In a city awash in wild new cultural invigoration, Washington, DC area native Sonya Collins is a social connector equally as comfortable in this new reality as she is in the ideals of DC as defined by George Clinton as “Chocolate City and its vanilla suburbs.”
Educated in the Prince George’s County school system and at Howard University, she is as much a product of the top tier of local education as she is a child of the local nightlife scene. Her skills as one of DC’s most underrated, yet appreciated, urban organizers and thought leaders comes from years of fervent support of Washington’s vaunted hip-hop and go-go scenes, highlighted by her years as the proprietor of music blog and lifestyle brand The Glass House. Credit is also due to Sonya as being one of the founding members of Rock Creek Social Club.
Significant experience working with a plethora of internationally recognized brands, including but not limited to Armand de Brignac Champagne, adds a dimension of established excellence that positions her as a rising star in a redefined Nation’s Capital.
Your Social Connector to What Matters – Sonya Wins is your resource for all things worth knowing in pop culture and urban lifestyle – Specifically food & beverage, consumer electronics, fashion, and arts & entertainment.
Sonya was gracious enough to give us her thoughts on the progression of the District of Columbia and why she is the social connector to what matters.
Early adopters and tastemakers have to keep their ears to the streets. When you wake up, what are the first sites that you go to in an effort to find new ideas, products and styles?
Because I use Twitter more for receiving information than socializing, that’s my first stop in the morning. A few of the accounts I follow that keep me informed are the Louis Vuitton-owned Nowness.com, Fast Company, NY Times, and Adweek. Next stop is the Flipboard app for iPhone. It’s like an a la carte newspaper – You select your topic categories of interest to keep on your Flipboard, say Tech or Washington, DC, and it pulls in RSS feeds from all relevant media outlets for that category. Some other categories I have are Business, Sports, Short Film, Food, Fashion, and Cool.
Today’s DC seems to be more open to “outside of the box”/forward thinking in terms of taste, style, entertaining and dining. Were there ever moments when you were frustrated with the lack of progression in these areas in the city in the past?
The lack of progression doesn’t frustrate me as much as the excessive duplication that occurs once people get hip to certain trends. I guess, in a way, that’s still a lack of progression. For example, the plethora of day parties and establishments, both old and new, boasting their rooftops that have sprouted around the city over the past few years. I think one of the first on-going and most popular rooftop events to hit the city was The Coolout, hosted by AV Lifestyle Group, at the Beacon Hotel back in 2008. There were venues in existence with outdoor patios on their top levels prior to that time and there were also weekend day parties (Daylight at LIV), but I had never heard of a hotel rooftop party taking place on a Sunday afternoon until The Coolout. That party was a major addition to DC’s social milieu. The time and location was great, but I think that it was successful mostly because it achieved two things: An event concept that was already popular in warmer climates and existing entertainment hubs was introduced to DC, while attracting a diverse crowd that was multi-racial and spanned an age range of 25-45. The Coolout then spawned a trend that has now turned into a machine four years later. The past two summers alone have produced more day parties and rooftops than I’d like to count, but the executions are the same. DC is definitely more open to unconventional concepts in taste, style, entertainment, and dining. So I often ask, “When does the duplication end and who’ll lead the charge to introduce a new concept?”
You’ve mentioned to me in the past that DC residents have the formula to take creative life in the city to the next level. But you’ve said that those people are afraid of taking the risk to get it done. Elaborate on that issue.
This is a great follow-up to the previous question. Money matters – Attaining it, flipping it, and keeping it. Tried and true methods are always best at achieving all three of those elements because the blueprint has already been laid out. However, when the field becomes over-saturated with players, change and innovation are needed to avoid stagnation. There are many players here who I know, just through having conversation with them, that possess both the knowledge and resources to implement change among the creative and social event offerings. But I don’t think that they want to run the risk of not getting the buy-in of their demographic or losing out on making a profit early on. I never had that fear, so my motto is always find a way to get it done and do it no matter what. Every creative and promotional undertaking of mine had risk involved. I started The Glass House blog in 2009 not knowing if I could effectively and properly cover the new social happenings and music around the DMV. Three years later, people still ask if I ever plan to bring back that blog. The same goes for my time with Rock Creek Social Club. Jerome Baker and I conversed about the #GOODLIFEDC party for a year prior to even forming the team and naming the party. One day, we decided to stop talking, approached Recess about it, and ended up throwing the launch party three weeks later. A few groups/individuals I’d like to highlight in doing the same are Angela Byrd of I Got it 4 Free, all the minds behind DCtoBC, No Kings Collective, and Brightest Young Things. Successful music industry panels, outdoor hip-hop/electronic music concerts, large scale art pop-ups, and co-branded events that get some of DC’s most conservative to loosen their ties, all highlighting the current interests and talents to be found in DC were a result of the creativity and fearlessness of these entities.
