Walking down Richland Street to interview the co-founder, Nell Fuller, of Femme x Columbia and I pass by tall historic buildings shaded by trees. It is the definition of southern charm. I reach the end of the street and look up when the GPS tells me that I have arrived, and I see a huge historic building painted pink. Pink.
I walk to the front door and Fuller opens the door for me with a mask-covered smile. She walks me through all of the rooms in the space and explains to me that her main goal with Femme x is to empower women business owners and leaders. Femme x is designed to do this by creating a community that gives and takes advice equally. Fuller then called women “natural collaborators” with a unique perspective on business. This is when I began to understand that Femme x is not a business plan, but a lifestyle. Femme x is a women-positive coworking space and networking club. Memberships include free range of the building, and a COVID-burnout friendly space to work and potentially meet likeminded people.
Walking around the building, all I could think of was the phrase “Business in the front, party in the back.” Every room in Femme x is a different style and aesthetic of mid-century modern on all four levels. The building even includes a bar and lounge. The rooms on the main floor are named after Columbia City of Women Honorees which perfectly embodies Femme x’s mission of women supporting women. I liked the idea of sitting around with “Victoria” and “Modjeska.” They felt like my team- cheering me on.
The physical building is called Common 1501 and the idea of supporting women, along with a podcast and blog, is all Femme x. In addition to this, there is Femme Capital which is a social impact venture capital fund specifically for women in business. When I asked Fuller about the difference between these things, she said Common 1501 is for everyone, and Femme x is for everyone who supports women. There was an emphasis on the term “women” being used over a word like “female” to be more inclusive and respectful to a variety of gender identities.
The cost of a membership at Femme x goes towards the Femme Capital fund. Femme x members pay $150 annually to use all levels of the space and get discounts off of pop-ups that happen in Common 1501. These pop ups include things like spa days, yoga instruction, artist talks and business classes. Femme x wants to be the balance between hard work and self-care.
Femme x has three core values: cultivate, revive and fuel. Cultivate has to do with the networking aspect of the brand. Femme x wants to help women grow socially, politically, and economically by giving women access to knowledge they might not otherwise discover. Revive is about the self-care mentioned before. It is there so people can take time to pause and reflect and not let life’s everyday struggles bring them down. Finally, there is fuel. This is where Femme Capital comes into play. Femme x wants to give women funding that allows them to grow. If enough women receive the capital to bring their ideas to fruition, then there is the potential to break the cycle of rich men only making other men rich. Established women would be able to lift up younger women entrepreneurs.
When explaining why Femme Capital was so important, Fuller emphasized that supporting women is good for everyone, regardless of their gender identity. It boosts the economy and stimulates unique ideas in the workplace. Around 90 percent of venture capital is given to men. This leaves 10 percent for women, and less than 1 percent of that goes to women of color. The problem is not that these women are not generating ideas for businesses, but that they do not have the resources and investors in both their ideas and personal success. Femme x is trying to change the typical systems of capital distributions by allowing networking and business opportunities. Women need the revenue that Femme Capital is raising to become more self-sufficient and shed the restraints of a 9-5 job. It is time to let women be in control of more money.
I asked Fuller if she would like to share any personal experience from the workplace where she felt discriminated against for being a woman. She pretty quickly said that it has felt hard to be taken seriously. Fuller had seen a theme of men being dismissive of herself and other women. Sadly, this did not surprise me. You would think that we would have made more societal change by now, but it was only 20 years ago that the media was shaming Britney Spears for being too innocent, too sexy, too crazy and too successful all at the same time. This idea that women cannot do everything at the same time is still lingering in the back of the minds of men in the workplace. Women are already working jobs, raising families and taking care of homes simultaneously. Why can they not own businesses too? Femme x is dedicated to changing this notion because it is clear that the world needs more women leaders. There should be a place at the table for Victoria, Modjeska, Nell, and everyone in between.