Ethel’s Club has limited its initial membership to 150, but has assembled a wait list of 4,300 that it can draw on as plans to expand unfold. It is modeled after co-working spaces like the women-focused, members-only chain The Wing, but with an emphasis on going beyond offering a physical space for collaboration to also become a cultural and community anchor.
Ethel’s Club has opened in the East Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, N.Y., as the first private social and wellness membership club and workspace created with people of color (POC) in mind, the Bushwick Daily reported. The club’s mission, the Daily reported, is to build a network of branded spaces into a platform that empowers their members and their communities. Beyond just offering a physical space to unite and collaborate, Ethel’s Club is positioning itself to be a cultural anchor and an intentional wellness space centered around POC life and experiences.
When the plans for Ethel’s Club were first announced in January 2019, there was an immediate positive response on social media, the Daily reported. After arranging for a 10-year lease with Hudson Companies Inc, a waitlist of over 4,000 people has been assembled, to be ready for planned expansion beyond the club’s initial limited membership of 150.
“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 by the Daily 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.”
Ethel’s Club has been designed as a 4,570-sq. ft. hub where members can go to collaborate, create and network, all while being unapologetically themselves, the Daily reported. “There is both power and safety in shared, collective experience,” Austin said. “People of color deserve a space where they can show up and not fear being excluded, considered or discriminated against.
“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,” she added. “We are hoping to bring a new kind of space that centers marginalized voices. We are building out our programming so that it is also accessible to non-members, and ideally some [events will even be] afree down the line.
There are two tiers of membership at Ethel’s Club, the Daily reported. A House membership allows all access to events and guest passes, and a Culture membership gives access to five events per month. In addition, Ethel’s Club has a public-facing boutique that offers curated products from designers and artisans of color.
Every item in Ethel’s Club has a unique backstory to it, Vice.com reported, with some advertised with a meticulously planted social-media handle or QR code. The furniture was chosen, designed, and even upholstered by artisans of color; the free food in the kitchen and the goods for sale highlight smaller POC-run companies. Even the books in the meditation room feature writers of color analyzing racism from a mindfulness perspective.
“The club was born out of a kind of frustration and anger that no one else had done it,” Austin told Vice.com. Coworking spaces like the women-focused members-only chain The Wing (https://clubandresortbusiness.com/the-wing-now-admitting-men-in-face-of-lawsuit/) helped Austin see that it was possible to start a mainstream club that specifically targets a single demographic.
And since The Wing has struggled to establish a relationship with women of color, Vice.com reported, Ethel’s Club was in a good position to frame itself as a long-awaited alternative. But Austin wanted her club to be more than a POC version of The Wing or WeWork.
Austin told Vice.com that she named the club after her grandmother, Ethel Lucas, whose house in Edison, N.J. was a community gathering place for kids to do homework, eat, or show off a report card, while adults gossiped, braided hair, or introduced the house to a newborn baby. “Everyone had homes. They could go to their own house. But it was important for the real-life aspect to meet there,” Austin said.
“That idea of creating a very beautiful space for people of color with specific items chosen for their happiness was critically important,” Austin told Vice.com. She sought to achieve some of that mission through the club’s interior design, she added.
“We use a lot of bright colors, because we wanted this to be a celebration of who we are,” she explained. “No heavy leather. No dark woods. That doesn’t induce joy.”
Designer Shannon Maldonado modeled the space to feel like a living room, Vice.com reported. That led her to flip through library books showing what homes look like in other cultures, and to think back to her own memories of sitting at her kitchen table as a kid.
The club’s initial events calendar includes a choreographed performance by musician Madison McFerrin, a talk with tattoo artists of color from Ink the Diaspora, screenings of classic films with live scoring, and multiple live podcasts, Vice.com reported.
While the club could sound like a utopia in some ways, its limited membership and price tag may limit its accessibility to the majority of young professionals of color in New York City, Vice.com reported. A full yearly membership costs $195 a month or $2,100 a year, while the part-time membership that provides access to five events a month is $65 a month or $600 a year. Ethel’s Club hopes to be able to offer artist residencies in the future to help provide accessibility for some who may not be able to join as paying members, Vice.com reported.
The number of available memberships will likely be the first thing to change, though, as the club’s organizers are eager to expand the original location into other parts of its largely unoccupied building, as well as launch new locations around the city, Vice.com reported.