How Phoebe Lovatt Created A Space For Women Who Do Creative Work
There is something that is hard to put into words that happens when a group of women get together, share their knowledge, and support one another. It's something -- to be honest -- we experience everyday at HQ, and we're not sure if there is someone out there who is more familiar with this effect than Phoebe Lovatt. So we sat down with her and talked about what happens when us women support each other, why it's so important to pass on knowledge we have to help one another and why we all need to get a better handle on our finances. If Phoebe is a crusader of one thing in life, it is freedom, and that is something that we all deserve to experience.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE WW CLUB AND HOW IT GOT STARTED?
I decided to move to L.A. from London where I was a freelance journalist when I was 24, even though I'd only been there once. I didn't know anyone, but I just thought it would be an interesting challenge. I'd spent a lot of time in New York and I felt like if I was going to leave where I'm from, I might as well switch it up. What I struggled with in LA, though, was with the geography of the city and how isolating it is. That was difficult personally. I made a lot of friends, but it's really hard to feel connected in L.A. I don't think that's just me. I think that's well known. It's like an issue with the city.
I felt it was inhibiting me professionally because I'd always been part of this amazing network of women in London and I've freelanced for as long as I can remember. London's obviously a very creative, dynamic city, and a lot of that has to do with the proximity and the communities and the networks that evolve there quite organically because of the way it's built.
When I went back to London for my annual trip home, I evolved this idea that I wanted to publish a handbook of advice for women who want to work in creative industries. I had been getting a lot of e-mails from girls asking, "How do you live in America? How are you self-employed? How are you a journalist? How does it all work?" I'm lucky that I've been doing this for a while and I know a lot of people who also do it in different capacities. But I thought, ‘I can distill some of this advice into a really cute little handbook.’ It snowballed from there.
At the same time a friend of mine told me about a space in downtown L.A., right in the same building as the Acne Store. He was like, "It's empty. It's completely industrial, stripped back, there's nothing in there, not even electricity. Nothing. But if you want to use it for something you can." I evolved this idea that I wanted to create a physical community, a physical space, in L.A. for women who also were feeling professionally isolated. It was like, ‘Okay, these things match. Let me open a co-work and event space.’ And that's what I did. I had to pay for it myself and there was no formalized business plan in place, it was just like, 'This would be so cool,' and it was.
The first week The WW Club was open, I just invited a lot of women I knew in L.A. down to the space. It was honestly probably the best professional week of my life. And at the end of it I was so happy. I could feel a shift. I knew I had to keep it going. Luckily, a hotel a block away from where the space was reached out and was like, "This is really amazing, do you want to come bring this community here?" And every Wednesday from then onwards while I was living in L.A., I would host these work parties and meet-ups and events. I wanted to take this concept elsewhere, so I came to New York, in March, did an event here. I'm planning to do an event in London. And since then I've done multiple events in different spaces, with different concepts, different industries, in New York, London, L.A, and I just did my first event in Paris.
AND WHAT ABOUT THE CONCEPT?
The WW Club stands for the Working Women's Club, and I think it's a cultural reference that's lost on a lot of American people, understandably, because it's probably lost on a lot of British people. It's a tongue in cheek reference to working men's clubs, which were these spaces, these physical clubs, across the UK. They're dying out now because the industries that they catered towards are dying out, but they were for men who did manual labor and wanted somewhere where they could go and socialize with their co-workers after work. A space where they might want to hear a speech or take a course or something like that. They always had this dual focus.
When I do events, its really important that they have a certain aesthetic and a certain feel, and that they're enjoyable. Often there's food and drink involved, or we're in a beautiful space. I don't want to go and sit in some conference room with strip lighting and listen to someone bark motivational bullshit at me. That doesn't inspire me at all. I know it's a big industry but it's not my thing. I always have this notion that my events would combine the social, the educational, and the cultural. Working Women's Club is a reference to that, and the tag line is, "A space for Working Women worldwide."
