Local Voices: Tessa McLoughlin of KWENCH
KWENCH Work & Culture Club
Tessa McLoughlin makes time for connection. Allowing our conversation to spill over for a few minutes of additional joy, wisdom and hope; despite a day juggling a community-based business and its team during a global pandemic, a new cafe-grocer concept soon-to-open on-site, plans of expansion, and life as a single mother.
The Australian on my call is a colourful delight in both appearance and mood — matching with her brainchild KWENCH’s aesthetic. She's a ‘Community Activist’ who designs and builds inclusive space for people to be productive, be seen, and thrive. The founder of KWENCH; so-called because of the work and culture club’s guiding values: Knowledge, Wellness, Experiences, Novelty, Curiosity and Connection to foster Healthy and Happy lives.
I was lucky enough to catch Tessa for a few words the week of International Women’s Day.
When did KWENCH first assert itself in your conscious?
In 2012 my life took a sudden turn that I didn't see coming. It was then that I moved to Victoria with my two children. I knew I had to be a rock for them during a massive shift, so I found myself doing things to keep myself happy — yoga, courses, trying to meet people, sewing, and at one point I was like this, keeping happy, is a lot of work! What if it was all in one place?
My sister went to a fantastic performing arts school in Australia, and I remember how inspired you felt when you stepped inside the building. It was this hive of activity and creativity, and I realized I wanted to build something with that same feeling. A place where different disciplines and a professions could support, learn and be inspired by each other.
How has being a woman in your work challenged you, what would you like to see change?
The glaringly obvious one is finding funding. It's ridiculously hard for women to find the capital they need to start a business. Studies show that in North America only 2% of business funding goes to women. 2%! We need to make access to funding more equitable. That means looking at why women aren’t receiving the funding and adjusting the criteria accordingly. We all know women aren't paid as much as men, so expecting us to have the same amount of assets, doesn't make sense.
How has being a woman in your work brought you joy?
I love being a woman. I love that I can multi-task, I’m collaborative, and I don't take myself too seriously. I can be a friend, a mother, look after a sick child, be a family taxi, pack lunches, cook meals, laugh and still run my business; I can do all this by myself.
I'm still always so impressed by these women who not only juggle many hats, but thrive within them.
Yes, I guess I would also hope that it changes. I can do all these things, but should I have to? Once again, if we made our social structures more egalitarian - especially in our relationships, then women would have the support and opportunities to thrive. And that is a win for everyone!
I noticed in your creation process you worked with other female creatives, was that intentional?
I wouldn't say it was super intentional. I'm big on empowering women, and in turn myself by working with people who inspire and push me to be better. Some of those people are women. The architect and construction team were predominantly male, but the interior design team, Hansen Built, was a great group of talented women. In the beginning our operations team was very women-centric however we are now evenly split - as is our membership in the club.
Women are naturally community builders. Of course there's a lot of men who make great communities, but historically it's been the women who bring people together, gather, raise children. Women are pretty damn rad. I'm seeing that when employing people now — there are so many fierce, talented and educated young women.
One of the IWD talks I attended talked a lot about fostering belonging beyond inclusivity. How do you see that come into play at KWENCH?
I've been into many coworking spaces where noone says hello. Here, you're greeted when you enter and walk around the building (someone waves to Tessa right-on-cue). Most members know each others' names, which gives everyone the feeling of being seen and belonging. Even if you're an introvert and don't chat much, members will still say hey and then leave you to yourself.
It really is the littlest things. When you WFH alone it's just not the same as sharing energy in person. We've had so many people come back from Covid and say I cannot not be at KWENCH. People were begging us to stay open.
The talk also spoke a lot about women and kindness. Your opening statement reads: "KWENCH facilitates happiness. We value respect, integrity, and kindness". Do you think kindness is a more natural choice for women than men?
I think women are conditioned to be peace keepers. We've even dulled ourselves down for other people's wants and ambitions, just to keep the peace. Though I don't know if I think it's an innately female trait. I do love how women not only pull each other up, but they'll also push someone above them. That's something I haven't yet seen in the business world with men. I find women are really collaborative.
I love that for my team we're on a really equal playing field. Even though I'm technically 'the boss,' it's not like I'm ruling over them all, we are very much a team. There is no ruling by fear in this building, just accountability.
Are there particular ways you make the space inclusive?
Inclusivity is something I do naturally, and it has been hard to document my process in terms of operations as a business. I've really had to contemplate this a lot. As a team, we practice coming from a place of curiosity and compassion. What is going on for that person? When you come from a place of curiosity you are instantly open to new ideas, new experiences and ways of experiencing the world. This in-turn makes us less judgmental and accusing.
There is very low ego at KWENCH, and when ego does arrive - you instantly feel it. However it usually doesn’t get the oxygen it needs so doesn’t last long.
We really set a tone — that's sort of our secret sauce.
Has Covid changed your vision for the business? Are you hopeful for 2021?
Covid has been very stressful, but nowhere near as much as raising the money to build KWENCH. Convincing people to believe in me and my idea was a very hard and long journey.
Absolutely, I’m hopeful, there's nothing else to be. We all go through stuff, and eventually come out of it. If I want to be hopeful, I have to create it.
On that note: can you tell us a bit about Neighbourly? I know our team’s going to become regulars pretty quick.
It's a cafe-general store that is going in our vacant space downstairs, and it's going to be so fab!
The aim is again to provide convenience and reduce the busyness for our members and community, in a sustainable way. KWENCH a single-use-plastic-free-zone and sustainability has been at the forefront of all our decision making in terms of operations, purchases and inventory for Neighbourly. I don't think any company should be allowed to exist unless they assess and minimize their environmental footprint. We are constantly educating and learning from our community. We all need to take drastic measures to improve the health of our planet. Full stop.
You can find KWENCH at 2031 Store Street, Victoria
And online at www.clubkwench.com and https://www.instagram.com/kwenchcultureclub/
Photos of Tessa by @julialoglisci
Photos of the KWENCH space by @jamesjonesphotos
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