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“This is not lady-like, why are you doing that!?”
Promoting inclusivity in the skateboarding culture with Joana Fongern and NavyandWavey
Clothing brand, community
For many it can be very intimidating to roll up with a board in a skatepark for the very first time; that especially counts for non-male skaters. Starting her journey in the skateboarding scene in New York City, Berlin-based fashion designer Joana Fongern promotes inclusivity and breaks gender norms in the scene through her own DIY streetwear brand ‘NayfAndWavey’: “The skateboarding culture is undergoing a ground breaking movement as more LGBTQ+ and CIS women are carving and creating their own space within it.”
We had a chat with Joana talking about her experiences in the scene, her fashion brand as well as her ambitions to make the skateboarding scene more accessible for everyone.
STK: How did you come up with the brand name “Nayf&Wavey”?
Joana: A lot of people ask me that question, but it doesn’t really have a big story behind it. I’ve used another name before, but I couldn’t really relate to it anymore and the more often I said it, the weirder it sounded in my head (haha). That’s why I decided to start giving my brainchild another name. I sat down in my London apartment and wrote weird words down on my computer and somehow I started using the word NAIVE, which turned into Nayf and then I added the Wavey to it and that's how it became Nayf and Wavey. I always wanted to have like a two worded brand name. Another thought was that it shouldn’t make any sense and it doesn't!
STK: And how did you get into fashion design in the first place?
Joana: I was always interested in fashion somehow but I didn’t know it until I actually thought about what I wanted to do when I was older. In fifth grade, my friend and I designed clothes on paper - just for fun though - in art class and I really enjoyed it. Throughout my teen years, I started to really get into what I wear and how I presented myself, did my A-Levels in art and my final school project was about fashion. My journey in fashion officially began when I graduated high school and started studying fashion design. Everything went from there.
STK: Where do you produce your designs? You got a studio?
Joana: I produce my designs in my bedroom. I have a really large bedroom so I use it as a studio, too. It gets really exhausting sometimes when you sleep and work in the same room; it feels like you never stop working haha. So, I would love to have a studio shared with other creatives some time.
STK: I was wondering, in which exact ways do you try to break gender norms in the designs you produce?
Joana: Well, I am trying to make my designs as inclusive as possible so that actually EVERYONE can feel comfortable wearing it, no matter if you’re queer, non-binary or a woman. What I also do at the moment is produce made-to-order and customize or tailor my products on how the client wants it, especially since everyone has a different body type. I am also working on different sizing from XXS-XXL for the Baggy Corduroy Pants so that again, everyone can wear it. It’s a bit of a slow process though, because I grade the patterns by hand.
Breaking gender norms means breaking the heteronormative and societal idea of gender by making the clothing more inclusive (not labeling), making sizing more inclusive and showing society that everyone can wear a dress and everyone can wear baggy pants without assuming a gender and/or stereotypically judging a person by the societal construct we were taught. As I do everything by myself at the current stage, everything takes more time, but I work to make my label as inclusive as possible.
STK: For many, the skateboarding scene seems intimidating at first glance, especially when you roll into a skatepark for the very first time. Coul you please walk us through your personal experience of entering the skateboarding scene…
Joana: Oh, it was really intimidating, but so exciting at the same time. Luckily, I can say that my experience of entering the skateboarding scene was welcoming, warm, and supportive. I started skateboarding when I was 25 and had freshly moved to New York City. I feel like everything around me somehow had something to do with skateboarding. My boss was a skater, I met people that skated, I met NYC skaters at a bar and I watched X-games all the time on my lunch breaks. It felt like it was meant to be! Also, when I was 15 I lived in Missouri and my guy friends were skaters, but I have never tried it really because I played soccer in high school. I kinda knew that I wanted to learn skating someday.
So when I moved to NYC, I wanted to try something that I always wanted to do, but never did - which was skateboarding in this case. As I said before, I watched X-games a lot, I was surrounded by skateboarding everyday. One day at a house party I met a skater and he told me about The Skatekitchen. I looked them up, watched Nina's TedTalk about women in skateboarding, took all my courage and bought my first skateboard at Labour Skateshop. When I found The Skatekitchen on Instagram, I dm’d them and Nina. She replied and she actually hosted a Girls Skate Meet up at SKBK in Brooklyn on the same day. I went there and met the coolest girls (LateSkate) that took me in and showed me around. That’s how my skateboarding journey started. My first skatepark experience was actually good because I had all the girls around me and they gave me the comfort and support I needed. I was the most intimidated when Yazmeen took me to my then-to-be local skatepark ‘Cooper’ for the very first time. It was mostly just male skaters and everyone was so damn good. The intimidation stopped immediately though when everyone came up and just started talking to me and took away my anxiety.
