// THE BOSS BABES ATX TEAM //
Jane Claire Hervey // Founder, Head of Operations
Ashlee Jordan Pryor // Co-Founder, Vendors + Community News Coordinator
Leslie Lozano // Co-Founder, Arts Coordinator
Lauren Murray // Press + Sponsors Coordinator
Jasmine Brooks // Editorial + Nonprofits Coordinator
From bottom left to right: Jane Claire Hervey, Leslie Lozano, Lauren Murray, Jasmine Brooks, Ashlee Jordan Pryor. (Photo by Taylor Anne Prewitt)
What am I doing with my life?
Maybe you have no idea what you want.
Maybe you know precisely what you want but you haven’t got an inkling of how you’re going to put food in your mouth and shelter over your head in pursuit of it.
Maybe you have experience in one industry but your heart lies in another.
Maybe you feel stuck.
These anxiety-ridden thoughts are common, exacerbated by our frequent exposure to social media. It’s easy for people, and this isn’t limited to the 2os demographic, to get looped into the highlight reels of their online networks. From behind a screen, we compare the perceived success of friends with our own perceived inadequacy. Endless scrolling, minimal personal growth.
In 2016, honest face-to-face conversation can be a revolutionary act.
That’s partly what inspired the creation of Boss Babes ATX, a non-profit organization that hosts bi-monthly meets and a variety of workshops, screenings and other pop-up events for self-identified women in Austin.
Sitting cross-legged on a white, faux fur rug that covers the entirety of Founder Jane Claire Hervey’s living room, I let the conversation with the team of five flow freely. These women have too big of dreams to be at a loss for something to say. Occasionally, Ashlee’s three-year-old daughter wanders into the living room from where she’s watching a movie in the bedroom. By the time we’ve wrapped up the interview, the toddler is covered in dot stickers, snacking on Cheetos, and letting us all take portraits of her while we laugh uncontrollably at her soft, assertive nature.
It’s this scene that exemplifies the spirit of Boss Babes, where the lines between business and friendship are purposefully blurred to achieve one central goal: To lift one another up.
“This is what community looks like. This is what happens when people get in one room and talk and we don’t spend all of our time on Netflix at home by ourselves… when you get 400 people in a room who are curious about life.”
While the word “networking” is just jargon for people seeking people to collaborate with on common interests, the concept conjures up dreaded thoughts of business attire and awkward self-promotion.
Challenging conventional norms, a Boss Babes meet is the ultimate anti-networking event. There’s no dress code, the location is typically a bar or cafe, and dancing is highly, highly encouraged. The “awkward” is acknowledged, embraced and dissipated by the end of the transformative evening.
The first hour is dedicated to roaming around the venue, admiring the work of local vendors. A DJ spins feel-good playlists to get you hyped for 30 announcements from local women promoting their businesses. The last couple of meets have incorporated live sketching by local artist Ashton Guy, who somehow managed to draw 16 portraits in three hours during the August meet. But stressing equal opportunity and avoiding non-compete clauses, the team won’t resort to the same photographer, DJ, yogi or acupuncturist to work every Boss Babes event.
After frequenting the monthly meets, you begin to see the same faces around Austin – at an improv show, an Afropunk festival, a film screening, a dance class. These connections form the realization that Boss Babes is more a movement than anything, a community that has weaved a path for anyone with questions about the resources available to them to convert their dreams into reality. Like any movement, it came to life when people realized they weren’t alone in the way they were feeling and decided to do something about it.
// THE ORIGIN STORY //
Boss Babes ATX took the city by storm a little over a year ago.
In November 2014, Jane was 22 and finishing up her final semester at the University of Texas at Austin. On a fast track to landing a C-level job in journalism and being from the small town of Rio Hondo, Texas in the Rio Grande Valley, she felt that she had little context to answer the questions she had about succeeding in a creative industry as a woman.
“Where I’m from, women become nurses. That’s not a bad thing, but that’s what women become. That’s what’s expected, you go to cosmetology school or you become a nurse. That’s just what it is. There was just no avenue for me, and after having all these ventures in college, I realized that I needed to figure it out or I was going to lose out on potential opportunities.”
Jane came up with the simple idea to bring Austin women together to chat over coffee. She turned to her good friends Ashlee Jordan Pryor and Leslie Lozano, both of whom had recently moved to the city, to put together the event. With each woman experiencing her own individual transition – Jane was graduating college, Ashlee was starting her handmade clothing line Crafts & Arts Clothing and Leslie was moving away from her hometown Rio Hondo to pursue styling – the planning of the first meet took half a year.
Before any of them could fathom what the organization would evolve into, they put out a powerful mission statement. Having the experience of founding a college magazine, Jane said that the well-developed online promotion (a website, blog, and social media channels) came naturally, admitting it might have given people a “kind of false assurance.”
