Ethels Club founder Naj Austin talks about the importance of community
Naj Austin is a real estate and startup entrepreneur who specializes in growing companies from the ground up. She was previously Head of Growth and co-founder of Compound, a real estate asset management firm based in New York City. Prior to that, she was Head of Operations at a venture-backed hospitality startup that managed furnished rentals in major cities. Today, she is pushing the culture with her collaboartive workspace Ethels Club. Naj spoke with me about why she decided to create this unique space, her upcoming location, and what Ethels Club offers.
What was the driving force behind creating Ethels Club?
As a Black woman working in the real estate and tech space for the past four years, I’ve come face to face with the chronic lack of representation in the industry every day. This same deficit of genuine representation is very much reflected in many of the ‘third spaces,’ including social clubs that many of us rely on for our social nucleus, professional network, and cultural anchor.
I have always been drawn to the creative world. During the early stages of creating Ethels Club it was all I thought about. I have a saying I use with my team which is “wellness for the soul” and I think art, music, literature, and film feed people in a very necessary and holistic way. I created Ethels Club to be a place that allows the resiliency of the black and brown culture to shine. Our spaces are designed for people of color to come together, learn and grow in ways that build strength from the inside. We want our members to reclaim and redefine parts of themselves that have been repressed, sidelined or neglected. Ethels Club is a social club made for us, by us, redefining what it means to be brown and gather.
What is the importance of community to you?
I think a community is the lifeblood of a neighborhood. Cities like New York have neighborhoods where gentrification is rapidly transforming the soul of what it looks and feels like, as well as the people who live there. A huge component of what we’re trying to rebuild at Ethels Club is that connection that has been lost. Beyond existing as a place to find a community of like-minded people, we will also partner with local community-based and philanthropic organizations to further underline our focus on engagement and positive impact in the neighborhoods we call home. We are dedicated to building a world that centers the entirety of our experience.
What does Ethels Club provide to members?
We provide a lot! Each club will be part gathering place,social lounge, workspace and multi-purpose event space with a cafe/bar and boutique. We will also have multimedia resources for content creation and performances. We are “program obsessed” and are working hard to perfect the kinds of events we will have for our members. The cultural offerings at our space are meant to fortify, support and broaden the lives of our members’ experience.
How do you attain membership?
All prospective members will be able to apply through our website. We will accept members we believe embody the same ethos that we do — furthering the empowerment and advancement of people of color. We look for people who are change-makers, thinkers, innovators, and doers.