*Please come back for the video or bookmark Vimeo.com/Memkoh* With Philly (Philadelphia) being the City of Brotherly Love and February being the month of love, it made perfect sense to take the Memkoh Meetup there.
It all started, with a Google Form for Signups, then a flyer, and an Eventbrite link that sold out (till I added one more seat) and finally some fancy e-invitations.
Whether I choose to accept it or not, this event was a success.
I'll lead you through the pertinent bits.
On February 6th, my friend Ivie and I arrived at Rittenhouse Square and made our way to the room I had reserved at La Croix Restaurant in the Rittenhouse Hotel, Philadelphia. I had gotten a notification from the previous venue 2 days before that my new meetup size (15) was more than they could accommodate (10). "What a bummer!", I thought initially till it sunk in that this was good news, meetup-wise. I recognized some names on my guest list, some I did not.
A few minutes in, we were setting up. I had been told that the room will not be available till 12:30pm, so I factored that into my arrival time. I had spent the previous night at Walmart, scratching the bottom of my bank account (fact!) to get gifts and a little decor. That ended in me walking straight from the checkout line to "Returns" because I needed money for tolls. I know you thought I was jokingabout being broke. Look at the cards I used for the ice-breakers below and guess what they are.
Looks like we had a little red and gold theme going on. Hmmm...who knew?
The cards are free paint swatches from Walmart. It saved me however much the colored paper stack I initially threw into my cart was. #DearYoungEntrepreneur, your journey will teach you to be resourceful!
Setup went well, thanks to Ivie's help. I learned from the Lagos Meetup that gifts, no matter how small were great takeaways for your guests so although I was in a bad place financially, I had decided to include some handmade African print buttons in the gift box for my guests. I had made them last summer but they didn't sell; more like I never listed them on Etsy. So out came the craft boxes I got from Walmart and in came my first guests, as we were putting finishing touches and securing the bows on each box.
Prior to this, we were received with a very cold welcome. That "I was not expecting this kind of crowd" welcome from the manager. I ignored that. Mind you, we were just two at the time - host and friend. This lady literally had shocked spelled all over her face as we walked in. I thought I was the only one who picked this up, but as my friend and I recounted the event at the end, she told me she noticed and felt the same way too.
We were showed the room and I was really impressed with the simple setup, though from a photography perspective, I knew the lighting wouldn't be great for pictures. I spoke with the manager to request a clothing rack since the nearest Walmart was a bit far; mine at home would have taken ages to setup so I didn't bother. The manager told me they had none. In a hotel? Riiighhhtt! One of the servers came into the room and asked if we needed anything and we told him, calculating the distance to Walmart in the process. Off he went, making no promises but coming back with a clothing rack. It was like the heavens opened at that moment. Such favor! We carried on with packing the gifts after which I hung up some of my clothes on the rack. I had asked everyone to bring clothes to donate, clothes to sell and clothes to swap. This is a Memkoh Meetup thing. :)
As we put finishing touches to the setup - Ivie on the gift boxes and I on the center place cards - the servers came in and dropped the menu right on the glittery place cards I had arranged. Are you keeping track of these little grievances? I didn't say a thing. I adjusted the setup all over and tried to make small conversation with the guests who had just walked in. I was actually pretty excited (though it did not show) to see one of my guests who came with her baby. She had been courteous enough to email me, asking if she could bring her baby along. Of courrseeee! She's a future stylish lady, isn't she? She better learn now (:
Knowing more guests would soon arrive, I excused myself to go get changed in the bathroom. I just needed to switch my top and look human again. As I tried to lace up my second pair of shoes, my hands were shaking. I wasn't surprised. After everything that had just happened in under 30 minutes, my nerves were worked up, obviously coupled with the pressure of hosting an event. I knew I had to pull myself together. So it took me longer than I expected, roughly 10-15 minutes.
I came out more composed and ready to receive my next wave of guests who had arrived. I didn't notice this as I walked in, but while I was gone, our two servers had been switched out. I got this update as we replayed Snapchat videos at the end of the event. It all made sense - how we had 2 nice, professional servers in the beginning and ended with an extremely rude server who barged into the meetup room multiple voice, interrupting any conversation that was going on and speaking at the top of his voice. He never asked for my permission before coming in/speaking, neither did he use his intuition to know it was rude to interrupt while an important event was on. Ok, I'm flying here. Chill, Mem.
Just as we were about to start, my friend told me how the manager wanted to move my guests from the room to the main hall, because people hadn't started arriving and she thought the party was not going to make the estimated amount. This got me annoyed because when I exited the room to the bathroom, one of her staff gave me the directions. So even if she did not know where I was and they were truly searching for me, someone could have easily told her I was in the bathroom. I digress...
Look closely at this picture below. Do you see that look from the manager? That was her face the entire day. Tell me it doesn't say e-ve-ry-thing!
