Latosha Stone’s art is, in a word, vibrant. And that’s selling it short. It moves and energizes, invokes a whimsy that has you feeling like you’re flying inches off the ground.
So, it makes sense that she would combine that art and her passion for skateboarding, letting people literally ride through the streets atop some of the most vivacious boards around.
Now in Dayton, Stone grew up in Greenville, Ohio. The population of which is just over 12,000.
Somehow she found her way to skateboarding, and she’s now in the midst of putting her stamp on the industry.
“I was pretty much the only woman that I knew that was skating. And also, you know, definitely the only black woman,” Stone tells En Fuego on Sports Illustrated.
Stone is the founder of Proper Gnar, the first black female-owned skateboard company. And, it so happens, recently received daps from none other than Beyoncé, who listed the brand on her Black Parade directory of recommended black-owned businesses.
While there was a lack of diversity in her childhood skateboarding community, she saw enough around town and in the video game Tony Hawk Pro Skater to fall in love with the sport.
That passion stuck and played out in a lifelong relationship with the sport, but it wasn’t until she left her factory job seven years ago that art slowly bled into skateboarding to create something truly beautiful.
Living the Dream
“Yeah, I was just working at this factory and I just knew that I didn't want to keep doing that for the rest of my life,” Stone said. “And, you know, I love art. I've been drawing for pretty much as long as I've been skateboarding. So, I just kind of wanted to come up with a way to kind of combine all the things I love into one thing. And so that's where it started.”
What started as Proper Gnar, a fashion line that is empowerment and whimsy bathed in delectable shades of purple and pink, quickly became a way to infuse skateboarding into the brand.
The mission was always centered on what makes a great many talents successful. Stone leads from the heart. Instead of chasing what might be the most lucrative practice, she is dedicated to maintaining authenticity. And it’s served her well.
“I didn't really plan on going big with it; like it wasn't really for the money necessarily,” she said. “It was kind of like my heart was in it, you know?”
And when you remain true to self it has a way of resonating powerfully with others. Browsing page after page of boards and fashion on her website, you’re immediately struck that there is a voice there, and it doesn’t compromise.
Welcome to the Black Parade
It’s perhaps that reason that Proper Gnar struck such a chord that on Juneteenth it featured along so many other black-owned businesses in Beyoncé’s lengthy list of recommended companies.
The recognition has come at a difficult time for many of us. While we all grapple with life inside, Stone has discovered that many have rediscovered the great outdoors and the benefits of skateboarding.
“I feel like since a lot of people have more time off they've gotten time to go back to their hobbies or even have time to learn new hobbies. And skateboarding is just one of those things that you can do social-distance wise,” she said.
And with a fervent and national discussion of social issues, Stone has seen a noticeable amount of support for a business like hers. “I feel like a lot of people have been trying to support black businesses and, you know, shout them out and help them out.”
That brings us to Juneteenth, a day of recognition for the Black community and a personal triumph for Stone who saw her brand in the Black Parade directory.
“That was crazy,” she said. “And it's probably one of the coolest things that's ever happened to me.”
The acknowledgment from an icon like Beyoncé meant a far more eclectic clientele was looking at Proper Gnar.
“It definitely helped the business and, you know, just kind of put me in front of a whole different demographic of people.”
Exposure and setting an example is something Stone values. Coming from a smaller town where there weren’t skateboarders who looked like her or necessarily shared her life experiences continues to have an impact.
Setting an Example
Stone has been building Proper Gnar for close to a decade, devoting time and resources into the venture. But it wasn’t until this most remarkable year and the loss of her full-time job as a photographer in March that she decided to go full throttle with the brand.
One thing she wanted to do was keep the price of the decks to a reasonable amount. This is someone who would rather get more people on skateboards than bask in profits. So I asked her about it.
“Not everybody can afford to pay, you know, like 100-plus dollars. If you go to a skate shop, you can even spend two hundred dollars on a full set up,” she explained. “And that was something that I thought about.”
Proper Gnar remains a brand dedicated to two things, it’s certainly Stone’s passion project. But it’s also a doorway she is leaving open, hoping a more diverse community decides to come on in.
“I definitely kind of see the demographic of skateboarders here changing lately. There's definitely more women that are into it, definitely more black women. And that all starts out as one person."
Her message is clear, be that pioneer. Go out and do what makes you happy, especially if there isn’t anyone else that looks like you doing it.
Because the very fact that you are doing it can have a profound impact on this world.
“I've cried happy tears a lot lately because I've had so many moms and other black females hit me up and be like, you know, I'm so glad you exist,” Stone said.
“I’m so glad this representation is out there because there's a lot of people, a lot of black women that would be into skateboarding, but they just didn't have that representation there.”
She still finds that there are a lot of people who are surprised that Stone, a black woman, is into skateboarding. And she still gets double-takes, in 2020, that a black female would run her own company.
But it’s the job of pioneers to work exponentially harder to get that door open and keep it open.
“I feel like as a black business you really have to work twice as hard in your industry to get noticed.”
Stone is getting noticed. Her boards are garnering the attention of superstars and females of color who now point in her direction and think, I want to do what she’s doing.
“I guess I'd say if you're thinking about getting into skateboarding, just do it,” Stone said. “You may not see anybody doing something that that looks like you, but maybe, you know, people just need that example to follow.”