Working with Phoebe Lovatt

Words: Sam Wittwer and Emilie von Unwerth
Images: Maggie Shannon

September 02 2016

Phoebe Lovatt is a woman resolute to make the working world better for women. As a journalist, she’s profiled the likes of Nicki Minaj, Angelica Houston and Diane von Furstenburg (just to name a few). As a moderator, she’s hosted panel discussions and Q & A sessions at Soho House and Nike. This past year, Phoebe struck out on a solo project, one that’s rather close to her heart. She founded The WW (Working Women’s) Club – a community of professional women that come together online and, through a series of events and conversations, discuss life, work and the passions that drive them.

Outwardly, Ms. Lovatt’s life is more than covetable. She is the very definition of the modern working woman: organized to a T, well-dressed, driven. Yet her success did not come without trying – she is very candid about the effort that she puts into her work. There’s no alchemy in her success; just careful consideration, a hearty work ethic and a supportive community of likeminded ladies. Looking around her sun-soaked SoHo studio – it becomes clear that Phoebe Lovatt is a powerhouse of a woman. We spent the afternoon talking work, women and why platforms for female creatives to come together is so, so necessary.

Can you tell us a bit about what you do?

I’m a freelance journalist and moderator. I host conversations, moderate panels and write for a few publications. I also founded The WW Club, through which I produce events, write a blog, have a podcast, a newsletter… a lot of different things.

How did you find your way into such a varied career?

I was living in LA until end of last year, and sort of feeling isolated – personally and professionally – and was really wanting to create a community for women in LA who work. In Los Angeles it feels like everyone works from home – so you can feel like an island. I had published a book called “The Handbook for Women Who do Creative Work,” which is a distillation of everything that I’ve learned through being a freelancer for all of my adult life, and being surrounded by people who have forged interesting career paths and unconventional lives. So I put that advice into a little book, and I wanted to launch it in an interesting way. A friend of mine had an empty space in downtown LA that he said I could use for something if I had any ideas. I conceived of the idea to open a co-working event space, so I worked with an amazing set designer in Los Angeles to create a really inspiring, beautiful environment. We did it all on a shoe-string budget, but she made it look incredible.

I planned a week of programming and events to help launch the book. All my friends in LA came down, and it seemed to really fascinate people. What surprised me is that because of social media, people saw it and really latched on to the idea.

Was this isolation something you saw as specific to Los Angeles?

Originally I thought this was a pretty LA-specific problem. I grew up in London, and now I see I was really lucky to be immersed in a great community there. When I first moved to LA, I thought of the isolation as an LA thing, but grew to learn I was the outlier for growing up in the middle of London, amongst some of the city’s most interesting people, which is such a privilege, but I didn’t realize it until I left.

Obviously building a community requires relationships and people, was there a specific group that was with you and the Working Women’s Club from the beginning?

My ‘crew’ in London – well, it sounds a bit cheesy but it’s kind of an international crew – they are all these amazing, multifaceted women. We’re all from or connected through London, but we’re in New York, we’re in Los Angeles. It’s really global.

Is there something about the community in London that you feel you can bring to these other places?

You realize these things in retrospect, but London has an incredibly DIY creative culture. In London I think people are primarily driven by creativity over commercialism. There’s a very strong culture of just wanting to make stuff; make it cool, and interesting, and different, rather than making the most profit from your concept. People just do stuff. Whether it’s a club night, videos, art, fashion. There’s a volume to it, but the cultural bar still is very high because people are quite critical of themselves and of others. There are also so many sub-cultures that have come out of London that has informed the way that creativity happens to this day, and I hope it continues.

The way that I feel about London has kind of shaped the way I [work]. I really care that everything I do is considered, enjoyable; either to read, or to watch, or to attend, or whatever, but I’m quite scrappy, you know? You just have to be resourceful to make things happen, and I think London is a very resourceful place.

Have you ever had what you would consider a ‘proper’ office job?

Not for long. I don’t do very well in someone else’s office environment. When I was 23 I was the founding editor of Soho House’s editorial site, House Seven, and that’s where I really was introduced to this idea of a social club. That position was really interesting to me – the way that Soho House operates was interesting to me. This idea that like-minded people wanted to be around like-minded people, without necessarily being a formal networking event.

So the concept of The WW Club has deep roots for you.

It’s a nod to working men’s clubs, which were – and are – social spaces across the UK. They provide a place working-class men to go to when they finish with a day’s work. They can have a drink, but they also host lectures and courses. They are places for socializing, recreation, education, all in one. I wanted to create something that could really blur the line between a professional and a social environment.

A big part of it is that we (The WW Club) don’t have a permanent physical space, and that’s really defined what we’ve done from the beginning. It’s more a conceptual space, I’ve hosted events in New York, in London, in Los Angeles, in Paris, in Taipei. I think a characteristic of many people working in creative industries is just how mobile they are, and I want to be responsive to that.

Personally, while I do live in New York and I want to build up a business side of it here, I don’t feel that it’s rooted solely in New York. I love New York, don’t get me wrong, but I’m from London, I’ve lived in LA, I’ve traveled, I have friends in different places. It’s really just not the way I think.

How much of your working day is dedicated to The WW Club now?

More than it should be! I’m a correspondent for a British magazine, I moderate regularly, do a bit of consulting, but The WW Club has really consumed me. I think about it all day, every day. It’s a passion project. I very quickly realized I wanted to make it my job. So part of me moving to New York was about, you know, being in a place where I had the infrastructure to make it into a business rather than just [a project].

Do you have a vision of how it will evolve and grow over the next few years?

I want it to evolve it to suit the needs of the community. The more people I meet, the more people I interview, the more events I host, the more I learn what’s actually useful and what isn’t. As a journalist, I’m rooted in delivering information. That’s really what my goal is; how can I make this as informative and as practical as possible?

I want to keep hosting events globally. It’s really important to me that I spread the spirit of it as far as possible. Realistically, I can’t be in every place, but I can say, “here’s a different way of thinking about work,” or, “here’s a reminder that, if you’re sitting at home feeling crazy on your own, there are people out in the world that are doing the same thing.” Also a reminder that you don’t have to compete with other women. I can already see that culture, thankfully, is dissolving.

It’s important that we accelerate that to a solution. I don’t think anyone would objectively say that we are moving to a worse place. Globally women are coming to the forefront, but there’s a lot of catch-up that needs to be done. Even in this country, women have been able to vote for less than 100 years

How do you approach working women in countries outside of the ‘west’ without being insensitive?

I did an event in Taiwan in May, and a big part of why I wanted to go to Taipei was to go to a city that isn’t necessarily Tokyo or Hong Kong, which get a lot of airtime in the West. I was interested in an event that was an exchange of ideas between western women and eastern women. We had an amazing group: editors, writers, incredible multi-faceted women. As much as it is fun to be a part of this wave in America, it’s important to be checked-in to the rest of the world. In Taipei they have a totally different working culture, and there’s much to learn from that. The thing I really liked, personally, about meeting those women and learning about how they work was that theirs is not such an Alpha driven culture. They are much more attuned to the community. It’s more sympathetic to women’s communication skills. Women tend to be more empathetic, and I feel like that is more integrated into Asian working culture.

So at its core The WW Club is really a conversation, not an omnidirectional channel.

It’s essentially a flow of information. It started out from the handbook; I’m lucky to know all these women who have done all this incredible work – and not everyone is lucky enough to be in a place where they can meet these women or have these conversations. If I can facilitate that flow of information, that’s the goal. It’s such a positive energy, and that energy can flow as long as the channels are open.

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Maggie Shannon is a photographer based in Brooklyn.