Side note: this experience, coupled with laziness to edit the pictures is why this post is coming so late. Even as I started typing, my intention was to talk about the meetup only and share pictures. But...
The Memkoh Meetup was now in full swing. I welcomed the new guests, a few familiar faces, a few new ones, then gave a brief intro about myself my business, before sitting down to let everyone introduce themselves properly. I had prepared the conversation flow for this meetup, obviously with some wiggle room. There were cards on the table describing fashion-involving scenarios, asking what the reader would do. It was fun watching the initial reactions on my guests faces as they read the cards, often accompanied by an "Errrr..." before that micro brainstorming session and a light bulb moment. The responses were intriguing and they ranged from "I would use the stilettos as a weapon" to "if he hates wearing suits, he has to suck it up and do it for the interview." Now, for that last response, I didn't quite agree. I had purposely included that question to see if my guests would think differently and they sure did. So right after the lady gave that response, the guys sort of came together to say "I don't think so. If he hates wearing suits and he wears one to this interview, then he won't be comfortable and it might affect his chances." I started smiling. Then the guys went on "He can wear a shirt underneath a sweater with a tie, or he can just wear a shirt and a nice pair of trousers". The best part was that one of them admitted to never wearing a suit to a job interview; it wasn't his thing.
Mission accomplished, Memkoh!
We chatted a little bit more, but it wasn't quite exciting. You know, those first few minutes needed to ease into an entirely new setting and speak with unfamiliar people are usually tricky. It wasn't too long before our server barged in, asking if we were ready to place our order. Someone at the end closest to the door told him to give us some time. My brain was still spinning from the disrespect and lack of courtesy in this restaurant. Then food came.
The whole time, I alternated between moderating the conversations and taking pictures. We ate and continued sharing our responses to the questions on the cards, then we placed those down. I obviously had to know what everyone in the room described their style as. We had a UPenn student who works as well. Her description of her style intrigued me the most because it seemed as though her friend had been trying to get her to switch it up. But she looked content with her style - suits on workdays, sweats and jeans on weekends. She didn't seem interested in taking it any further (or she just needs Memkoh :D ). The mom amongst us had a more open approach to her style, switching from dresses to skirts, to jeans. Basically, she opted for anything that fits. Interestingly, we had a blogger as well. Her style was eclectic and she too was open to experimenting and taking risks.
On the other end of the table, we had the gents, who mostly described their style as comprising every day shirts, some polos, and jeans. Very simple, it seemed but they did look well put together, so they obviously knew where they were headed. The ladies at my end were constantly evolving with their style, going from bold, African prints to bold jewelry, and being open to lots of experimentation. I loved it; it was a stylist's dream. They wanted to know what my style was and I described it as simple and classy, with minimal effort. One of the ladies jumped in. She wanted to describe my style the first time she met me - a brightly colored mini skirt, 4 inch boots and my favorite purple winter jacket all to class! Read this interview and see if I said any different. I've always been about colors and simple, classy looks but even that has evolved to incorporating more basics than before.
Then I had to ask this "If you were to hire a stylist, what would you want the stylist to do for you?" I heard things like "change my entire closet, to get me to try out new things more, to just help me buy more shirts".
At this point, a few of us had to leave, so knowing that they would miss the rest of the activities, I quickly picked up The Memkoh Box and revealed what this new service by Memkoh entailed. They essentially got the first glance, asked questions and I took away their responses and will hopefully implement those. Sadly, it was the only thing that was not captured on my camera. Maybe that's because you need to stick around for the reveal.
Realizing that these ladies probably came in for a conference-type event, I went outside to thank them for coming and as our conversation progressed, I quickly shared with them some of my closet organizing tricks. The "ooohs" and "aahhhhs" confirmed my thoughts - they came for a lecture on style. Sadly, Memkoh does not do lectures. You can't possibly teach someone about style the pen and paper way. You just can't.
We took pictures, and I zoomed in on their shoes which you'll see shortly in the shoe cam.
After they left, we finished up our lunch and got right into the final part of this meetup - activities! With the rack standing comfortably behind me, I announced to everyone that they would be creating 3 looks for work, happy hour and vacation (if they could) with the clothes on the rack. This meant that they had to figure out how to work with what they were given. I wanted my attendees to realize the multiple functionalities the clothes in their closets present, especially when they feel new clothes are the best solution. At this point, I wished the other ladies had stayed longer; some of the clothes we were about to use belonged to them.
I looked at the table and everyone was nicely seated on each side, with 4 people each so I called them Groups 1 and 2. I halved the clothes on the rack and left the groups to decide which side they wanted. Someone worried that the clothes were not properly assigned, since I didn't specifically look through each group's item. Another person from the opposing group said "Then she'll basically be creating the outfits for us" and with that, ladies and gentlemen, they got to work. By having someone else who always thought differently and considered other possibilities without me having to spell it out, I knew that a lot of learning had taken place.