The concept of it is literally to just, (a) encourage women to work together and collaborate because I think it's beneficial for all of us; and (b) on an individual level I want to take the knowledge that I'm lucky to be able to access through knowing a lot of really amazing women and funnel that towards women, young women particularly, who might not have access to people or information like that. I think, 'What can I help those women understand?' I don't want it to be like a, "cool girls only," club. I want that information to be shareable.
I think that there's women who have that same sensibility and ambition around the world. I don't think they're just in New York, L.A. and London. Hopefully, it's like sharing the love of it.
People always ask, "Is it just for women?" And it's hard because of course I'm a feminist and I wouldn't say that the WW Club isn't feminist, it totally is, but actually the women's side of it probably gets over-emphasized. I'm interested in creative collaboration generally across the board. I just personally have always been part of a very strong network of women. I think what's shifting now is this concept that women should be competing with each other. Not that there's anything wrong with competition, if you have a business you have to compete and you have to be aware of the competition, but at the same time, we are still incredibly disadvantaged in the workplace. We still make less money than men. There are still very few women in executive positions. To me, we can fast track ourselves to being 50/50 if we give each other a leg up. I also don't want to generalize about men. This is not an anti-man thing whatsoever. I know lots of great men, and lots of men have supported me, but I do think typically feminine traits and feminine energy, is a different energy. Let's not pretend it isn't, and I think that affects the way that women work. Women are very empathetic naturally, we're generally much better at communicating. I try to zoom out on what I'm doing and look at broader shifts. As we move towards this information, or as we're in it, this information economy requires different skills. Like I said, the working men's clubs in the UK have died out because people don't do manual labor like they used to, because we have machines for that now. We've moved into this age where a lot of the work is information based and we as woman are pretty good at that kind of work.
It's natural with the global change that women are coming into the forefront professionally. I think if we can encourage solidarity and support, and shared knowledge, then that's going to help us get to a state of equilibrium a lot faster.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE TOPICS YOU EXPLORE AT WW CLUB EVENTS?
A lot of it has to do with quite pragmatic stuff, actually. Again, a lot of people can figure out what they like to do, but there's a disconnect between that and it being your career. I try to fill in those knowledge gaps. Help people understand that there is a difference between enjoying making Vegan food and turning it into a hugely successful business. What are
the steps you have to take to get from A to B. It's that gray area in between that we try to cover: Building routines, getting clients, bringing an idea to fruition, setting your rates, stuff like that. Then of course, if you're doing a creative job it's really important that you stay inspired and that you're always evolving, and that can be difficult, particularly if you're working for yourself.
Reading is a big thing for me. I'm always trying to share links and interesting things I've read. Small things like daily energy optimizers. I just read something about, "My Relationship With Caffeine." Anything from the tiny little daily things that can affect your routine to these big picture items. Then moving forward, finance is another topic that I want to tackle a lot this year. The stuff that a lot of people ignore because it doesn't seem sexy, or it's not presented in a way that's digestible, but it's so important. I didn't grow up learning about money, because neither of my parents were really in a position to educate me on it, I think it's so crucial that women understand it.
I'm always trying to take these unsexy topics and find a way to break them down and present them in a way that is comprehensive and appealing. I think knowing about money and legal matters and setting up a business is not only crucial, but also so empowering. When you really deal with it and face that stuff head on, it changes everything.
Finance is one area where there's definitely a gender divide. I think financial education is horrendous across the board, no one is getting a good financial education unless their parents are giving it to them. Which is why rich people stay rich. It's like being able to speak a language. If you can't speak that language then you're roaming around a foreign country with no idea of what you're doing. Of course you can Google anything, but even if you're an intelligent person, trying to understand 401Ks from the internet it can be confusing. Let alone taxes and all that stuff.
