Starting from its humble beginnings with just one club in London’s Soho area (hence the name), Soho House has grown to over 23 clubs in 4 continents worldwide in cities as diverse as London, Barcelona, New York, Istanbul, Chicago, Amsterdam, and Miami. Designed to be a ‘home away from home’ for members in the creative communities, the clubs have become a mecca for those who work in the fields of creativity, media, and the arts. The clubs feature regular programming around food, music, and fashion and in recent months has added a programming strand under the banner of Soho Good which brings social impact into the house for members to learn from their peers. (Full disclosure: I am a club member and have participated in these podcasts and programmes). I spoke to Michaella Solar-March, Global Director of Member Events and Programming` about the genesis of the launch.
“ In 2015 we launched a series of give-back initiatives under the name Soho Good; partnering with local community organizations and philanthropic institutions to host volunteer events for our members. Last year, I recognized the need to take this one step further – introducing social impact programs and community conversations to members via our monthly events program. More and more, members were asking for impact events. They were moved by the political climate globally and wanted to understand how they could use their cultural capital for good. Our podcast and events partnership with Good is the New Cool was born from these conversations – I felt it was our responsibility to help our members understand how they could contribute in meaningful, lasting ways by providing real-world examples from the people making a positive change every day.”
We discussed whether there has been a growing hunger amongst creatives who want to use their talents for good. ”Our global communities are the creators and trendsetters in their industries – they’re culturally curious and invested in what is new and next. I can’t tell you the number of conversations I have had with members over the past two years where we’ve discussed this concept. They are tapped into these larger global cultural trends, and more than ever before Members want to leverage their access and influence to do good. The challenge has been knowing where to focus our energy, and how to contribute in a lasting way. We all want to be better and do better, but often we’re not sure how. Hosting our Good is the new Cool conversations have allowed us to share practical examples with our members, so they’re able to learn from their peers and mentors and apply these learnings to their own practice. It’s essentially a trainee program for social good – motivational life lessons with some inspiration and good humor!”
Some of the eclectic and provocative conversations which have taken place under the Soho Good banner so far have been on the topic of fashion (featuring CDFA Award-winning designer from Public School Dao Yi-Chow and Rachel Johnson, stylist to some of the biggest names in sport like LeBron James and Colin Kaepernick), on film (featuring Oscar-nominated producer Mimi Valdes who is Pharrell’s Creative Director), on food (featuring the pioneering social activist Robert Egger, Founder of LA Kitchen), Maya Enista Smith from Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation talking about creating a kinder, braver world, and founder of the Happy Not Perfect mindfulness App Poppy Jamie on mental health. You can find all the podcasts episodes here.
I asked Michaella what some of the highlights of the series so far were. “Mimi Valdés delivered an arresting speech about otherness, and the need to showcase underrepresented faces in film and television. She is a visionary creative. She was also incredibly generous with her time and stayed late to answer many industry-related questions from members. A real highlight.”
“Another highlight for me was Dao Yi from Public School who spoke about activism-exhaustion. He described the time immediately following the election when he was eager to protest and fight the injustices he saw but found himself exhausted, burnt out and frustrated at his inability to contribute in a meaningful way. He was trying to do too much! When he took a step back to reevaluate, he was able to identify the issue that most strongly resonated with him – immigration reform – and focuses his activist efforts. He continues to make significant contributions to the movement using Public School as his platform, and I felt this was a relevant lesson for all of us. Pick your thing, and contribute however you can.”
Most recently, I found the episode with Poppy Jamie very motivational. She is dedicated to de-stigmatizing mental health and encouraging millennials to engage in regular mindfulness practices, but what really struck me was how she embraced her mistakes as opportunities for growth. She’s not afraid to mess up and learn as she goes, which I think should be an inspiration to us all! “
I ask Michaella who else she really admires as someone creative who has been able to put their talents in service of something positive?
“Scott Budnick is a Hollywood film executive and criminal justice reform, activist. A Film veteran, he had dedicated his cultural and financial capital to campaigning for mass incarceration reform, and anti-recidivism initiatives. in January he launched a new venture called Good Films which is a TV and Film production company dedicated to supporting projects that catalyze social change through the power of storytelling. His mission is to change global perceptions around all issues of inequality and injustice and drive maximum social impact. I am excited to share his personal story in an upcoming episode of the podcast – watch this space!”
“Dan Barber (Blue Hill) and David Barber (Almanac Investments) are dedicating their immense experience and resources to future-proofing our food systems; from agricultural methods to experiential food retail. They’re committed to positively changing the food ecosystem. What and how we eat; how we brand and market healthy sustainable food options; how we act locally but think with a global perspective. What is so interesting to me is that they come from traditionally un-creative industries (farming and finance), which just goes to show how we can all get creative with the skills we have to drive positive change and do good.”
Finally, to make sure it walks the walk and doesn’t just talk the talk, this summer Soho House is kicking off a partnership with Twice New, a nonprofit dedicated to matching perishable and non-perishable waste with those in need, to redistribute food waste at both its West Hollywood and Malibu locations. This initiative comes full circle for Soho House. In late 2017, Vice hosted a series of think tanks at the West Hollywood House with the aim of bridging the gap between food waste and supporting the homeless community. The resulting campaign employed Twice New for a two-week pilot program during which they redistributed food waste from every restaurant on Abbott Kinney to nearby homeless shelters. This ties in well with existing West Hollywood, Soho Good events which include regular volunteer opportunities, such as partnering with #HashtagLunchbag to pack and distribute meals on Skid Row and working with the Greater Los Angeles Food Coalition to feed the homeless, where members and staff alike get involved in everything from scrubbing floors to serving food. Soho House also takes advantage of its most valuable asset – its network of members – to combat social issues within the community. This August, the WeHo House teams up with think tank kick-starter Hive Be Good to host a conversation with March On The Polls and brainstorm solutions to encourage voting and shift the process from a solo activity to one marked by community, spirit, and optimism. Future initiatives also include an exciting mentorship scheme currently being trialed in the UK to help younger members get advice and help from older more experienced members under the banner of Soho Impact, spearheaded by Peter Chipchase.
Soho House hopes its partnership with Twice New will set the tone to roll out similar food waste programs at Houses both nationally and abroad and become a model for how key local relationships can have a global impact. Michaella reminds us that while philanthropy and traditional charity endeavors have always been part of business and culture, there seems to be a new model developing. “What’s changed is that these initiatives are being talked about, because consumers are making it clear that it’s important to them. There is a new level of scrutiny that consumers are applying to brands these days – brands are representative of a lifestyle, not just selling products and services, and consumers are loyal to brands whose values are aligned with their own. Perhaps on a personal level, there is a new definition of success as ‘success with integrity’.”