Group 1 went above and beyond by creating 2 looks each for the 3 categories, giving them 6 outfits in total. Remember, I didn't count or see if each group had appropriate pieces for work, happy hour and vacation, but they made it work, didn't they? I liked all their outfits. From the polished work looks to the very playful yet classy vacation looks and finally, their sophisticated happy hour options, this group did a terrific job coming up with 6 looks.
Group 2 initially teased us by putting the chunkiest pair of heels on the table and saying "that's her outfit. You didn't specify what kind of work you meant so we've decided that "she" is a stripper". They got me there! Everyone burst into uncontrollable laughter and I quickly corrected myself. This group certainly brought life into the room with their presentation. Mid-way through, our rude server barged in again with the checks.
He gave us the checks, we signed and minutes later, he barged in again and just as he was about to talk over my video recording, I lifted a finger to signal to him not to interrupt. Surprised, he backed away with a few short steps then left the room. I'm sure he thought no one noticed all his actions. I was so appalled by this experience really. Extremely appalled.
It was time to vote. Everyone was shocked (including members of the winning group) that I chose Group 2. Yes, Group 1 really impressed me by going above and beyond to create more looks than was expected, but Group 2 referenced the woman they had in mind and her lifestyle. That was why they won. I explained to my attendees that this is what Memkoh strives to do - style with the man or woman in mind. I can't just throw clothes on people like they are life mannequins. When I style you, I have to take every bit of you into consideration - from your budget to your body to your needs and certainly, your lifestyle. I create looks that resonate with and revolve around said lifestyle. For example, if I was to style the lady who told us she lives in suits from M-F and sweat pants on the weekends, I would step in to give her variety; a variety of looks that can transition from work to play or in her case, from class to work and back. Same thing for the mum, same thing for the students. Your style has to...no...it MUST resonate with your lifestyle, else you will be kidding no one but yourself and you will find yourself jumping on every trend without having any long-lasting closet staples.
So having my guests do the styling exercise was a great activity. Even more so, seeing Group 2's defense was amazing! From their client's Corporate America look to her choice to go topless on the beach (a woman with bold life choices) to her subtle happy hour look, this group exceeded my expectation. They explained that the gray A-line dress will flatter any body type, including "full-figured" women and also pointed out the rib detail on the dress. In their words, "Fashion is for everybody...and all bodies matter." They were interesting!
I failed to mention in the Lagos Meetup post that the takeaway was "Stay in Your Lane" and interestingly, the Philly meetup catch was certainly "All Bodies Matter". I wonder what's next.
MORE PICTURES + SHOE CAM
Rocking one of the buttons :)
I thanked everyone, beckoned on them to pick their gift box and my event, the Memkoh Meetup Philly edition eventually came to an end.
We started packing up. I had double what I came with. Several times as we packed, I noticed that a few people kept coming to the door and leaving, sometimes sticking around and looking in, as if to send us out. But no one ever came in to say anything. It was really awkward to feel watched and pried on and had I not known some of my guests, this meetup experience would have sent the whole idea of my meetup in a downward spiral. How do you explain to complete strangers that the seemingly high-class restaurant you had booked was staffed with people who couldn't be courteous? Our rude waiter came in one last time and as he cleared, he uttered the "nicest" thing he had said all day which was obviously said in the worst tone to rush us out.
Knowing that they had messed up in many ways than one, including passing up the 35% service fee into my guests' checks instead of creating a separate bill for me, I could not pay his last act of callousness any attention. I kept trying to stuff my suitcases and when that worked, we hauled everything and left. To rectify the 35% service fee that was included in my guests' checks, I intend to send each of them the first set of Memkoh merchandize to be released, whenever my finances allow me to embark on that project. Most of my guests had wanted to host their birthdays and graduations here upon walking in but as we left, that was the final goodbye. During the next work week, I picked up my phone to call their management but I have learned to choose my battles and this one was not worth fighting.
Overall, this meetup was really interesting and yet another chance to take away some things. I improved in some aspects from Lagos, like ensuring my camera was fully charged and taking tons of pictures, getting unisex gifts - handmade buttons - for my guests, better preparation with the handwritten ice-breakers, coordinated flyers, e-invitation and decor, etc. I certainly put in work but other parts suffered, like strictly communicating with the restaurant staff exactly what I wanted for my event, when they should come in, etc. In Lagos, I had done this by going in with my co-host before the event but since I had no knowledge of Philly bloggers, I couldn't co-host this with anyone. Regardless, I hope to be fully aware of my future event venues to avoid a repeat of this. Given my finances, I couldn't go into Philly a day earlier as I had planned because I knew I'd spend on extra things. We can't always have it all; there's always a trade off.
I'm still learning.
On my way home, I almost sped through my exit but God raised His hand and just averted something I may never have been able to explain. For that alone, I'm grateful!
I had a good time despite all the dampeners and I am sure my guests did too, especially those who stayed till the end.
Thank you for sticking around. Memkoh