Feature: Passion Project

The Indie Alley fosters creativity, community and connection

When you think of co-working spaces, artsy and free-thinking Fairfax might not come to mind as a natural home for one. And yet that’s exactly where Steph Harty, founder of The Indie Alley, decided to place hers. This will be the first time that the printed page mentions the new, quaint space—in true Fairfax fashion, the news about it has been spreading by word of mouth.

Originally from the East Coast, Harty, a music industry veteran, moved to Marin with her family in 2014 and got situated in Fairfax. “I’ve lived all over the country,” Harty says. “Fairfax is the first time that I have felt at home.”

As Harty grew fonder of her creative community, she decided to honor the women in it by giving them a space to gather, work and wonder. The Indie Alley, for ‘women and allies,’ opened soon after. “It’s a place for us to grow and stretch out of what society might think we are,” Harty says. “When we know we are so much more.”

Offering a library, cozy nooks and desks, The Indie Alley is full of bohemian touches that are every bit Fairfax. Lots of natural wood, vintage rugs, furs and colorful pillows adorn the wood-beamed rooms.

When you walk into the space, the warmth is different—there’s no glamour and glitz; it’s just a space where you feel welcome, and there’s no pretence—just come in, have a cup of coffee or tea and get to doing whatever you’re doing,” says Harty, when asked what sets her passion project apart.

“It was really important to us to make a space that felt like the kind of place we actually want to work in,” adds Claire Fitzsimmons, a co-founder who contributed to the design. “So often co-working spaces can feel very corporate; they can lack a personality, and we knew from the start we didn’t want to create just another office-y type space. We’re not about growing people as brands, but for supporting who people actually are and how they navigate their complex and messy lives.”

Certainly not the home of many office-y establishments, Fairfax is a favorite among creatives and artistic types; Harty admits that they are The Indie Alley’s main clientele. “Fairfax is definitely unique—when you’re surrounded by nature, the vibe is different from the next towns over—but people do work!” she says with a laugh. “Houses are often small, plus often you need a dual income to be able to live in Marin as a family, especially if you have kids, and often one of the parents works from home. He or she may work at coffee shops, but they come in and say, ‘Ahhh, thank you!’ because there are no distractions.”

Steph Harty, founder and owner of The Indie Alley, wanted to create a welcoming space where people and their passions are supported. Photo courtesy of The Indie Alley/Suzanne Christine Photography.

Along with a relaxed space, free WiFi and plenty of reading material, the place offers courses, events and meet-ups. There are crafting meetings, meditations, a book club and coaching sessions. There’s even a naming workshop with Bettina Ferrando, a member with a crucial role—she helped Harty come up with ‘The Indie Alley’ name. “It’s hilarious to look at options we had, some of them made no sense!” Harty says. “We had ‘indie,’ and you have to walk down an alley to walk into the building—there was the magical moment, an epiphany.”

The focus is decidedly female, but men, says Harty, “also need to be a part of this project. We’ll be talking about feminism, but if men aren’t part of it, we’ll just be talking to ourselves.”  

Fitzsimmons, who does much of the programing, adds, “I think those are themes that run strong in our society at the moment and not necessarily just in co-working spaces. What we’re seeing is that co-working spaces orientate themselves around different ideas, and I don’t think they all take on feminism. Though some do, and we’re proud to be part of the community of spaces across the U.S. that are run by women for women.”

What makes co-working spaces so compelling, in Fairfax and beyond? “I think that people are looking for a place to connect and find commonality,” Harty says. “I find so many of us have the need to feel the energy of others and to just get out of the house, and social media can only go so far in terms of keeping one connected to the outside, but there is an unmet need when only engaging through those platforms.”

Fitzsimmons believes that it’s part of a global shift. “We work differently now—we are no longer tied in the same way to a single office location, we have portfolio careers, we work from home or remotely, we have tech tools available to us that mean we can work from anywhere, and we do. Co-working meets the needs that come with that shift. We may be able to work alone or at home, but we are also realizing that we still want to have other people around. We get lonely, or distracted or unfocused in those home offices!”

Co-founder Amanda Sheeren, who frequents The Indie Alley, says that it’s estimated that 40 percent of the workforce will be working remotely by the year 2020. “That is a staggering number of people who will have the freedom to choose when, how and where they work,” she says. “For women, specifically, this may mean the opportunity to enter or re-enter the workforce at a level that may not have been possible in the past.”

But, Sheeren adds, on top of offering the possibility to do just that, The Indie Alley shows awareness of the hardships and challenges that constant connectivity brings. “In addition to our wellness room, just a place to sit in the calm and quiet, we also offer workshops and classes aimed at supporting the whole person, not just the professional, so while we may be riding the swelling co-working wave, we’re also set on carving out a unique and holistic path,” she says.

While women’s issues, a holistic approach to wellness and the rise of the remote workplace are universal, some attributes set The Indie Alley apart as a ‘local’ hub: Currently boasting 30 members, the space is, according to Fitzsimmons, a growing community tailored for the specific needs of Fairfax.

We’re not WeWork,” Fitzsimmons says. “We’re not aiming for 1,000 members. We know each and every person who comes through the door and we can develop programs and benefits to meet their needs.

“Marin is such an interesting context,” she continues. “This is one of the most affluent counties in the U.S., and yet there are some fascinating contradictions in being here: Issues around race, health, aging, substance abuse, teen depression and suicide. My hope is that The Indie Alley can be a place of active discussions around some of these issues and we can bring in great speakers and facilitators who can help us figure some of these things out.”

Harty believes that the women behind The Indie Alley take the people-centered values of Fairfax into their space. “People here fundamentally care about other people,” she says. “It’s not a very showy place. There are already interesting conversations around living meaningful and creative lives, that hopefully The Indie Alley can contribute to.”

The Indie Alley, 69 Bolinas Road, Fairfax; 773/454-7872; theindiealley.com.

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