Is female participation the next big growth market in skateboarding? Perspective and retail strategies by SOURCE Skateboard Editor Dirk Vogel.
Let’s face it: Women in skateboarding have occupied a fringe position all these years. Sure, the first skateboarder to ever bring skateboarding into millions of households was a woman; Patti McGee performing a rolling handstand on a 1965 cover of LIFE magazine. And yes, our industry has elevated women to the pro ranks, including trailblazers such as Cindy Whitehead (1970s), Cara-Beth Burnside (1980s), Elissa Steamer (1990s), Vanessa Torres and Louisa Menke (2000s). But they were the exception, not the rule. Especially keeping in mind that the company named Girl Skateboards is about to turn 25 years old without ever sponsoring an actual girl.
Now the tide is turning. Arbor’s Skateboard Marketing Manager, Nate Shute says once they noticed a real uptick in female board sales, they started making women-specific shapes. “We estimate that 35% of all Arbor Skateboards are sold to women. That number increases to 45% at our flagship store in Venice. Based on Arbor’s success with women, we started developing skateboards specifically for women.” And the brand also notices “50% of our most popular Instagram posts feature women skating.” At Penny, girl skaters account for 40% of their audience and the brand is upping their female marketing offering: “Our Spring 18 campaign centered around the incredibly talented female skateboarder Elise Crigar, and we continue to partner with female artists, athletes and influencers each season.”
With Nikita’s brand slogan ‘For Girls Who Ride’, they’re a truly endemic female skate brand. “We work with and collaborate with female skateboarders across all levels of our brand, from our core employees, to our athletes, to the creatives we collaborate with, to photographers and filmers- these people are all so dynamic and offer such rich creative drive and input that Nikita would not be what it is today without them.”
Desiree Moore, Dwindle Marketing Director, reports a recent spike in participation and says: “The digital era has made it easier for girls to find other females to connect with, look up to, and learn from. In addition there are also more skate programs, camps and classes directed towards females, giving them more learning tools and space to grow their skills. With the Olympics on the horizon, we forecast the numbers of female participants to grow on a global level.”
From a mainstream perspective, the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo will further legitimize the role of women in skateboarding, as an equal number of male and female riders are going to participate. “Skateboarding at the moment is in a relatively good place with more facilities in the UK than ever before. Plus, with its introduction to the 2020 Olympics, it is becoming more socially accepted. Feedback from some of our retailers has seen a growth in sales to female skaters who are starting to skate from ages as young as 6 years old,” said Jamie Smith, Brand Manager at Enuff Skateboards.
Speaking of young participants, several organizations such as GN4LW, Skate Like a Girl, and Camp Rubicon in the UK are hosting specific initiatives to bring girls on board. This year, Vans will host more than 100 girl skateboarding clinics in major cities such as Brooklyn, Chicago, London, St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Bangalore, São Paulo, and Mexico City through the ‘This Is Off The Wall’ campaign. “As a brand, we want to ensure that we grow skateboarding participation worldwide and support the creative culture that goes with it. Everything from shining a light on emerging women’s skateboarding communities around the world through the campaign, to providing premium performance skateboarding footwear for women, and expanding the Vans Park Series 2018 Pro Tour season with the addition of two more Women’s World Championship qualifying events in Brazil and France,” said Laura Doherty, Global Public Relations at Vans.
MARKET & PRODUCTS
Retailers today have a wealth of women-specific product to choose from, starting with street and ramp pro models for riders including Nora Vasconcellos (Welcome Skateboards), Lizzie Armanto (Birdhouse), Leticia Bufoni (Plan B), Samarria Brevard (enjoi), Alana Smith (Hoopla), Lacey Baker, Vanessa Torres, and Lore Bruggeman (Meow). Almost created collaboration decks and a complete board with outreach organization Skateistan and Almost flow skater Sky Brown, available for pre-order now. Jamie Smith at Enuff maintains that his brand’s shapes can be ridden by riders of all genres and Romy Bertrand at Element Europe suggested: “I see most of the girl skaters skating 8.3 to 9 inch decks!” Spitfire wheels offer Lacey Baker pro edition Formula Fours, Bones has a Lizzie Armanto pro wheel, Samarria Brevard has a model on RICTA Wheels and Nora Vasconcellos endorses signature OJ Wheels and Krux Trucks.
