“Kick! Push! Coast!” — the quick description of how you ride a skateboard — are three words that Latosha Stone is very familiar with as the owner of Proper Gnar, the first-ever skateboard company owned by a Black woman.
The Ohio native says her love of skateboarding dates back to middle school, when the sport was the norm in her predominantly-white hometown of Greenville.
“I first started on a penny board… I moved on to a regular sized skateboard, and that was way better,” Stone tells Yahoo life. “It was just like the neighborhood I was in and, like, the kids that I grew up with. And then also I played the Tony Hawk [skateboarding video] games. I was way into those back in the day and they had one girl skater on there and I was just so inspired by that, too.”
Stone founded Proper Gnar in 2013 as a streetwear brand after she quit her full-time job as a factory worker. “It was horrible. It was hot. I was like, making windows. It was like minimum wage. And I was just like, I can't do this forever,” Stone recalls. “I just took my tax return one year and just went ahead and did it.
Her brand, which launched featuring skate themed T-shirts, now offers custom skateboards and a line of merch designed by Stone that showcases her unique style and personality — something that dovetails perfectly with her degrees in both fine art and graphic design.
“If you look at other skateboarding companies and their graphics, I don't feel like they're as creative or… as representative as mine are,” Stone says. “And so I love putting my art on the decks,.”
Looks like new fans are loving Stone’s art, too. Although she declined to share specific numbers about her company’s value with Yahoo Life, she does reveal that skateboard sales have grown from a couple a day to almost 100 a day during the height of the summer. The lowest priced skateboard on the Proper Gnar site retails for $60, so if you do the math, that’s not a bad day's haul.
Stone credits the recent uptick in sales to none other than Beyoncé, who included Proper Gnar in her Directory of Black Owned Businesses, inspired by this past summer’s Black Lives Matter movement and its call to action.
Stone is also grateful that she ignored negative comments while working hard to grow her skateboarding brand in a field that is still seen as white-male only. “I've had people say, ‘Black girls don't skate.’ You get the occasional person at the skate park that, you know, has something dumb to say about it,” Stone says. “But I feel like I've definitely had more supporters than negative people.”
Business continues to do well, which has allowed her to add four staffers to what began as a solo venture. But she admits that building her brand without outside investors and keeping it afloat hasn't been easy.
“It's a boys’ club. It's really hard for women to break into the industry with being a professional skateboarder, let alone being on the sidelines and owning a skateboarding company,” Stone says. “Nobody will tell you…who their supplier is because they don't want you to be able to go to the same person. And a lot of these companies, they get bigger by working with professional skateboarders. I haven't had access to those same professional skateboarders.”
But the skateboarding aficionado doesn’t want negative vibes to deter the next Latosha Stone from dreaming big.
“I think that little Black girls should be able to pursue whatever interests that they're into. If they want to skateboard or start skateboarding, they should go ahead and do it,” Stone says. “Don't let people discourage you, just go for it.”
Next up, Stone is hopeful about hosting skate clinics to introduce kids, girls in particular, to the sport, and plans to open the first retail space featuring all things Proper Gnar.
“It feels surreal seeing my art go out and going into people's homes. And people will send me videos of themselves skateboarding. I can see my graphic. It makes me realize…why I do what I do. It's an awesome feeling.”
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