Inside the Artwork: With Proper Gnar’s Founder, Latosha Stone

Photo from Proper Gnar

If anything 2020 has taught us we can all do a better job supporting Black owned businesses. With many resources such as The Black List going around the skate community, one brand that always stood out is Proper Gnar. Latosha Stone’s artistic point of view bring a fresh and powerful perspective to both skateboarding and the way women of color are depicted in artwork.

 

This article and illustrations appear in full exclusively in Quell Skateboarding Issue 006 – Buy a copy here.

 


 

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the midwest in a really small, honestly a hick town. I was one of the only Black families there until high school which definitely had an effect on my life. When it comes to skateboarding I started in 6th grade and was the only girl on a block of all boys and my neighbors had a penny board and I just went from there.

 

I always feel like that’s how it happens. 

I also played the Tony Hawk games and stuff. I had the N64 and it was one of the first games.

 

I’m excited to see the new one.

I have been seeing so many screenshots and stuff for this. 

 

So many people also say that’s how they got started in skating. I guess there are two questions. You design clothes and graphics for skateboarding. What came first, drawing or fashion or was that all a natural progression.

I started with the clothes first. I have been an artist for as long as I’ve been skating but I didn’t get the idea to put it on clothes until later. When I started I was like let’s just do clothing that is streetwear skater inspired and then the decks came afterwards.

I think my line is both skateboarding and streetwear now. Within the last year it’s been more boards than clothing.

 

I saw one of your graphics on Instagram that is like you came here for the boards but the clothes are cool too.

Yeah that’s because I’m so behind on getting decks out so just buy the clothes for now so I can get caught up.

 

Photo from Proper Gnar

You’ve been mentioning that you’ve gotten a lot of publicity lately and when I first was thinking of what to ask you I was going to say how is COVID 19 affecting your business but then I thought more and was like that’s absolutely not the right question because you’re doing so well that it’s almost detrimental.

It’s affecting it in a good way. Skateboarding all over is blowing up right now. The guys who print my decks are so far behind. I have barely been able to get restocks for the holidays because the whole industry is growing so much because of COVID. It’s not just me, it’s everybody.

One thing that’s happened to me, every interview has brought up Beyonce

 

I was going to bring it up only from the standpoint that it’s more interesting because I remember you mentioning how that’s affected your production and how publicity has really had an affect on your business. Not like what do you think of Beyonce? What is going to say about Beyonce.

It’s so weird how many meetup requests we’re getting too. We’re still in a pandemic but it’s such a crazy time that people are discovering skateboarding and brands like yours.

I’ve had the same thing with events too. We were doing monthly events and this year we haven’t done any. I have one in a couple weeks with Black Girls Skate and it’s the first thing I’ve done in months.

 

I know other people that are hosting things but I’ll let you be the gate keepers. Obviously your platform has grown so much. When you start posting these events hopefully that gets more of a turn out but also the pressure is big because of the pandemic.

I definitely don’t want to get anyone sick.

 

I wanted to talk to you more about the skate scene in Dayton. I love that there are communities popping up everywhere.

Where I grew up there wasn’t much of a skate culture. We had to work so hard to get a park here and even still I never have been able to do an event in my hometown because the city is so against it. Rob Dierdeck is from Dayton so we have really nice parks. When it comes to the culture it’s not as diverse as other places but very cool. Still mostly dudes though.

 

When we first spoke, we talked about acknowledging beginners in skateboarding. How do you encourage beginners to keep skateboarding.

I just try to keep having the events and like the way I interact and encourage people at the park. Showing them that it’s okay to be a beginner. You’ll go to skate park and you’ll have people look at you to see if you can really skate. Just be nice to other people.

 

It’s way more underrated to not pass judgement. I know you also sponsor skaters, how do you choose these people to sponsor?

I don’t really do contracts or anything like most major brands. Part of it is how good you are but also your personality and what you do in your community. Most of the girls I partner with have their own skate clinics in their own area. That really caught my eye. 