STK: I (male) have also been skating in Berlin for quite a while now and I find the scene rather welcoming and open-minded compared to other cities. In your opinion, how would you best describe the skateboarding scene in Berlin? Do you see differences to the scene in New York?
Joana: Uff, that's a hard question, because I am very much biased and it’s hard to keep an objective opinion towards it. Personally, I find the NYC skate scene more inclusive, welcoming and open-minded than the Berlin skateboarding scene. Though, don’t forget that New York City is a world city and a cultural capital of the world with 8.6 million people and 800 different languages, whereas Berlin is super small compared to it. I see a lot of differences between the two skate scenes, especially when I realised that in New York there are many skateboarding organisations that help and uplift underserved communities and see skateboarding also as a tool to foster communities and educate people. Another thing is that the support of queer, non-binary and women skateboarding is huge in New York compared to Berlin. What makes me very happy about the Berlin skate scene is that women skateboarding is growing and more people are realising that there are actually a big amount of insanely gifted girl skaters out there. When I moved here, there were nearly no women skaters and I felt there was no community and now it's changing.
I would say the Berlin skateboarding scene has a lot of potential to grow and develop.
STK: Skateboarding is a straight white male dominant subculture. Why exactly do you see the skateboarding culture as a good breeding ground for your works? Where do you see the value in the scene, also considering for your brand?
Joana: I find that the skateboarding scene has so much to offer. It's about time to break the norm of just white straight men riding a skateboard. There is so much more involved in it. So many people with different backgrounds and identities skate. In the end, we’re all just adults being kids playing with a wooden toy. Skateboarding has opened up many doors for me and allowed me to meet amazing people from different backgrounds that taught me that there is more outside of the regular, white heteronormative spectrum. Skateboarding connects people from all around the world and can also be used as a tool to educate, teach and provoke society - the same as with fashion!
It’s a good breeding ground for my work, because of the diversity, inclusivity and the empowerment, but also the playfulness as well as the academic and educational aspect of skating. I get inspired by the people within this varied space every single day. I mean, look at what all the skaters wear - everyone expresses themselves through a very unique style. It’s all about the little details. Some people are good at expressing their feelings through poems and art, I do this through fashion and skateboarding.
I think the value I see the most is the support within the community, which projects outside to my brand. Friends from all around the world and people from the scene support my brand in so many different ways by purchasing, posting or even by shooting me a little text with wonderful words. A long time goal for my brand is to work with the community and organisations surrounding it wherever in the world I decide to live.
STK: What's your standpoint on the introduction of skateboarding in the Olympic Games?
Joana: I think it’s pretty amazing, because there are so many talented and insanely gifted skaters that might want to take skateboarding further. I mean, we already have SLS, X-Games, etc., so I think that the Olympic Games will be a nice addition to the scene.
STK: Any tips for the LGBTQIA+ community that wants to pick up skateboarding?
Joana: I think what I can say from my experience is, if you don’t want to go to a skatepark by yourself, check online on social media if there are any meet-ups around you or if there are any people/groups skating in your city that you can join :) Briana King has a story on Instagram highlighting ‘ppl2sk8w/‘ where she screenshotted all the people that look for skate buddies around the world. It’s super cool! :)
STK: How has the pandemic impacted your business?
Joana: I have to say, I have never had so much time in my life compared to now to fully work on my brand. Usually, I work another job next to my brand but we’re in ‘Kurzarbeit’ (reduced working hours) at the moment. When Corona started, I sewed community masks because the demand was there and I decided to donate money to organisations that would help people in need. It really helped my business and it set the foundation for new projects. The second lockdown now - it feels like a never ending story - I gave my business another push, because all I focus on right now is to create and grow my brainchild. Overall, the pandemic has had a rather ‘good’ impact on N&F. I also realised that this is what I want to do forever. I feel so happy to see what I can do with my work and also to see myself now on how I flourish in it. I can’t wait to create my empire and work on something that I love to do :-).
STK: Out of curiosity...What is your most favorite skate spot in Berlin?
Joana: Uhhh, I really love the Gleisi spot (Park am Gleisdreieck) with the curbs and ledges, because I love places where you can combine hanging out and skating - so that’s my go to spot for the summer. Also, there are so many other spots close by if you want to do a bike-skate tour with friends.
STK: What's next on your list?
Joana: I'll be working on more pieces, trying to get into shops and hopefully be able to expand with 1-2 people. Oh, and also I would love to find a manufacturer! That would be the dream!
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