The Indie Alley x Steph Harty
We wanted to feature The Indie Alley on If Lost Start Here, but we have a definite bias. Both Amanda and I are co-founders and I’m the Program Director there still, so we’ve been mulling over how to do this and we came up with this idea. To interview Stephanie Harty, the owner, co-director and beating heart of this place. She’s the person who gets it done (like everything from marketing and strategy to making sure it all looks so good), shows up daily (for very long days) and gives love to all that enter from first Member Stacey Dillon all the way through to our latest office renter Sam Lamott.
But first, what is it and why do we think it’s important? The Indie Alley is a female-run coworking, community and event space in downtown Fairfax that opened on International Women’s Day, 2018. Over the past year, it’s become an important fixture for local entrepreneurs and freelancers. With Members coming from different fields, including business, social media, technology, marketing and PR, health care, sustainability and the creative industries, the Indie Alley brings people together so that they can make life work just that little bit better.
The Indie Alley also aims to provide meaningful resources and tangible support for women at all stages of their personal and professional lives so that they may better succeed as creative beings, as change-agents, and entrepreneurs. And we do this, with the support of our male allies who are welcome to participate across the organization.
The Indie Alley is now into its second year, yay! We now know how hard it is to even get to that stage, to keep a space running when the business models that we’re pushed into are about scale and reach. But there’s a huge amount to be said for micro-communiies, for operating at levels of intimacy and connection, and through really supporting people where they are because you know who they are not just what the metrics tell you. If only there was a place like this in every community (franchising dream for later?)
OK, now you have the context, over to that interview. Here we talk about how mental health is indirectly woven into the business, how the spaces we create can have impacts, of all kinds, on our own lives, and how we keep going when we maybe feel like we can’t or shouldn’t.
With Stephanie Harty, Owner, the Indie Alley
Claire: Why a bricks and mortar space? What is it about having an actual space that speaks to you?
Steph: It’s all about being together. The magic of The Indie Alley could not be replicated in any other way. No online platform or Facebook group could capture the essence of our community.
C: What is the feeling that you hope people walk away with?
S: I personally hope all of the Indies walk away with the feeling that I have their back, that we as a team support and value each other.
C: You are open about being bipolar as a business owner? How has bringing that piece of yourself into the Indie Alley shaped you, your business, and your community?
S: I am very open about being bipolar, not just as a business owner, but as a person, as myself. It is a real thing, sometimes quite tangible in ways, and while I don’t allow bipolar to define me, it certainly has shaped me.
The business of the Indie Alley serves purpose on many levels. I truly believe my artistic side was born out of the darkness/brightness I feel as my body chemistry swirls around. I can somehow let that creativity come alive when I am making things beautiful. I am always on the hunt for comfort and I think that shines through with the design of our space. And with comfort comes the ability to open up and feel a sense of belonging. That creates community.
I believe my “condition” is a gift. It has paved an avenue for me to connect with others on deeper more meaningful levels. When you hurt, I hurt. When you feel joy, I feel joy. We are all connected at The Indie Alley and I am happy to have provided the gathering spot for all of us to come together to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.
C: How important is that to you to be open about your mental health?
S: It’s vitally important to me to be wide open about it. I don’t want anybody to feel alone; I don’t want to be alone. We all have our levels of mental health, some not so black and white as bipolar, but we all have a little something, so it’s my hope that those around me will feel at peace with whatever they are dealing with in the knowledge that they don’t have to take it on by themselves.
C: What impacts have you seen of that on the people around you, negative and positive?
S: Ha! Funny. Sometimes when I open up I see the fear in the person’s eyes as if I am going to attack them at any given moment. I try not to laugh. I am empathetic, their feelings are valid, unfounded or not, and it may just not work out that we can be friends.
But I make it clear that I am also faithfully med compliant - something I strongly believe in as the only responsible way to treat oneself. While it does dampen and dull my manic tendencies (look….mania can be super fun and addicting so I understand why some choose to not medicate) it is just so essential to safely treat so you don’t, ya know, actually attack somebody at any given moment. The “oh shit, she is crazy” reactions are a sign that most people do not understand the condition fully or recognize that there are different shades of bipolar.
Then there are others that are so taken with the rawness of how I identify this part of me. I’ve been met with a level of gratitude that I cannot put into words. It’s that knowing look of somebody who is dealing with bipolar either themselves or with somebody they know and love. If I’ve helped one person it is worth it to me to have outed myself to just about anybody who will listen.
C: What is the impact of the Indie Alley on you personally?
S: Man! Such a duality for me. The Indie Alley is an absolute passion, but one that comes at a great cost both financially and emotionally for me. I love it deeply but sometimes it is the cause of some real personal struggles and even damage. I have not properly set up healthy boundaries - that’s a weakness I intend to make a strength. By the time I learned the stakes of prioritizing between the business and my family it was almost too late. I had lost touch with some very basic needs in life. Not just my needs, but the needs of those closest to me. The desire to create a place with warmth and compassion and love was the thing that drew my attention away from the warmth, compassion and love within my own family.
C: How do you feel that a space like the Indie Alley reverberates beyond its walls?
S: Good question. I am not quite sure how to answer this really. We are still so young and while the word is getting out there I don’t know that we, at the Indie Alley are at a reverberating stage just yet. While my gut tells me that one day we will move beyond 69 Bolinas Road, be it with our non-profit arm or otherwise, I think we have a lot of meaningful work to do before then.
I believe the evolution of our mission for greater good has developed really organically. When people come together and join in whatever way - via collaboration or otherwise - ideas happen and then those ideas go beyond the walls.