Interview.: Women [In]Fluencing Coffee Culture, Part 1. Faiza Farah, The Third Space.

power to the culture

I remember. I remember the day I knew I wanted to interview a woman who was a powerhouse.  The Bay was on my mind, that is the Bay Area of Oakland specifically. I was on Instagram doing research when one story post led to another and brought me to The Third Space. It was opening, officially, in a coffee shop that was also roasting its bean. Intrigued by its name – The Third Space – which is also the naming of the current specialty coffee movement that the culture is in.  But, this The Third Space was also using a black owned, third space Red Bay Coffee Roasters  to launch something cultural – I had to know more. And more importantly I had to know why?

On a Brooklyn to Oakland evening we spoke freely and openly about running a media company, a mutual love for the Kanye that hadn’t debuted his third collection on Randall’s Island, launched a tour, cancelled a tour and committed himself to professional rest before dying his hair colors of a push pop,  A lot can change in a day, a season, even two which its been founder Faiza and I had this interviewed but the space we held still holds true.

We introduce ourselves, quickly become acquainted like friends, on two trains always passing but when they meet its good, long and with  more than enough fuel to last at least until those two trains meet again.

Photographed by Lauren Crew

Narrator: She thinks coffee is a good excuse for conversation.

c.: So, how are you officially. Even though we’ve already dived right into conversation.

f.: I’m good. It’s a struggle out here. But it’s a beautiful journey.

c.: I’ve in the last year or so have taken ‘ struggle ‘ out of my vocabulary when it comes to this life.  I like to think of it as a journey, because it all is and I aim to attribute those highs and lows to the beautiful experience.

f.: You know, there’s something to say about being authentic to yourself.  Everyone or the ones that have a lot of followers, – highly curated and beautiful when you look closer you get a mirage, it disappears. I’ve followed you for a while, your journey – there’s something magnetic.

Blushing. I see that this interview is about to be a love fest. Me praising her for her contribution to the culture and she doing the same.

c.: Thank you. The question is, how can you creatively bring in advertising in a way that’s not traditional to support that authenticity and still do what you love and not starve.

f.: There’s something to be said about people who have their trajectory. Kanye. I can talk about Kanye all day.

c.: So, know some of your influences. I laugh.

f.: When Kanye said, “George Bush doesn’t like black people. That was truth. Power. I don’t expect anyone to be perfect.  I like the personification of black male freedom.

c.: And, I like the word impassioned versus ranting. I too am a fan of Kanye. How did you get to  The Third Space?

f.: The idea came from a sense of frustration. Being a creative, people are priced out of San Francisco and are coming to Oakland. It’s happening in alarming ways. It was 47% African American ten years ago, now its just under. It dawned on me about what could I do to confront of these issues. The only thing that came up for me is storytelling. I’m Ethiopian and coffee is really important to me.

An image shared in support of Oakland locals who lost their lives.

f.: I’m Ethiopian and coffee is really important to me.

I visited Ethiopia and coffee cooperatives and it dawned on me that you don’t see people like me drinking coffee. We know without of a shadow of doubt, there are over 600 varietals of coffee from Ethiopia, more than any other place combined. The continent is the birthplace of coffee – why are we removed, why are we denied from the benefits of Africa. It seemed a natural way of combining a sense of urgency – one way to push back against displacement documenting the story of the people making this place. No one is really talking to them.

Artwork by Nathaniel Russell shared to Third Space Media’s Instagram feed.

Not mainstream media, social media and  these are the people doing this amazing work and people aren’t talking to him. Ask them about their favorite coffee shops and interview them about coffee.

c.: Tell me about the show.

f.: The first season was good. It featured small businesses; an Asian-American comedian who is third generation to San Francisco, Kamal Bell and then a vegan chef who was a James Beard Award winner.

The conversation is about the windy road they take to get to where they are. The hope is that the coffee and easy conversation over coffee, is the excuse to get to stuff, to talk about what’s around you and what your observing.

c.: And oh what a windy road it is to get there.

f.: I thought, how can I create creative partnerships and support other black owned business? Then I partnered with Blavity and broadcasted the first full season on their platform, it’s like a black Netflix. You pay a subscription and have all this black content and black writers.  It’s a way to support black folks doing their own things and telling their stories. If you want to support that there’s good shows, short films and web series all in one place. Like and Black and Sexy T.V.

After the first season it dawned on us, we got way too many stories – this one show won’t encapsulate our story. We thought about expanding our idea.

For the second season of filming we’re adding a couple of new shows. As we do that, taking the next six months and start an incubator and build a media startup – a business plan, monetization, and figure out ways to get investors and grow into a third space- from a web-series into a platform.

This is an event that Faiza attends, they are a collective of black artists that are really doing amazing work in the Bay Area.