The Girl is NOT a 4 Letter Word (GN4LW) brand sells a unique line of girl-specific apparel with stylish tees, flannels, and tank tops – featuring slogans like ‘Pretty Radical’ and ‘It’s Not About Pretty!’ – and has developed various products in collaboration with other brands, including XS Helmets. The latest drop is a complete with Dusters California and artist Priscilla Witte: The GN4LW “GIRL POWER” cruiser skateboard featuring Tensor trucks and Dusters Wheels. A portion of the sales benefit the social outreach program Bridge to Skate. Says GN4LW founder Cindy Whitehead: “We are also a Not-for-Profit, so we give 100% of our sales back to girls in skateboarding via 501c3’s, micro grants, contests, and supporting our team riders.”
Helmet and protector companies such as TSG, Pro-Tec, Sandbox, Rekd, and Bern also sponsor female pros and offer specific safety equipment for women. R.P. Bess, Global Brand Director at Pro-Tec says: “Women’s is a huge growth area for action sports in general so we see it as a big potential business. We’ve been a supporter of women in action sports for years by sponsoring riders in all categories we’re involved in.” Wearing a pink helmet even holds cultural significance among young girl shredders – follow @pinkhelmetposse to see why.
In the longboard and cruiser segment, companies including Sector 9, Arbor, Globe, OB Five, Jucker Hawaii, Madrid, Flying Wheels, Goldcoast and more have been offering products aimed at women for years. Arbor released the world’s first women’s-specific boards line, the Solstice Collection, and now collaborates with Boarding For Breast Cancer. “From shape selection to construction, to material selection and graphic development, to content creation and overall presentation, to how Arbor gives back; the Solstice endeavour is run by Arbor Women for women who skate,” said Rachael Fritz, at ArborGirls. Sector 9 also has something special on deck: “We are proud to introduce the Tia Pro, the signature skateboard for professional surfer and Sector 9 team rider Tia Blanco. This is the first time we’ve ever worked with a female rider to develop a specific board, and it ended up being a highly functional skateboard.”
3 WINNING RETAIL STRATEGIES
1. Show commitment. Score points by dedicating, “a specific area, rack or rounder” to women’s products, said Kristin Lawson, at GN4LW, adding: “Having just one item of each style on a rack is not what women want to see. It looks like leftovers. And we feel that it’s an afterthought. If we see three of the same style tee on that rack, we know you get it, and are investing in product just for us.” Also consider separate dressing rooms for female customers and ask brands for POS materials featuring girl skaters. And keep it neat, said Maui at Sector 9: “Ladies hate mixed-up presentations of skateboards. So a rather coherent and branded look is very important. And if you want to target women specifically, try the Bamboo Boards. Also if the quality doesn’t hit the expectations you will lose.”
2. Be social. Desiree at Dwindle encourages retailers to, “help facilitate a female community in their shop and be welcoming to newcomers.” For starters, you can tap into a wealth of content on social media and also learn a lot about what’s hot and trending in female skateboarding. Follow accounts such as @girlsshred, @girlsskatenetwork, @theskatewitches, @skatelikeagirl, @girlisnota4letterword, @meowskateboards and use hashtags like #skatelikeagir, #girlskater and #ladiesofshred for your own posts. Jamie at Enuff skateboards, who create tons of social media posts around their team rider Roxana Howlett, has a pro tip: “If you’re building web banners for your store, use men one week and next time you swap it up and put your female rider in.”
3. Walk the walk. Aside from creating a welcoming atmosphere in your shop, consider sponsoring female skaters and events. Just follow Sector 9’s example: “In our brand history we can look back on a long list of highly skilled ladies that wave the Niner flag. Erica Hosseini, Jen Smith, Gayla Berkefeldt are just some of the most iconic names.” Jamie at Enuff is on the same page: “In all honesty, just give girls as much time in the spot light as possible. If a shop has a team with both men and women, do a promotion of them skating together to show how inclusive it can be.” Showcasing this level of support will ultimately get your shop noticed: “Girls see you are female-friendly and have products just for them and they will support you,” said Cindy Whitehead at GN4LW.
Industry insiders are hopeful about the future of women in skateboarding, including Romy Bertrand at Element: “Time will tell. There is a more fashionable aspect to skateboarding as a whole these days, but it could stick this time around as everyone’s mind seems more open than before.” Jamie at Enuff is convinced: “Females in skateboarding are a growing market, which, if nurtured correctly, could be even bigger benefiting the whole of the skate industry.”