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The Sustainable Edit

Dispatch #12: The Conscious Citizen

What does it mean to be a conscious citizen? In her monthly column, senior strategic leader in sustainable and international development, Natasha Hafez explores and expounds on precisely that. Join in her journey towards humanity with purpose.

Tourism plays a pivotal role in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. However, as with many sectors, the historical environment may not always invite or encourage a woman-in-leadership role.

As part of a month-long celebration of women in hospitality, I had the privilege of sitting down for a friendly chat and cup of tea with a leading lady and hotelier, Nikki Glazer – Co-Founder and Director of Brand at Graybarns; Founder and Creative Director at Graygoods. Nikki, in collaboration with her mother and Co-Founder, Marsha Glazer, has created a haven in the historic area of Silvermine that organically blends idyllic country with modernity.

As a refuge for nearby Manhattanites looking for a relaxing weekend escape, or as a home away from home for the European jetsetter seeking warm and familiar elegance whilst embracing the charming natural culture and environment of historic New England’s past, Graybarns, on the Silvermine River, offers guests a sophisticated stay.

Once lauded as an artist guild and small textile factory in the 17th century, today, Graybarns is a praise to authentic environment anew with its high-end restoration, contemporary and custom design, plus all the comforting subtleties of classic French-antiquated style, guaranteeing that visitors feel comforted and right at home, no matter where home may be.

The Inn at Graybarns. Courtesy of Graybarns.

The Inn at Graybarns. Courtesy of Graybarns.

I begin to collect Nikki’s thoughts and perspective on what empowerment looks like to her and her family in hospitality, design, and architecture. “My job is to stay connected with the community and connect our brand and guests with the community. It’s a rising tide with women involved.” She adds, “We are not a corporate structure, we are a family business. It’s really important to retain that, because that is what translates to quality.” It becomes evident that this mother-daughter duo shares a passion for creating high-touch experiences and a commitment to understanding and preserving community. 

I gush from dining at their restaurant, Tavern at Graybarns. Chef Ben and his team welcome my visit as an opportunity to innovate. The dishes assimilate local flavours, with fine details that masterfully invoke a fusion of modern American cuisine with traditions from local and sustainable farms and purveyors. The kitchen has its own garden to enhance seasonal ingredients, and the team goes above and beyond to ensure guests receive the full culinary experience. 

Graygoods, The Shop at the Mercantile. Courtesy of Graybarns.

Graygoods, The Shop at the Mercantile. Courtesy of Graybarns.

In March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown created an upheaval in the travel industry, despite being at the epicentre of it all, Nikki and Marsha found new and creative ways to repurpose and support their “family” (as Nikki refers to her hotel staff). Yumi, a single mother of two from Peru was waiting tables at the Tavern; when business slowed down, a new role was created to support her and others in the community who had lost their source of income. Nikki found effective solutions and leveraged opportunity in a time of crisis, resulting in a strengthened community and brand. “We treat our team and staff as an extension of our family, that’s really important for the longevity of the property,” she explains. During a shortage of PPE, Yumi and other local women sewed and sold more than 2,000 masks across the nation for Graygoods.

The shop at the Mercantile features exclusive designs manufactured ethically by artisans, and supports carefully curated brands by other women entrepreneurs such as Palorosa. Founded by a female entrepreneur in Milan, the brand empowers women in Guatemala that weave beautiful totes using recycled plastic.

Nikki shares more stories of Graybarns serving as a network that supports and connects women, businesses, and nonprofits across Fairfield County. “We created an incubator space for Cas Friese at GrayBarns when I met her one day at the Mercantile and befriended her. She was jumping into a new photography career and needed an office space. We had unused space at the Mercantile so we built a showroom for her and called her our ‘artist in residence’. She has since moved to a larger space in downtown New Canaan and launched a partnership with Design Within Reach!” 

Nikki honours the tradition of Silvermine and the founding members of the artists guild by fostering and supporting careers of other female entrepreneurs. “It’s my ode to women and sustainability! It’s so fun to get in early with someone and take a risk and watch them be successful.”

As she continues to break the mould and shift the perspective for women and hospitality, Nikki looks to other successful female executives and entrepreneurs such as Dee Dee Myers, the first woman to hold the position of US Press Secretary, and Kelly Wearstler, hotel design empress for inspiration. All three women have defined their own careers as leaders within male-dominated industries. 

From left to right: Marsha and Nikki Glazer, Co-Founders, Graybarns. Courtesy of Graybarns.

From left to right: Marsha and Nikki Glazer, Co-Founders, Graybarns. Courtesy of Graybarns.

“For me, one of the areas I love most about [hospitality] is the design. There’s so much growth for design, and as a woman it’s an area I know and love, creating comforts of home and translating it to hospitality.” It gives Nikki joy to give to others, in her eyes, that is the purpose and core of hospitality.

There is an obvious and striking realisation: Nikki’s innate girl power is in fact her business and brand’s greatest asset. As a female entrepreneur in a mostly male-dominated industry, Nikki is nurturing, empathetic, and attentive to detail. These fundamental characteristics shape a desirable brand and experience, and has led to achieving an on point business model that sets an example for aspiring leaders.

As my tea nears empty, I find myself still thirsty for more. Nikki shares with me a sneak peek into Glazer Group’s exciting next venture: plans to restore an old Greenwich landmark, The Homestead, an 18th-century farmhouse turned historic inn. I see a getaway to Greenwich in my future!

Around the world, women’s participation in leadership and decision-making is  limited. Whilst the hospitality and tourism industry have moved towards championing for equality, there is still a ways to go. Despite the many set-backs of working in a male-dominated industry, I celebrate Nikki, Marsha, and other women trailblazers who, by remaining true to themselves instead of conforming to fit outdated societal norms, are setting higher standards for leadership and business.

The Conscious Citizen

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