Rena Tom: Like Work, But Not (aka fast times at Makeshift Society)

Rena opened her talk with, “I love to work but I don’t like to call it work.”

She describes herself as a retail consultant (not a designer), as well as an enthusiast. She is enthused by people, and interested in the relationship between people, as well as the relationship between work and creativity. She is a generalist with degrees in engineering and English, and a background in programming, but she left the tech industry to work with her hands such as jewelry and wedding invites.

An entrepreneur driven by loneliness, she first opened Rare Device retail store to sell her crafts and work of her designer friends, and recently she opened Makeshift Society, a coworking space in San Francisco for freelancers. She sees Makeshift as a clubhouse, a place for activity that’s not just work but also a place that fosters a feeling of belonging. Work is different in today’s world. Makeshift is a place for balancing control and agency.Agency: capacity to act
Agency: make shi(f)t happen for yourself
Rena Tom

Rena Tom

Rena Tom is a strategist and matchmaker who consults with both retailers and product designers on the intricacies of small-batch manufacturing and boutique retail. She is also the founder of Makeshift Society, San Francisco’s first coworking space and clubhouse for creative freelancers. She is deeply involved in many different communities – maker, designer, entrepreneur – in an effort to encourage collisions and foster new collaborative projects. Previously, she owned Rare Device, a store and art gallery with locations in Brooklyn and San Francisco.

Coworking is for independent workers who inhabit shared workspace. The three keywords are inhabit, shared, and work.

1. Inhabit: community. By inhabiting a space, you learn etiquette and according to the book A General Theory of Love, empathy is created when you see someone face-to-face.

2. Shared: economy. Shared economy is a trend now and improves efficiency.

3. Word: productivity. Proximity stimulates productivityRena, with interior designer Victoria Smith and graphic designer Suzanne Shade, co-founded Makeshift Society, a beautiful space located in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley. Victoria designed the space to be inviting, and Suzanne designed the corporate identity and brand. They opened 8 months ago and already have 270 members. Rena has been researching work and coworking to prepare for launching a location in New York. Makeshift society is about society and people, and not about the work. Coworking helps alleviate difficulties of modern work. Work today is different from the past: it’s less expensive to be independent because equipment is smaller and don’t need to maintain office. Workforce is also location independent. Through makeshift, Rena is trying to figure out how to use the space for play, work, and learning. Makeshift influences behavior, is a balance between control and agency and between productivity and sociability, and fosters interaction between people that is unforced and genuine.

Without guidelines of a company, there’s no clear career path, and no one telling you want to do or how to get there. Coworking provides freelancers with a place to learn and practice communicating, getting along, and cooperating with others. For freelancers who normally work alone, coworking is giving up privacy for support, learning to be a good neighbor, and building accountability and trust. Learning to navigate and negotiate the analog world increases serendipity, diversity, trust, and accountability.


– By Diana Banh @dibanh