It’s quite the pickle: How do you create a platform for people to meet new friends and forge connections in-person when, well, no one can really do that safely?
Alisha Ramos founded GNI in 2017, when she began sending a newsletter about the joys of staying in, with tips and reflections on things like cooking, wellness, and reading. The DC-based newsletter eventually began holding events like the GNI Reads book club, but attendees wanted more opportunities for in-person connections, says GNI/the Lounge community director Olivia Rogine.
View this post on Instagram
It’s nice to finally meet you! 🛋 @jointhelounge is a membership platform, connecting @girlsnightinclub readers online and IRL (when it's safe) through gatherings, community experiences, and more! Starting today, you can join the waitlist to become a member and start lounging with us. ✨⠀ ⠀ Membership includes: ⠀ ⠀ 🌿 Access to the Lounge platform: Sign up for gatherings, find other Loungers to connect with, and access perks from our partners like @brooklinen, @obe_fitness, @wearebrightland, and more. ⠀ ⠀ 👩👩👧👦 Access to Lounge gatherings: Join us for book club discussions, cookbook clubs, craft workshops, watch parties, and more — hosted by other Loungers and surprise guests we admire. ⠀ ⠀ 💌 Exclusive content: Access to our Lounge Slack community, a members-only Monday newsletter from the @girlsnightinclub team, and more. ⠀ ⠀ Visit the link in our bio to lounge with us. Have Qs? Drop them into the comments below!
GNI polled its followers, and realized it wasn’t so much the book discussions they were showing up in-person for, it was the connections they would make. So, in fall 2019, the group launched a beta version of the Lounge in DC, which—like other similarly minded groups such as the Reclaim or the Outrage—would forge meet-ups amongst like-minded people. It was a success, with crafting get-togethers and movie nights, and the group decided it would launch an official platform in 2020.
But then of course, the pandemic came. So, what was supposed to be a conduit for people to gather IRL morphed into a way for people to make new friends without ever leaving their couch. There are events like a virtual skincare workshop with clean beauty brand Indie Lee or a Zoom workout class with fitness/wellness club the Assembly. Participants can access a member database to find other Loungers in their neighborhood or industry. They’ll also gain entry to a designated Slack channel where members can chat and crowdsource recommendations. And the Lounge is sending out a weekly newsletter, offering discounts to partner brands like houseplant company Rooted.
While there are trained Loungers who host official online events, many members often have informal gatherings, such as a recent virtual watch party for Black Is King. Currently, membership is $12 a month or $130 a year, and while the program is open to all interested members, the majority of them are women-identifying and non-binary, says Rogine.
View this post on Instagram
We’re going beyond book clubs (we’ve still got ‘em monthly, though 📚). See you at the next Lounge watercolor workshop, podcast club, fitness class, or group meditation. 👋⠀ ⠀ (By the way – we're still doing these virtually for now.)⠀ ⠀ Visit the link in our bio to #loungewithus.⠀ ⠀ 📸: @carrie_radford⠀ ⠀
Rogine says that one benefit to the virtual set-up is it allows better accessibility. The majority of the Lounge’s membership lives in DC, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, she says, with a smattering in places like Austin, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Now, the group has been able to incorporate folks who may live in more rural areas and wouldn’t ordinarily make it to an in-person meet-up. While the group will eventually hold physical gatherings in city hubs, the virtual component will stay.
The Lounge’s “community pillars” are focused on the three Cs: connection, curiosity, and care. The last one has been particularly important as we all face the unknown, says Rogine: She cites Loungers who have mentored others through lost jobs or helped them find a roommate. “It’s really special to witness, especially during this time of loss and grief.”
It would seem people need the three Cs now more than ever, even if they are virtual: The Lounge currently has 1,000 members, says Rogine, with a 5,000 person waitlist.