“Your social connector to what matters”. What does that mean?
A resource for things worth knowing in pop culture and urban lifestyle. Putting people on to forthcoming developments and existing trends in fashion, food & beverage, consumer electronics, and arts & entertainment. If you follow me in social media, you’ll see I speak on a myriad of things going on across the world.
It seems as if native Washingtonians are not at the forefront of social growth in DC. How do we include that population in the new amenities, products and opportunities that are unveiling themselves today?
By people like you and me continuing to be the engagers of the new DC, speaking about our experiences, and inviting our peers to engage with us. Be it through websites like The Information Age, community efforts that have partnerships with local businesses and organizations representative of these changes, or just word-of-mouth. From the outside looking in, one may not want to walk into an establishment that has no one inside resembling them or wear a brand they don’t already see in the stores they frequent. Because of my innate curiosity, I choose to be that voice for people who are more hesitant to try something out. There are more trusting people in the world than there are those who are exploratory, so my friends and family always ask for my recommendations first when it comes to what’s going on in the city. It’s extremely important for the natives of DC and those who grew up around the city to make their presence felt because of its influence on us. Case in point, there’s a casual restaurant called Baby Wale (smallest corduroy weave, not the rapper) that’s opening in January on 9th Street near the Convention Center. The concept will be pub-like with foods such as roast chicken, lobster rolls, and pupusas. The decor will include a 50-seat bar and old school go-go posters. But how many of us who came up listening to go-go will patronize this spot, let alone even knew anything about it?
Who was your biggest inspiration in 2012?
My peers – Because of them, I recognized the true value of my abilities and experiences which inspired me to create the brand. Sharing my knowledge with my peers for them to potentially connect and create their own experiences gives Sonya Wins more purpose.
Scenario: Let’s say that I’ve never been to DC. I arrive on Friday morning. I want something to eat during the midday. I want to check out a historical site in the afternoon. And I want to see some form of live entertainment with another bite to eat in the evening. Any suggestions?
Aww man, there’s so many places to choose. I’ll try to keep everything within close proximity. I’d say head over to one of the many food trucks that hang out in Farragut Square or Massachusetts Ave. NE near Union Station for lunch. That way you’ll curb your hunger but not end up with the “itis”. For a bit of history, I’d hit the Library of Congress or Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. A few good entertainment options would be The Hamilton (14th and F Sts NW), Bohemian Caverns (U Street) or Blues Alley (Georgetown) for a live show and dining all in one. If you’d rather keep your dining and entertainment separate, I’d say check out The Studio Theater in Logan Circle for a play or that new spot called Tropicalia on U Street, if you’re in the mood for dancing to some Afro-Latin rhythms. I would also try either the Howard Theater or 9:30 Club. You may get lucky and catch a concert that isn’t sold out. One of my favorite new restaurants in DC is The Coupe in Columbia Heights. It’s owned by the same folks behind and a culmination of The Diner, Tryst, and Open City. The food is bomb and it’s open 24 hours. I’d go there to beat the night time crowds found at most of DC’s established late night spots. Lastly, Satellite Room is a new restaurant/bar that opened right behind the 9:30 Club. It’s owned by ESL Management (Eighteenth Street Lounge, Marvin, The Brixton) and is a late night spot with 60’s decor and plenty of comfort food like burgers, tacos, and stacks of pancakes. They may even play some Chuck joints while you’re there.
What was the biggest “win” for Sonya in 2012?
Pulling the vision for Sonya Wins together. I had a very broad idea of my next move after parting ways with Rock Creek Social Club in August 2011. It took a two month social hiatus in the spring of 2012 for me to focus on the idea more and come up with the plan to brand Sonya Wins. I’ve only scraped the surface and will be rolling out more brand activations in 2013 so that people will be able to better see what being a social connector means in real life.
Any last words of wisdom?
Figure out a way to follow your heart. I know everyone’s circumstance is different but everyone owes it to themselves to achieve at least one of their dreams. The last thing I’d like to say is a quote from rapper, Ras Kass – The diameter of your knowledge is the circumference of your activity.