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ANNA SMITH: Female entrepeneurs find their voice

In a studio space steps above a local coffee shop, creative small business owners gathered to attend a workshop. The light-filled space felt like a temporary clubhouse for women during the two-day workshop that took place Jan. 26-27. The hosts had laid out snacks perfectly: corner-dipped chocolate shortbread cookies in the shape of the letter “B,” dried apricots, water bottles with custom branded labels, coffee and tea.

The room was filled with eager female business owners attending Brandwell, a hands-on immersive branding workshop that helps businesses create, strategize, design, style and share their brands well.

“We walked in with a business idea and left with a vision, a plan, a mission and a promise for the community,” Lotus Lounge Mindfulness Studio posted to its Instagram account after owner Sandra Poh completed the two-day workshop. Soon, the historic Let Sing Gong Temple on R Street across from Mexicali downtown will serve as a mindfulness studio - called Lotus Lounge - and will offer guided meditation classes, mindfulness living workshops, reiki services and a children’s summer camp.

The first Brandwell workshop was put on by a few talented women: Shannon LaBare and Ashlee Grishaber of Purveyor House, a marketing and brand development company, Jeran McConnel, a stylist, photographer and blogger of Oleander + Palm, the popular lifestyle brand, and Rubi Zetino of Rubi Z Photography. I attended the workshop.

Local businesses supporting each other is something I’m personally passionate about, so I was thrilled to see top local creatives pouring their time into this event, providing small businesses with the tools they need to share their stories.

Truth is, we’re hardwired for stories. We teach important ideas to our children through fables and fairy tales. The Bible - the most widely read book of all time - is told in narrative form. Telling a compelling story in an authentic way is a critical part of building a business brand. It shapes how people view the company and enables consumers to begin forging a connection with the business and the people behind it.

Social media is a crucial component to telling these stories. Businesses that at one time did not need an online presence now do. In the past, word of mouth was generally enough to garner business, but much more is expected in today’s technologically driven economy. Sharing stories in a compelling way online is crucial for branding today’s businesses.

Local businesses that hosted or attended the first Brandwell workshop included: a nutritionist, florist, wedding planner, business consultant, blogger, graphic designer, photographer, event planner and interior designer. The attendees were all women, but that was just a coincidence. Brandwell founders Shannon and Jeran noted that the event was not designed simply for females, and they would welcome men at future events.

Like this Brandwell experience, I’ve noticed a trend across the country toward spaces that create supportive environments for female professionals. As shared professional and social spaces increasingly replace the traditional office, female-dedicated organizations thrive. There is Shecosystem in Toronto and Hera Hub, which has three locations in the San Diego area as well as one each in Washington, D.C., Phoenix and Uppsala, Sweden. In St. Louis, there is Rise Collaborative Workspace. There appears to be a demand for these modern clubhouses for female professionals.

The Wing is one example. It’s a women-only club and co-working space in New York City that represents a particular brand of “Instagrammable feminism,” as it's described by the New York Times. The Wing is striving for diversity and sponsored by Chanel. Bookshelves line one section of The Wing’s New York location, filled with female-authored books. An all-female team designed the space at The Wing. One of the interior designers, Hilary Koyfman, described the look of the Wing to Domino Magazine as “kind of like ‘Mad Men’ — without the men.”

The Assembly is another such example. Opened late last year in a historic building in The Mission neighborhood of San Francisco, the space serves as a social club, co-work space and fitness studio for women.

After Brandwell, I climbed down from the supportive clubhouse-like space that the founders created, and I was inspired. There is magic when small business owners gather and feel nurtured, and I feel lucky to have witnessed it. Perhaps it makes sense that Brandwell was attended solely by female business owners; there is a need for more spaces to gather women, help advance their pursuits and build community together. My intuition tells me this is just the start of something really powerful.

• Carb Heaven: Baker’s Outpost is staking its claim in the Eastchester neighborhood. The shop currently sells artisan breads and baked goods at local farmer’s markets and will be opening up a new shop downtown soon.

A few of our favorite items on their current menu: sourdough brioche cinnamon rolls; banana bread; butter tarts; sunflower flaxseed loafs; and vegan whole grain spelt raspberry lemon scones.

Second Saturday: On Feb. 10, businesses in downtown's newly dubbed Eastchester neighborhood (as this column, as well as The Californian's Steven Mayer, have previously described) will take part in the quickly growing Second Saturday gathering. (This is the fifth event.) Second Saturday is a monthly weekend gathering that brings the community and businesses together in the area east of Chester. One of my favorite businesses that's involved in the event is The Rustic Petal flower shop, housed in a charming moveable trailer. Owner Morgan wraps bunches of fresh flowers in brown paper and ties with string. It feels like the quintessential corner flower stand - only cooler!

State of the Downtown: Join the Downtown Business Association for a breakfast to learn about the state of our downtown, 7:30 to 9 a.m. Feb. 15. I have a feeling this year's event will feel optimistic,.

Keeping us Secure: Locally owned and operated Secure Systems is opening a new office downtown. They will host a grand opening celebration 4 to 6 p.m. Feb. 22 at their new downtown location at the corner of 23rd and H streets.

Anna Smith writes a weekly column about Bakersfield. She can be reached at The opinions expressed are her own.

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