I want to have people pitch shows and help them produce and make their own shows. And, having a media company here, it’s moving away from the binary idea that it can only happen in New York and L.A.

What would it be to have dope content right here? Its important to be based here, in Oakland.

c.: The muse of the viewfinder. And, Oakland is the viewfinder.

f.: It’s no accident that we are here. We’re tired of talking about it. Let’s move away from being consumers, but producers and focus on sustainability of the artist, and getting actual investors.  We’re so close to all these VR firms, but having a start up and being a black woman hasn’t been easy.  And, this is the thing I don’t have a &$%# clue about what I’m doing.

c.: Who does? But, what do you have a clue about?

f.: That I’m a strong African. I have a clue about content. I’m obsessed about certain things. I know my instincts are great. I’m like ‘I can’t see the path, I can see the path.’ Do I know how to complete everything on the path? Absolutely not. I do know how to complete the next step. That’s a major key for me.

I like to say major key too. And, DJ Khaled.

An Ebony magazine cover reminds followers of her feed and herself that ‘can’ is the option.

c.: I think the dreaming happens when you try to live the best life and there is always that space there.

f.: Sometimes when you look up and see all the things that can happen it can be so overwhelming. I realize I don’t need to worry about all that. I need to say what’s the stuff that I need to read this week. Between Monday and Friday, these things have to get done. These incremental victories have gotten me further and further along.

Faiza Farah

c.: Incremental. What a great word! It speaks to the journey.

f.: I also have a full time job and show up to 4 days a week. And I think am I always going to be in this apartment, watching my friends baby’s photos on social media. But its way ore scary to believe I’m not pursuing my life. You know the buds will come but when you just got weeds, what do you do?

“You know the buds will come but when you just got weeds, what do you do?”

c.: What do you do? How have you answered that question?

f.: It’s really challenging to know you’ve invested so much time and have worked so hard.  There’s that moment you don’t’ know if you’ll be able to see it all the way through. So, I want to be as consistent as possible and create content and do the work. I don’t want to be distracted by the noise in my head.

The reason why I like Khaled and Kanye because even in a time that they shouldn’t believe, when all signs say they should have packed up and go, they didn’t. What does it look like to be really believe and double down on ones self. I say to myself you’re doing the work. Energy doesn’t disappear. I  find comfort in knowing that if I’m consistent and plugging in, I can build a legacy.

This media company, instead of talking about what’s wrong with media and what’s missing will do for itself and figure out ways to innovate and do our own thing.

c.: What’s your thing looking like?

f.: In six months I want to create a structure set on the business. The content, a lot of times has been like 80 percent thinking about the content and 20 percent about the distribution. It’s not the way it should work.  Making video content is challenging because its at such a high cost especially if you want to use great sound equipment and lighting but I want to take a beat and create a compelling business model that will set us aside for success.

I want to create a company that’s solid, get some investment and employ the people working with me for the last year and a half. And create a strong company in Oakland.

c.: You’re on the way and so rooted.

We’ve identified some partners. And VSCO is headquartered here in Oakland – we filmed our Kickstarter there. I’m also thinking about the ways to use the corporate connections to add some more credibility to our brand and creatively to tap in to their connections.

The launch party we had was an opportunity to say we’re not just a web series, but a media company from the  ground floor.

At the opening party The Third Space showed its season premiere, had a panel discussion followed by an opening party.

f.: We have to rethink the way we interact with each other.  I don’ t have access to five or six people and a house. So, we resource share. That’s been one of the main reasons why we stay afloat. If you know how to tell a compelling story and there’s a small biz with a great quality product, how can we cross-pollinate one another?

c.: Your dream still needs to be fed and that takes money.

f.: I wanted to conjure up the images of our media legends to subliminal tell people we are standing on the shoulders of people who’ve already done this –Oprah. This woman had the audacity to own her own content. When no one on a public talk show had. Where does that come from, how are you that bold to say I’m going to own all of it.

The solutions and the victories come in the doing. The path clears when you’re in the thick of the work. Don’t shy away from the work. I’m not the first one in or the last one out. We’re trying to live the lives we want.  I don’t want to glorify working yourself to death. How do we use the times we have to be impactful and strategic?

A flyer for a conversation event around the role of the artist in a Trump era.

When you get to that place and are successful – whatever that place is., people always say when I was doing xyz I was having the most fun. Reminding myself even in this present moment there is joy in the work. You only get one go, there is no future happiness.

Since this late 2016 interview, The Third Space has presented talks like ‘The Role of the Artist’; proffered images across its feed for conversation and dialogue, shared art from Danny Fox to Nathaniel Russel’s art, given voice to films like 13th Amendment to, Hidden Figures, praised positive women of color in media to now building out an online store.

They are very close to securing some major funding that will out Third Space Media to create the online channel and platform it desires, “dope independent content creators of color with a black focus,” said Farah.

Watch the space.