But going big online to promote uniting offline worked to plant the seed for a community to grow. The trio only expected around 15 to 20 women to attend the first gathering at the coffee shop meets vintage clothing store Friends & Neighbors in May 2015. Instead, a crowd of over 250 showed up.
// WHAT DEFINES A “BOSS BABE”? //
Other than a sense of ownership, there aren’t specific characteristics dictating what a “Boss Babe” is and isn’t. The self-identified label fits whoever chooses to wear it, from a real estate worker looking to start her own interior design company to a single mother planning to leave a domestic abuse shelter and get set up in her own apartment.
Most importantly, the organization maintains an unwavering commitment to intersectional feminism.
Early criticism challenged the diversity of the organization, calling Boss Babes “just another group of white women doing things.” That backlash caused Leslie and Ashlee, women of color who make up two-thirds of the original team, to begin to think deeply about race, raising the questions “Am I Latina enough? Am I Black enough?’” The need for self-identification became clear not for external validation or approval, but to represent and inspire others.
“At the very beginning, we were making a conscious effort not to show our faces. We very quickly realized how important it is to see our faces. And we know that. I knew that growing up, whenever I saw a Latina on TV I’d be like, ‘Oh my god *claps* THAT’S ME!’ But it didn’t really register when we were creating this because we were thinking, ‘Well, you don’t really need to see our faces. It’s not important. It’s about y’all. But it’s also about identifying with one another.”
With Jasmine and Lauren on board, the team is still made up of majority women of color. Situations where women express skepticism of a team member’s key role in the organization brings up the uncomfortable question of internalized sexism and racism.
“I’ve had people be like… ‘Oh, YOU’RE a part of Boss Babes…You help out?’ I’ve felt jealous pangs sometimes, which I just try to ignore. But for the most part it’s an amazing community. This is a very diverse community in a place that isn’t super diverse.”
Although it’s the liberal capital of a Red State, praised for its progressive politics, art scene and natural beauty, Austin’s less advertised feature is its lack of multiculturalism when compared to other big Texas cities like Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. To be blunt, Austin’s very white. But at Boss Babes functions, women of color can take a look around and not feel like the only faces in the room.
// SLOW GROWTH IS THE BEST GROWTH //
The team recognizes the tricky paradox of maintaining the core spirit of an organization in the face of exponential growth, so the women remain guided by the mantra that slow growth is key.
“The [vendors] list is backed up so far and there are people that check in every now and then: ‘Where am I on the list? Can I get in on the list?’ and are respectful, and then of course we get people who feel entitled to their space. But again, I was that kind of person. I needed everything and I needed life to happen right now. I didn’t have time for spring of 2017. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people will make you realize it’s okay. Jane said the other day, things that are meant to be in your life aren’t going to go away. That’s probably one of the biggest things that Boss Babes has taught me – that it is okay to grow slow.”
When it comes to any type of community work, the most important thing to remember is that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Meaning that, if Boss Babes ATX had tried to implement its way of doing things through a chapters-across-the-USA route because the team thinks it has a good thing going, it would have most likely failed.
The reasons for the organization’s success is the team’s acknowledgement of the sacrality of keeping things local and the humble understanding that momentum burns fast and taking on too much at once is counterproductive.
That being said, the team encourages women to start their own organizations in their respective cities to address the needs of their communities. Jane hinted that the future for the organization might hold space for some sort of TedX-type program, where independent organizers can use Boss Babes programming as the skeleton framework for their own initiatives. But for now there’s Babes Fest, the national traveling extension of Boss Babes ATX that brings art, music and film to different cities, collaborating with like-minded organizations in those cities to build relationships and revel in mutual, parallel growth. Babes Fest made its NYC debut in June, and plans are currently underway for San Antonio, LA and Houston.
“I think that’s what Boss Babes helped me to do, on a whole validation level. Because I was just like, ‘I got to have this done in my life by the time I’m this age.’ I’m a huge planner. And then I came to the meet and joined the team and realized what Ashlee said, slow growth is okay because that’s when you find out what you really want out of life and what makes you happy. It was kind of the same thing with my parents. When my parents heard about Boss Babes they were like, ‘Oh, how long are you going to be with the project?” I’m like… ‘It’s not a project, this is a real life thing’.”
Torn between the external pressure of financial independence and the internal pressure of doing what you feel is right for you, which don’t often co-exist peacefully, your mind in your 20s is burdened by the ticking of society’s social clock. But once you open yourself up to those around you, you’re comforted by the acknowledgement that you’re not alone in the crazy, beautiful, stressful journey.
Sometimes all it takes to kickstart that journey is a couple of hours of lounging around on a fuzzy rug, allowing space for genuine conversation. And if you’re in Austin on Oct. 12, join the movement.