I was thinking about this the other day. I think if there's an underlying theme of everything I do, it's freedom. I just want people, and particularly young women, to feel as free as possible. To me that's the highest state: to feel free. Free to pursue what you want to do, to live the way you want to live, but you need to have tools to do that. Unless you're incredibly open-minded and have maybe really rich parents, you can't just float around in a state of autonomy. If you know how to look after your money, how to sell your skills, how to handle yourself in different working cultures, how to look after your body, then you're in a state where you can really live the life that you want to live
WHAT IMPACT HAS HELPING OTHER WOMAN HAD ON THE RELATIONSHIP YOU HAVE WITH YOURSELF?
Obviously doing this work has affected the way that I feel about myself in many ways. It's been very empowering mostly because it feels really great to do something that you enjoy. I think when you find an outlet that fulfills you, you just by default become less concerned with the superficial aspects of your identify. Right now, I'm a lot more proud of who I am as a person than I was 3 years ago, and so I don't feel as quantified by the weight on the scale as I used to. Having said that, I still struggle massively with body issues. I think everyone does.
I'm like, 'You're smarter than this. Don't waste a minute more of your energy with this bullshit.' Now the way that I try to think, if I ever catch myself having negative thoughts about my body, is: a) I don't want to project that. I have a community of women that I speak to every day and I don't want any aspect of that crap to seep into what I push out. I'm much more compartmentalized about it. And b) I have different priorities in the sense that I have a lot of work to do and I just need energy to do it. My focus now, physically, is, 'How can I make sure that I'm as energized as possible?' Maybe that means that I need to eat a normal amount of food. Whereas when I was younger, I didn't have something that was bigger than me to think about.
Now my focus is more on trying to stay energized and rested. When I eat well and try and look after myself, I have the energy to do the work I need to do. Ultimately would I rather be this skinny person that I have created in my head, or would I rather have the energies get my work done? I'd rather get my work done. What am I going to look back on? What was my life's work? That I could fit into a size 4 jeans? I'm not a skinny girl, I never have been. For a while I managed to make myself skinny with extreme effort, and for me it's just not sustainable if I want to get other shit done, and there's a lot of shit I want to get done.
I just did this event series with Nike Women where it explored, not necessarily negative body image, more the opposite actually, because Nike Women is all about strength and empowerment and fitness. That's why I was really happy to align with them because I think they're the biggest brand in the world, and yet the image that they project for women is really positive. It's all about strength. I always exercise. That's one thing I've always done. Now I'm much more concerned with feeling strong. I know personally if I feel like shit, it's hard for me to feel like I'm thriving. I think for women it's really important for us to feel like there's a sense of balance in our lives, and I think that's reflective of all human ecology. We need to have balance internally, hormonal balance is really important for us, and that reflects things like how we perceive our lives.
I've talked extensively about wellness. I think body image is a big, controversial subject and I don't feel equipped to tell anyone how to deal with their body image struggles, but certainly, energy and optimizing your energy and making sure that you're in a good head space to work is a big focus of what I do.
WHAT IS YOUR HEALTH PHILOSOPHY?
Yoga has become a big part of my life approach. I struggle with 'on-the-mat meditation', but I've come to realize that if I do yoga fairly regularly, ideally a bit every day, but more realistically 3 or 4 times a week, maybe just for 20 minutes, that it has a lot of psychological benefits for me. The food thing is like an endless experimentation. Especially since I move constantly and food is different in every city. Food is vastly different in New York to what I was eating in L.A. Although interestingly, I feel physically better here in New York because I walk. The food in L.A. is heavenly, it's delicious, and it's so affordable to eat organic, it's like Nirvana for that. But I always felt off there because you don't walk.
The food thing changes all the time. When I go home to London I eat totally differently to what I eat here because I'm a lot more okay with European dairy and meat than I am with American dairy and meat. Obviously, I drink the lemon water, I love vegetables, I try to do some exercise every day even if it's just walking. Sleep is not my strong point, but I do what I can. I have a list of things that make me feel okay when I feel off and I try and work my way through them when I'm feeling off. Usually, within a couple of days if I do no alcohol, plenty of yoga and rest and reading and baths, I'm back to okay again.
