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Design Phase Zero: Hayley Swindell

Get excited, because our interview series Design Phase Zero is in full swing! In the upcoming weeks, we will be featuring various Austin designers and reveal their stories working in the design world. Design Phase Zero uncovers the steps and early processes that creative professionals endure as they venture on to their next project.

Our series starts with entrepreneur and business owner Hayley Swindell from The Refinery. I had the honor to meet with the extremely enthusiastic and driven Hayley, as we chatted (over Topo Chicos at Cafe 1886) about her journey into the exciting, fast-paced creative industry.

Hayley and her family moved to Austin after her dad retired from professional baseball. She then attended The University of Texas where she earned her degree in political science and government. Her journey started in print advertising at Austin Monthly, and it was there, that Hayley discovered her motivation to someday start her own business.

Later on, Hayley worked as the Director of Development at The Marbridge Foundation, which is a community for adults who have a wide range of cognitive challenges. Her younger brother has autism, so she holds this cause very close to her heart. While working for the Marbridge Foundation, she thought of an idea for an e-commerce store, later established as the Hip Humanitarian.

It’s here, where our Q+A starts with Hayley detailing her journey to the founding of The Refinery…

Tell us about Hip Humanitarian and how you moved forward from that.

"I wanted to do something philanthropic built within the for-profit social impact world, so I could maintain my lifestyle, pay rent and and still make an impact. Hip Humanitarian was basically a subscription box company that introduced ethically made lifestyle products to our subscribers - showing them you didn't have to only wear tribal prints or wooden beads to be fair trade and philanthropic.

"After a while, I realized I had so many questions. All of the real-life business responsibilities was so much more than just taking a pretty photo and building a Shopify store, so I sought out some mentors. One of those mentors was Dan Graham, who founded BuildASign.com. I just messaged him on LinkedIn and Dan, being the awesome guy he is, responded to a perfect stranger.

"Dan has three daughters, and he's very into girl's empowerment and making sure they have a seat at the table. I feel like I really lucked out in reaching out to the right person.

"As a younger person doing Hip Humanitarian, I was almost too scared for a while to reach out to mentors. I saw myself as too young, and without enough experience. I felt stupid asking questions. But, I am very much over that now, it just took a while to get there."

How did the idea of The Refinery evolve?

"Over lunch one day, I chatted with Dan about this idea of The Refinery. It was actually all written up on a little piece of paper, and I was like ‘Look, this will have a photography studio, shared retail store, and all of these other cool resources for creatives. I thought Dan would be like ‘Ah ok, that's cute’. But he was like ‘Let's do it!’ So, we hit the ground running with The Refinery.

"Originally, The Refinery started off super small. I thought it would be cool to do it in a little house off of North Loop. But, as we started looking around for real estate we found the perfect building nestled right in the heart of downtown Austin. A lot of the creative industry is being pushed out of downtown, because it's too pricey and it is challenging, but I think it's important for The Refinery to be in a part the city that attracts everyone from everywhere.

Austin's always been this creative city, so shouldn't there be a space, physically, for creatives in the heart of the city?"


Tell me about The Refinery and the problems you hope this space will solve within the Austin community.

“It all goes back to that community. There are already so many events going on in Austin, and my hope for The Refinery is that is can serve as a space for all of these creative, community-centered events and all of the people who attend these gatherings to come together.

"The Refinery is two stories, right in the heart of downtown Austin. The first floor is going to be part of a casual open desk co-working space. That space will be very flexible and will double as an event venue by night. Having a beautiful event space is really important to me, because A: it's another way to bring in additional revenue to help keep membership as affordable as possible, and B: events are everything when your goal is to bring people together.

We will be this beautiful incubator where creative, business, and connection intersect.

"Downstairs, will have a photography studio. One side of the wall is going to be exposed brick, and the other side will have natural light coming in from the north. Another cool part of the downstairs space is the shared retail space for members who make and sell physical products. There is also a catering kitchen, which will serve several purposes. We want to host a bunch of pop up restaurants, where we'll invite guest chefs to come in and test out food concepts.

"Upstairs, will be a little bit more desk work-focused. It will have private studios, meeting rooms, and dedicated desks. What sets us a part, other than physical amenities, is the fact that every detail is a very Instagrammable moment, so even “typical” work areas will be photo-worthy.

"What I'm most excited for is the programming that we will offer. It will be more unique than a typical, general co-working space, and we'll have more member-led workshops. If you're a member and you're a jewelry maker and you want to host jewelry workshops, we can do that. We'll help you sell tickets and help you curate the event that will be open to members or the public. We'll also host very specific networking events and business/creative-focused educational workshops. That being said, we are being conscious of the types of events and programming that we are putting together.

I don't want to recreate something that's already being done successfully. I just want to have a space that can host it ALL!”


How far along are you in this process and who are some other people helping you?

“We are knee deep in this. While the building doesn't look like anything special now, I'm there everyday, and I see so much progress, which is so exciting! Also, there’s a big secret about a certain building feature that I can’t talk about, but I promise it will be awesome.

"We are working with Michael Hsu Office of Architecture. We have our plans done, and we're ready to go as soon as the building is brought to shell. Our interior designer is Claire Zinnecker, and Sara Hussey is heading up our PR efforts. We’re really excited about what everyone is bringing to this project."

Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?

“Running The Refinery and watching it grow. Long term, I'd love to open up a Refinery in Denver, CO and scale it to other creative cities. I don't want it to get massive, I want to keep it very boutique. If we do go into other cities, it might not be a direct replication of The Refinery here in Austin. I see it adapting to whatever each specific city needs.

"I would like to have an all-women's version that has a day care. One of my life goals, of course, is to be a mom. I always want to be working and following my passions, but I might want to have my babies with me, so having a place where I can get work done, and still have my babies near, is really important.

"But overall, I want to be constantly learning new things. I don't know what looks like yet, but I definitely want to be a mom.

I definitely want to be community building and seeing my passion through.”

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After meeting with her, I have gained so much insight and confidence into creating my own path as a woman. As a young college student still questioning where I will end up after graduation, Hayley is definitely someone myself and others can look up to. Hayley is a seriously cool and smart woman living it up in Austin, and Austin Design Week is excited for The Refinery to open this Fall!

If you’re interested in touring the space, Hayley hosts hard hat tours every Wednesday at 8:30am and every Friday at 12:30pm. Make sure to sign up here! If you want to get involved with The Refinery, contact Hayley or book an event!


The Austin Design Week Blog is curated and produced in partnership with Left Right Media. Left Right Media is a creative agency in Austin, specializing in branding, web design, app design and digital strategy. Their success is a result of both an analytical (left) and creative (right) approach to design.