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Back in 2017, the founders of Doyenne saw a void in their local scene and quickly mobilized to fill it. Seeing a lack of diversity and representation at skate parks, the streets, and, most importantly, the absence of a safe space for new skaters to express themselves, they started by organizing a skate meet-up in the brand’s hometown of Glasgow, Scotland. The impact of those early sessions sparked their project to become a full-fledged brand with the goal to represent and inspire the community around them and abroad.

As a women-led brand, Doyenne acts as a collective entity comprised of skaters, artists, activists, and creatives, using the brand as the rallying force to mobilize and amplify women and non-conforming genders in skateboarding. Along with their events, fundraising, and activations, Doyenne designs clothing and product with a purpose, focused on creating gender-neutral products made with an ethical and sustainable mindset. 

We spoke with Doyenne to understand their mission, ethos, aspirations, and how their pointed visual and ethical point of view informs the brand and its community as well as their recent collaboration with Nike SB.

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What was the impetus to start Doyenne?

Doyenne has evolved a lot over the years. We started in 2017 in Glasgow, Scotland. When I started skateboarding, we felt there were not many brands that were women-run and supported diverse skaters. We liked the idea of starting one so we thought, ‘Why don't we just do it?’ When we learned about other collectives and nonprofits in skateboarding that were doing important work we wanted to use the brand to create opportunities and support charities and help make the community more diverse. We started by hosting a lot of beginner sessions where people could show up and skate in a safe space, to simply see if there was interest. From the beginning, we wanted to be about inclusivity and accessibility within skateboarding but we also have backgrounds in design and art. So another way we use our brand is as a vehicle to talk about issues we care about and work with artists, and charities with our same goals. Doyenne is a skateboarding brand but it’s also a design studio, collective, and project that reaches further than just skateboarding.

What inspired you to use Doyenne as a vehicle for ideas, as you said, rather than to simply make and sell products?

The brand started as a medium to do these types of projects. What’s interesting about skateboarding brands compared to brands outside of skateboarding is that people really resonate with them—they feel like they belong to a brand. We like the idea of using that to create a community. It wasn’t about the products. It was always about activating the community. We felt like we could involve people, even when we weren’t present or for people outside of Glasgow. We’re all connected through the brand.

We thought a lot about what the logo represented and meant. It’s so beautiful when you’re in a skate park and you see someone wearing that logo, it creates a sense of connection that you’re part of something accessible. People have told us that they’ve seen someone with a Doyenne T-Shirt and they felt they could talk to that person. In some way, the logo itself was able to create a safe space. Wearing that T-Shirt symbolizes that you support inclusivity and equality in a way.

A lot of folks reading this might not have felt excluded when they entered skateboarding. Can you talk a bit about your entry to skateboarding and what you saw that was missing that you wanted to address with Doyenne?

What was missing was representation, especially in the media and with brands. We didn’t see many women and non-conforming genders. Society can subconsciously imprint into your brain that you don’t belong…that you shouldn’t be skateboarding. It’s different from scene to scene, of course, but in skateboarding, there’s a lot of focus on ability. With Doyenne, we cherish people for many things outside of ability. It’s about creativity, it’s about courage…it’s about many different things outside of ability. Not everybody has the same abilities and there are many qualities that make someone a person you admire. It’s not just about the best. Someone just having fun is really nice. It’s good to see people sharing videos on social media of themselves having fun. We love to see big videos too, but they can feel so far away. Being able to share videos and clips of people expressing themselves freely felt missing. That extends to clothing. You think of something as simple as a hoodie, but the design, the materials, and the construction of that hoodie might not be inclusive—it’s not designed for certain people in skateboarding. Even the colors were often dark and women, non-binary, and queer people might want brighter colors, but they’re made to feel like they have to wear those clothes. We played with that from the start. We used bright colorways in our initial designs as a way to say, ‘We’re not hiding.'

There’s a parallel to art, too. You’ll see a finished painting on display, but sometimes what’s really interesting are the sketches that led to that painting. How did that person get there? How are you learning, how are you falling? It’s nice to normalize that part of skateboarding as much as the polished, finished product. Our brand is not just for skaters. Skateboarding is a huge part of it, but also, some people like to watch, they like to take photos, they like to be involved even if they’re not actively skating and it’s important to Doyenne to include everyone.

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You’ve really touched on a paradox in skateboarding. We want to champion creativity but there’s such a focus on technical ability. Older folks will say that skateboarding came from punk rock and that attitude, but they forget that punk was a reaction to ability—it was saying, ‘Get involved however you want, everyone can do this!’ Punk is like a sketch in progress. Why do you think skateboarding has historically been so focused on ability rather than creativity?

