Thriving cities depend on the adventurous among us, who alter the urban landscape when they forge their own successful paths.

Each month, we ask an influential Pittsburgher: What was it like for you in the beginning?

Zach Cole

Founder,  Southern Ladies,
Live: Manchester
Work: Downtown
How Long: Five Years

Tell us a little about Southern Ladies? How did it start and how did it evolve?

The Southern Ladies Party is just a little event I put together every year, where the basic premise is throw on a dress, some heels, and have a few day drinks. A fun little side effect of that, and it’s become the foundation of the party, is that once people put on these outfits, so much of the social anxiety that tends to permeate the gay world seems to melt away, and all the sudden people are talking to new people, making new friends, and enjoying a new experience out of their comfort zone.

My friend Dan Byrd and I actually jokingly conceived it senior year of college, and decided to make it a reality by inviting about 20-30 of our closest friends – and wouldn’t you know, it was a huge success. From there, it’s just been growing – with new faces and new outfits every year! Luckily, at year 3, the fine people at 5801 graciously opened their doors to us, which has allowed the party to grow in some exciting ways. Now at year 6, expecting the largest attendance ever.

What challenges have you faced in creating and growing Southern Ladies?

Honestly, it’s all been relatively easy. I think it’s due to the format of the party itself. So many people just want an excuse to let loose and have fun.  Every year it gets a little bigger, which has meant more work – but thanks to 5801 and our generous sponsors at Central Outreach Wellness Center and Northwestern Mutual – we’ve been able to keep the event free, and I haven’t gone crazy trying to over plan the afternoon!

What are you most excited for this year?

The turnout! I think we’re not only going to have a really interesting mix of people, but I think everyone is really going to step up their game this year, so I’m really quite excited to see what kind of looks these “ladies” turn out!

In the beginning, if you could have had a glimpse into where Southern Ladies is today, what is one thing you would change from day one and one thing you are glad you kept through year six.

I mean, is it wrong to say I wouldn’t change a thing? Each year it’s been amazing to watch the party grow, and I think I’m glad the party started as humbly as it did, as everything has sort of been a natural progression to the fabulousness we’re at today.

As far as what I’m glad I kept, at least for now, I’m happy I’ve been able to keep the party free. Whether this will evolve into a ticketed fundraiser type event or not in the future, I love being able to bring so many people together for free, so anyone who wants can participate!