Sagashus Levingston often works on her laptop from home. As a mother of six, that frequently means trying to focus around boisterous kids and unfinished piles of laundry.
"It's a hot mess,” she said. “But I don’t notice because I've been in my office all day.”
Levingston is talking about her chic and spotless private office that exists online, in the virtual coworking space that she’s created through her company Infamous Mothers.
Once the office goes live, it will be accessible via a web browser for paying members. Users will be able to navigate a virtual building full of private offices, conference rooms, a writing center, a coffee shop and a swimming pool. Click on any room on the building map, and you’ll be taken to a webpage with a photo showing off the space, and the ability to chat with anyone else hanging out there.
Much like a brick-and-mortar coworking space, the idea is for users to work in a flexible community space that's rich in resources. At the writing center, users can get help on anything from grant application to a novel they’re working on. In the conference rooms, they can take group video calls. For times where users want to put their head down and work, they can go to their personal office and “lock the door.”
The end result is a community group chat app, sort of like Slack but with a built-in sense of community, Levingston said.
“You get a sense of actually being in someone's office. You get a sense of place,” Levingston said, speaking on a Friday afternoon from her online office on a limited-access version of the platform.
The coworking space is one of the cornerstones of Infamous Mothers 2.0, the next chapter of the project Levingston has worked on since 2016, which strives to “flip the script” on people's understanding of women who have “lived at the fringes of society.”
The initial goal was to tell stories about “infamous mothers,” women who faced adversity — drug addiction, sex trafficking, incarceration, poverty — and who emerged as creators, leaders or entrepreneurs in their own right. Those stories were shared through a coffee table book, a play and a conference in 2018.
For the next chapter, Levingston said she wants to focus less on the adversity that infamous mothers face, and more on helping those women find support and navigate obstacles, even as they enjoy high-level success. She compares their journey to that of Cinderella.
“Usually the story ends with, she makes it out. We're picking up the part where, what is her life like and what are the challenges once she's there?” Levingston said. “She's away from her evil stepmother and her siblings, and she's in this world she just wasn't born into. That's a whole new set of challenges, and a whole new way of thinking and being.”
Infamous Mothers 2.0 will feature what Levingston describes as three “buildings on a digital campus”: The online coworking space, an Infamous Mothers app, and an educational hub called “Infamous Mothers University.”
All three will be collectively called the Infamous Mothers Third Space Virtual Campus. Each will be available for paying members of the services, although Levingston said there will be limited scholarships available for those who need them. The hope is for the campus to launch by January 2020.
The app remains under development, and Levingston said she couldn’t share much about it yet. She said it will focus less on professional development, and more on things like motherhood, fitness and lifestyle.
Infamous Mothers University is already available online, although it hasn't officially launched. Its website promises to be a hub for digital classes, workshops and lecture series that blend professional development and personal growth. Already, there are offerings for a writing boot camp, and a course called “Love + Business: A Workshop on Honoring Your Heart and Dreams,” both taught by Levingston.
“What Infamous Mothers taught us is that women wanted professional development that was combined with personal development,” Levingston said. “Infamous Mothers University was created as a space offering that hybrid programming.”
Levingston said that Third Space Virtual helps bring together women from across the U.S. into one online community, in ways that a brick-and-mortar enterprise could not. She also said that making digital platforms helps create a space that’s not only welcoming and inclusive, but friendly to parents like herself.
“It was important for me to figure out how can I build a company that's meaningful for women, while also taking care of my children,” she said.
Levingston is in the middle of a crowdfunding campaign for the projects — she said that she doesn’t want to launch Infamous Mothers 2.0 until she’s certain they’re sustainable.
In the meanwhile, she has more plans for the online coworking space. There’s a “second floor” in the works, she said.
Plus, she’s working with the hip-hop architectural designer Michael Ford on a design for the building and the rooms, to replace the generic stock photos currently in the mix. The aesthetic she’s going for, she said, will be in the spirit of hip-hop feminism — in other words, something funky and centered on empowerment and “candid conversation.”