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Audrey Gelman and Lauren Kassan
Photograph: Tawni Bannister

The Wing founders chat with us about the most popular women’s group in NYC

The duo has created a much-needed home base where New Yorkers can band together during “a female renaissance.”

Written by
Jennifer Picht

Audrey Gelman and Lauren Kassan (cofounders of the Wing, a networking space for women) speak in unison about the past 12 months: “It was a big year!” And so it was, not only for them but also for women around the globe. (Can you believe the Women’s March was nearly a year ago?) In that spirit, the duo has created a much-needed home base where New Yorkers can band together during what Gelman calls, “a female renaissance.” The pair launched their Flatiron social club (45 E 20th St) in October 2016. A year later, the New York natives opened a second women’s group in Soho (52 Mercer St); hosted a public holiday market with 30 female-owned businesses; and launched a biannual feminist zine, No Man’s Land. Each of their spaces boast multipurpose lounges (featuring showers and nap rooms!), and members get to go to gratis cool events like a recent Lady Bird screening and Q&A with Greta Gerwig. (The wait list for membership is 8,000 ladies long.) But the even better draw is that the club allows New York women and nonbinary individuals of all sizes, professions and backgrounds to connect and foster friendships with other women in their early twenties to their seventies. “We make sure we have a really dynamic group of women who might not necessarily get to meet outside of our walls,” says Kassan. Gelman adds: “We want to create a space where a woman like Lisa, a counterterrorism analyst at the NYPD, can interact with a woman who is a physician or in academia or in graduate school. That’s what makes an interesting room.”

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What was your “eureka” moment that urged you to start The Wing?
Gelman: I really needed the utility of an actual space that I could use as a person who wasn’t chained to a desk. I was running around to appointments all the time. That was the idea—to create a space women could use to do everything from charge their phones, take a shower and store their stuff during the day. Lauren had the brilliant revelation that the space could be a place where women could meet each other and develop relationships.
Kassan: There wasn’t something that existed like that just for women, so that’s when the seed of the idea began to evolve.

Did your vision turn out the way you hoped?
Gelman: I think it has. One of the first things we did with our architects was make a tiny miniature model [of the space], and we were shocked by how identical it looked. I think the vision for what kind of a space it could be, and the potential for how it could change the lives of the women who call it home, that all came true. But beyond what any of us could have predicted.
Kassan: Our hope was that it fostered connections and a community, and that’s really what we’re seeing. And, obviously, people use it to shower after gym class too.

Some pretty incredible women showed their interest in The Wing from the start. (Rapper Remy Ma and Emily Weiss from Glossier). How did you get them on board?
Gelman: Emily was a friend. The first group of people who want to support you with anything you do are your friends. The crazy thing was when we started getting interest from people we didn’t even know. With Remy Ma, we did an exercise of brainstorming our dream women who are fearless and making an impact in male-dominated industries. She was just someone I have admired for a really long time. We just decided we were going to get to her. I think a lot of the women immediately got the idea and thought it was cool.

You just launched a zine called No Man’s Land with transgender model Hari Nef on the cover. How did that project come together, and what was it like to work with so many talented women?
Gelman: It was awesome. Our naivete sometimes works in our favor because we said we we’re going to make a magazine, and then we just did it without overthinking it. When you decide you’re going to make something, and you don’t stop at anything, it can happen.
Kassan: Everyone involved is basically a member.
Gelman: We have an amazing network of women who are writers and journalists, but also women who are just doing really fascinating things journalists want to write about. There was that built-in synergy and support from the women who wanted to be a part of it. We worked with a group of editors such as Deidre Dyer who is the Executive Editor. For the design, we worked with Pentagram and Emily Oberman, who designed the first issue of Lucky. We were inspired by The Gentlewoman, Riposte and other great female-centric magazines out there. We had editorial meetings, got pitches from people and just did it.

2017 has been a big year for The Wing. How does it feel to have achieved so much success in such a short amount of time?
Gelman: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. There’s a female renaissance happening. We saw it at the Women’s March when we were there with 100 of our members. It was a great year. We raised $32 million dollars to grow The Wing, to take it national and potentially international.
Kassan: For us, I think this is just the starting point. Next year, we want to be able to reach more women through our locations, our magazines and through the other efforts that we’re doing.

Do you have any dream members you wish would join The Wing?
Gelman: Tiffany Haddish. I love her. Fran Lebowitz. Amal Clooney.
Kassan: A lot of these women are on our board of people who inspire us.

What do you love about New York and how do you think the city played into your business model?
Kassan: New York is a city where people are always busy and moving around, and The Wing is their calm, safe space. Having that place in such a crazy city is definitely needed.
Gelman: Yeah, it’s an anchor. A lot of the women we are inspired by are very much New York-women. They have opinions, and they’re going to tell you what they are. So we wanted to create a space that had a personality. We used Florent, this diner in the Meatpacking District, as our inspiration. It was a very political watering hole for all these different types of people, from celebrities to food industry folks and artists. I think it’s really interesting to see how these spaces can have these big personalities, and I think it’s very New York. 

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