 

It’s so important as a brand that the people you give things to are representing your brand.

I also try to sponsor women of color for sure. I know a lot of brands care about followers, but I don’t really care about that. It’s really about them as a person.

 

That shows much more authentically. Between your artwork and brand, I haven’t seen the ways you highlight and uplift Black and Brown women in other brands. I wanted to talk to you more about how important that representation is and how you develop and grow that relationship with Proper Gnar?

It’s super important. It’s one of the biggest inspirations behind what I do and why I keep doing Proper Gnar. As far as I know there are really only two Black women professional skaters and I am trying to work to change that. Just women in general, a lot of skate brands have women naked or in a bikini and I try to show women doing different things. I have gotten that so much lately with moms and younger women that they are happy with our representation. I want to keep that going.

 

Photo from Proper Gnar

Your style obviously pulls from anime references in a lot of ways. With the brand hookups for example, that’s not empowering to women. It’s night and day to your style. It just shines a better light than sexiness.

I do like hookups but I totally know what you mean. I have my anime style drawings and I also have my portrait style drawings.

 

How has your style changed since you’ve started?

I feel like I’ve gotten better at art. I don’t really even like our older designs. I definitely have come into myself as an artist. I am refining my style and I have started doing what I want to do instead of what I thought people would like. I put what I want to see on clothes and boards.

 

I’m sure that resonates so much with other people because they see that passion. What are some of your favorite things to create?

I love the fantasy type stuff that I draw.

 

You have such a variation of style but such a clear point of view. There’s something for everyone that’s interested.

I have a lot of different styles. I am always experimenting with new styles.

 

What are some of the challenges you’ve learned from owning a business?

I think my main thing would be not giving up. There have been so many times I have thought about quitting and what has happened in the last couple months wouldn’t have happened if I had quit any of those other times. There are so many different aspects. When I started I wanted to help women skaters but also wanted to live on my art. There is so much more work when it comes to the business side and as an artist I don’t want to do that, I just want to do the art. I have had to find trustworthy people to hand this stuff off too.

I ran everything myself up until two months ago and I have a team of three other people.

 

I’ve heard interviews before with brands that celebrities wear and then they grow from like in your example, 20K to 60K overnight. That can almost kill your business. 

You have to be ready. I’ve seen that a lot in my business groups on facebook. They always say don’t pray to go viral if you can’t handle it. It’s super stressful.

 

But it’s really awesome that you can grow and maintain that because we need brands like your brands with a different point of view in skateboarding. How do you see your brand in comparisons to other brands that are out?

The art, the owner, the support, the demographic of people that I support and work with. 

 

What are some future projects that you’re creating?

I have a collab with Black Girls Anime coming up. I’m also collaborating with other artist friends. It’s just all of my favorite things in one. I’m also trying to do a halloween collection. I’m always trying to expand the girls that I sponsor and adding more people to the team. A girl in LA and I are working to set up clinics out there for Proper Gnar as well as in Dayton.

 

That’s awesome. It’s definitely expanding and growing. Do you find that there’s a connection to artists and skateboarding?

Yeah definitely. Every skate brand has their own style. So many people do insane grip jobs, and like I don’t know why it goes together but it just does. Every skate event I’ve done here we’ve also done an art gallery.

 

Photo from Proper Gnar

What is your favorite anime?

That’s such a hard question. I would say Jo Jo. The guys are really hot. The artist style and colors, I love that. Elvin and Lead is one of my favorites. Darling and the Franks. Sailor Moon, I grew up on that. 

 

What brand did a whole Sailor Moon thing?

Primitive! My finance bought one of the shirts for me. I got my daughter into anime and I have Sailor Moon VHS’s as well.

 

What advice do you have for someone that wants to start skateboarding?

Don’t let people discourage you. Just because you look a certain way or are a certain gender doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be good at it. If you’re nervous, watch some videos and practice out back. Don’t give up on it. 

 

And buy a Proper Gnar board for your first skateboard.

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