ANY DAILY MANTRAS OR ADVICE THAT YOU COME BACK TO EVERY DAY TO KEEP YOU ON TRACK?
I'm constantly seeking new inspirations. I found this manifest written by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, which I put online, because it's 10 principles that he would teach to his students at Taliesin, the school where people used to go to study with him. I was so inspired by it, it was so brilliant so yesterday that was my mantra of the day.
As a general principle, I think if I can see a theme in terms of my philosophical approach to life, I do really embrace and lean into challenge. I'm not scared of change. In fact, I think embracing change is the way that I feel alive, which is why I like to travel and live in a different cities.
You can't be static. I don't mean that physically, I'm actually a quite still person, I wouldn't say I jump around all the time (laughs), but I always have to feel that there's an evolution going on, and of course there is in life anyway. I suppose I like to be aware of what area of my life I'm trying to develop at any given time.
I wish I could remember this quote because it would be a perfect answer. I'll find it maybe and try and send it you, but it's basically something that says, 'Embrace change because shit's changing whether you like it or not.' You might as well just flow with it rather than against it. Things are changing all the time, always, for better or for worst. I suppose a better way to articulate is that I'm very interested in development. It's a bit cheesy to admit, but I've always been interested in trying to take one area of my life and figure out how I can move it on.
AND WHAT ABOUT YOUR IDEA OF LEGACY? WHAT KIND OF FULFILLMENT HAS THIS PAST YEAR BROUGHT ON?
The English in me is very wary of proclaiming myself to be someone who could have a huge impact on other people's lives, but on a daily basis, I would like to leave people feeling better than when I found them. I'm not necessarily always upbeat or happy myself, but if I can meet someone and make them feel encouraged, just to let them know that someone else gives a shit about what they're trying to do with their life, feel supported, or to just listen. Hey, we all struggle. Everyone's fighting their own battle. If someone can have a bit of empathy, I suppose empathy is something I always strive towards. I really respect empathy in other people and I try to have empathy with other women's struggles because they're all universal. It's nice to know that someone else is experiencing the same thing as you, and genuinely cares.
London to me, is still the most exciting, creative city in the world. When I left I was not really aware of that. There are so many people out there who might have amazing talents or incredible ideas and they're just not in the right physical place to enact them. The internet is great, but you can't do everything with it. There's a lot to be said for physical community. That's why its so important to me to do these physical events. With people interacting face to face. Of course you can build a global network on line - but it will never have that human element.
Physical community is such a great word too because it's almost like a dying thing in some sense. I don't know if people these days understand the importance of one-on-one, or in person contact and what that does for each other. It's like feeding your soul.
I'm still at the beginning. I've only been doing this for a year, but what has been so good for me is that I feel like now it's put me on a path, and it's the path that I always wanted to be on and I didn't know it. I did well in school, I was a good student and I went to University and I got a really good degree. Then I left University and I was like, 'Well, now what?' And there wasn't a moment when I didn't work, but I was very disoriented by not being able to tick boxes to form my identity and my own definition of success.
I knew that an office job wasn't really going to work for me. I'm just too independent. I'm a bit stubborn. I was annoyed I couldn't find the thing I wanted to do, and I hate wasting time. I felt this way even though I was doing all this cool work. Of course, now I look back and I'm like 'Doing this, this and that, led directly to where I am now.' But, at the time, I felt like I was treading water, and that I wasn't doing anything valuable and it just pissed me off. I hate that feeling of not doing something useful with myself.
Now, I'm trying to do something to serve other people. That just helps you sleep at night. Of course when I get nice e-mails from girls, or people e-mail me saying, "Oh yeah, I quit my job and started a business, I'm like 'Shit. That's amazing. That's an amazing thing.' It's helped me to feel a lot better about myself and the way that I spend my time. To do it with the support of women has really helped me transition into my own womanhood.