The competition, the dominance, and the need to always be stong, are all really masculine traits. Without having that feminine or non-masculine energy in skateboarding puts such a focus on ability. What’s beautiful about skateboarding is that if you do a trick, random people will be like, ‘Whoa! That’s really cool,’ but at the same time it creates this environment where if you don’t do something impressive, you might feel that you won't get that support. Think about how that impacts skaters. You’ll hear people being hard on themselves for not landing a trick or not getting clips. Not everyone is trying to be an athlete, you came here to have fun, so you should enjoy skateboarding. It’s not just about learning tricks, it’s about learning in general. Typically, sponsorship is about ability, that’s why with Doyenne, we sponsor people for their style, their creativity, and for who they are.

If you’re only seeing this one standard and ideal, if you’re only speaking in one language, you’ll always feel inferior. It’s a mindset thing and because of that, you can really miss the beauty of skateboarding. It’s like when you’re cycling and you’re only focused on where you need to get to and you’re not taking in the landscape. You’re missing the beauty of the journey. When you’re not in competition you can appreciate people who are just starting to skate and learn and you can learn from them and share that joy.

Removing that pressure that’s been in skateboarding takes a weight off everyone.

We’re also in an era of documentation, whereas in the past when documenting your skating was more difficult due to technology, there was more of an emphasis on feeling. There are a lot of positives in being able to see and share more skateboarding now but as you said, it can create pressure.

We like to say, ‘Skate like nobody’s watching.’ You’re always watching, you’re always filming, you’re always documenting, and in that, you can lose the freedom of skateboarding. That’s a shame. It’s not just about always sharing the tricks that are landed perfectly.

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In speaking to Doyenne’s projects that are larger than skateboarding, can you talk about the ASK collaborative project?

We’ve been in contact with Consent is Rad, Consent for Breakfast and Hera Skate for a while and we want to touch on topics that aren’t talked about in skateboarding. Consent is such a delicate topic. We knew we wanted to work with these communities dedicated to inclusion and consent education, but we wanted to do it in a way that was more than a T-Shirt or collaboration—how can we talk and reflect on what consent means? We tried to look at the root causes. What is the problem? What are we missing? What can we tackle? What does consent even mean? Thinking about peer pressure in general.

ASK is a collaborative project with Consent Is Rad, Consent For Breakfast, and Hera Skate and it evolved as a collaborative project with a printed zine as well. We admired everyone’s work and because it’s such a sensitive topic we wanted to have as much input and diverse voices involved as possible. We also wanted it to be an uplifting thing and not just focus on making people feel shame—we wanted to make this something that anyone would be interested in reading. There’s a lot of fear regarding the topic and we decided to use humor to address that and make it more accessible, especially in skateboarding. We made sure to keep the narrative gender-neutral in order to speak to everyone as people.

ASK is also about believing in redemption and not pushing people into a corner because that’s not solving the issues but rather, it’s perpetuating the problem. We also sent the zine to skate shops to have it around the other magazines as a resource if people wanted to read it and learn. We thought that was a really important aspect of the project. It’s part of our commitment to make skateboarding a safer place for everyone.

There’s also the power of the domino effect. If skateboarders who are looked up to start to embrace something such as ASK it can impact others positively. It can encourage others to join in—it doesn’t take everyone, just a few people can have a big impact.

How did you approach putting Doyenne’s full ethos into the collaboration with Nike SB?

We started with a concept that runs through the entire collection: harmony of opposites. We wanted to celebrate the duality that’s in all of us. We wanted something timeless but we wanted to also be vibrant. Everyone is two things, you know? Some days you want to wear all black, other days you feel vibrant and want to wear bright colors and patterns. You have different energies. That informed the print, the colors, and the materials we chose for the Blazer design. When you look at the shoe, you initially notice the neutral colors but then you look at the marbling of the sole—and each sole is completely different due to the production process—and you start to notice the unexpected details. We wanted to use natural materials such as the pineapple canvas and kept it undyed to give space to the shoe so you can see the details of the materials. The soles are recycled Grind materials in order to show all the layers and patterns.

We also thought about how the shoe will age and evolve with the person wearing it. You’re going to discover more about the shoe the more you wear it. When the shoe rips, it actually gets more beautiful. As you skate the shoe it reveals different colors. That speaks to the concept of duality as well. How can you ruin something beautiful and what happens when you do? From the materials to the design to how it wears and how long you can skate it, everything was a conscious choice.

The Doyenne Blazer Low releases in skateshops March 3 and SNKRS March 8.