworking or gathering space for Austin. Ethel’s Club has built a new intentional “ecosystem,” as Austin put it, that reflects sincere values. She still finds the joy of seeing members make deep connections. That was her goal from the start and now she gets to see it flourish online as well.