“When I first moved to Amsterdam from New York in 2017, I went to a few meetups and networking events, and they were horrible,” laughs Sam Wolfson, demonstrating from the off that no punches will be pulled in the conversations that followed.
These days, like many ex-pats, Wolfson is still struck by the initial gut feel of her newfound home. “I was amazed by how much it felt like home. And the feeling never left. It’s a place that feels communal, even though it’s just a city. You’re cycling along every day, and you’ll have these random touchpoints where you see numerous friends. You just know it will happen. It’s warming to know you’ll experience connections every day,” she explains.
Switching careers to advertising on her arrival, Wolfson felt like the only people she was integrating with at first were others within the industry. So, she did as many do and looked for meetups to try and connect with women outside advertising. Her experiences were largely negative, and it kickstarted thoughts about starting an alternative way for women to meet in a safe, open, authentic environment.
“The dinner table has always been a sacred place for me,” says Sam. “It wasn’t just about the food. Even growing up, the gathering for nourishment fostered the notion that the dinner table is the catalyst for meeting and conversing with people. So, I thought, maybe I’ll start something like that, where I can bring people along.”
& the Table is a simple premise. A dinner hosted by a woman and five guests, also women. Nobody knows each other and the gatherings always have a theme and a ‘question’, so that there’s a sense of direction from the outset. Nobody is coming in blind or feeling like they’re being led into a theoretical ambush. Wolfson says that, since & the Table began, she’s experimented with the number of guests and found six to be the sweet spot. “I tried more people but didn’t like it. It felt network and cold,” she says.
Today & the Table has an established formula for success, and Wolfson believes that the structure is perfect for her original intentions. “The secret sauce is never more than six women. You need one cohesive conversational theme as a foundation to give the gathering purpose. You need an equal playing field.”
Throughout our conversation, the topic of connection as an adult emerges. We asked Sam whether her experiences at the table have given her an insight into what that means today for women.
“This whole thing of seeking to make friends as an adult has a sort of negative stigma. With & the Table, we try never to actively refer to the term ‘friendship’ or ‘community’, as it’s used too much and loses its meaning. This is about fostering and nurturing connections that are honest and real. It’s also about being able to explore topics that you don’t get the chance to discuss in other social settings. For example, one popular & the Table theme is ‘not wanting to have kids’. There aren’t many places where you can talk to other women about the subjects we lift without feeling like you’re going to be judged. I’ll say that I haven’t created anything new, but & the Table is responding to a symptom of society now,” she notes.
At the time of our interview, & the Table now has 89 hosts in 12 countries, and Sam is releasing a merch line for the first time. In the same way that she’s careful and selective about accepting new hosts and the guests that join the tables, she’s approaching the merch with the same level of care.
“The design is something I’ve worked on with Amadine at Atelier Partagé. It’s got six wine glasses to represent the six women at the table. I know what I want but do need the help of a designer to bring that out into the artwork. We work well together, and Amadine is great as she picks out the details and nuances that I miss. At the same time, I want it to feel fresh and new, which is the great thing with Creator Studio – you can just keep creating without worrying whether you can afford the next capsule release. And the quality is great – I’m really happy I came across you guys.”
There are many parallels between the world of merch and Sam Wolfson’s & the Table. The right kind of merch artwork can bring together individuals of different backgrounds, beliefs and social viewpoints and give them an unspoken bond. And when six women with no prior connections gather at an & the Table dinner, there are connections forged that can run on long after the meal is over.
“We’ve been trying to capture and describe the way that these women who go to our events experience a connection that goes beyond the food and the conversation. But it’s hard. One thing is for sure, there are people who you’ll meet at our dinners who will become lifelong friends. It’s about giving them the choice and the space in which to do so organically, without external pressure,” concludes Wolfson.
You can grab a piece of & the Table merch now at Sam’s store. Hit & the Table for more information on how to attend a & the Table dinner and how to apply to host one yourself.
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