Betty’s Dede Lovelace and Ajani Russell are Flipping the Script on Skate-Bro Culture
The Gen-Z duo talks season one of their hit HBO show, New York’s fashion scene, and college.
When you think of a skater, usually what comes to mind is a Supreme-donning cis male à la Tony Hawk, Ryan Sheckler, Chris Cole, shall I go on? But, there’s a new group of Gen-Z skaters on deck with bleached eyebrows that are just as bold and impressive as their skills on a board. ICYMI: skateboard collective Skate Kitchen, a.k.a. the stars of HBO’s latest hit show Betty and their own eponymous film, has made waves in Manhattan’s skate scene for their growing crowd of fearless women in their mid-20s taking over the streets and parks once deemed only for men.
Skate Kitchen was whipped up by NYC-based skaters Rachelle Vinberg, Nina Moran, Kabrina “Moonbear” Adams, Brenn and Jules Lorenzo, Dede Lovelace, and Ajani Russell. Each and every one of them have an eclectic style and demeanor that both brings them together and makes their individuality apparent, which is what makes this group of sk8r girls so intriguing to know. Coveteur caught up with skater and style innovators Lovelace and Russell on their first taste of skating, filming Betty while juggling college life, and more.
Why did you start skating?
Dede Lovelace: “I started skating in middle school. I went to East Side [Girls Prep Lower East Side Middle Charter School] in Lower Manhattan, and at 3:30 pm everyday there would be a bunch of boys in the courtyard of the school skating. They would bring their own ramps and rails, and it was a very popular D.I.Y. spot. I would see them all the time after school, and I was just so fascinated by it so I told my dad that I wanted to skate. He got me a Zoo York board, and that was my first introduction to skateboarding. But I didn’t learn to try to do tricks at first because it was still very intimidating and a lot of the boys were kind of in their own world. If they didn’t know you they didn’t want to talk to you, so I just kick-pushed around by myself. I didn’t start getting more advanced until high school, and that’s when me and Nina [Moran] started going to the park.”
Ajani Russell: “So I was always into skateboarding, but I never really had the confidence to actively pick up a board. I just didn’t take myself seriously enough to take skating seriously. I guess that was the insecurity of going to the skate park and having people watch me fall or people making fun of me. Especially because I watched Rocket Power growing up and I just looked up to Reggie so much. But, she was still getting made fun of you. And though she could tread and those types of representations, I would be like, ‘Well, I don’t know if I could do that.’ But then when I was in high school, I went to high school with Nina, who plays Kurt on Betty. And, I told her, I was like, ‘I think it’s so cool that you could skate. I don’t know any other skater girls at all.’ And she said, ‘You want to skate, say less.’ And so she called me one day and she was like, ‘Where are you?’ I said, ‘I’m here.’ She was like, ‘Don’t move.’ So she pulled up 10 minutes later and she had a full set for me. And she was like, ‘Now you can’t say you can’t skate.’ And so I was like, ‘I guess I can’t say that I can’t skate anymore because now I have a skateboard.’”
How does Betty kind of dive deeper into the lifestyle of female skaters in a way that Skate Kitchen wasn’t able to?
DL: “Skate Kitchen, well, it’s a movie. It’s shorter. We couldn’t pack as many things as we wanted to in there. And Betty really gives a chance to explore all of the stories, lessons, and just general nuances and narratives that we don’t see in regular TV. We got to put a lot of things women experience that are overlooked in mainstream media, but are very important to discuss or normalize and get that representation in. I look at Betty and none of the other shows look like our show. We were able to create something so different from what’s already been popularized on television.”
Have you guys ever faced adversities with misogyny within the skate world?
DL: “Oh yeah, of course. But I’ve also experienced some really great mentorship from male skaters. So, I mean... you have both sides in everything. But I can say that the support that I’ve received kind of outweighed the challenges and the rejection, let’s say. I had some really great guys change my life in one summer, and they gave me so much encouragement and guidance. I think a lot of young people need to experience that and see that, and that’s what I hope we can show in season two. I know I’m kind of jumping ahead, but mentorship, it’s very important.”
We saw a bit of that in Betty with Ajani and Farouk. Not really skating-wise, but kind of like a male that she could actually kind of trust in a similar way:
AR: “I also think it was apparent in Skate Kitchen, as well, that we didn’t want to create that tired narrative of boys versus girls. We have to show both sides in Betty and Skate Kitchen that there’s guys in there. They start bonding with us at some point and it’s just completely normal. It’s not made out to be a big deal. It’s just like, they’re friends, they skate to get there. They support each other. But there are also guys that are assholes and that come at you for being a girl or are jealous of you because you’re a girl and you get attention, and they attribute you to getting that attention solely because you’re a girl, not in reflection of your actual skills and abilities.”
Betty explores topics like sexual abuse, gaslighting, cultural appropriation, and racism. As women of color in the mainly cis-white-male world of skating, how are you trying to tackle these issues in real life?
DL: “I guess we’re trying to tackle them in numbers. And when I say that, I mean just encouraging other girls and just people, whoever wants to skate to be a part of this community because it’s for everyone. Everyone should be able to participate if that’s what you’re interested in. So, just building a collective and a community off support and guidance and love and encouragement.”
AR: “I remember when we first started, we said Skate Kitchen is a collective, but it’s also a home for all the skateboarders that don’t have one. All the skateboarders that don’t have their skate crew or don’t have a skate family. Because we were traveling all over the place, all over the world and we would go and we’d find people to skate with or people that would message us and be like, ‘Well, I never skated before. I always wanted to but I was scared.’ Or girls that have had really bad experiences with men at the skatepark. I’ve gotten pushed off with my skateboard at the skate park before by a guy that was trying to hit on me and he was being really rude. And just making those safe spaces where we can have a community of women skateboarding. And again, like Dede was saying, power in numbers. Once you’ve finally experienced that type of support, then it’s like a ‘pass it on’ situation. That’s how I realized that it is possible for us to pass on this energy; this beacon of hope.”
What empowers you about skating?
DL: “Well for me, skateboarding, has given me confidence. There’s this park, Elliot Skate Park, that we filmed in—I think it was the last episode, the last scene when we were all in the skate park. That park, a couple of years ago was very—I mean, it still is—very, very intimidating. That park has an aura. When you walk in, no matter who you are, you get these stares like ‘Who’s this? Who’s coming in the park?’ So being able to enter that park, which is renowned for being intimidating, that gave me a boost of confidence, because I became cool with the guys who are locals there. But I’m working on my confidence every day when it comes to skateboarding. It’s a hobby for me. I never had the intention of becoming pro, but I do enjoy it and I do want to get better at it.”
You both essentially play fictionalized versions of yourselves—Ajani, you play Indigo and Dede, you play Janay. How do the characters you play reflect you in real life and how do they contrast?
AR: “Well, Indigo has a very different upbringing than I had and that definitely reflects in her choices and her optimism, I suppose. And all of the trouble she finds herself in… not trouble, but all the circumstances she gets herself into. I feel like she doesn’t really understand consequences in the same way that the other girls do. But that’s what also really drives her to fix their situations, like fixing all their social or whatever problems that they have going on. She never gives up. She never has a defeated attitude, and I think that’s really important. I think that’s similar to me, and the way she loves her friends almost to a fault. She has to help them, but she also forgets that they have to live their own lives sometimes. She just wants to love them so much, care for them, be there for them, and support them that she sort of loses sight of the bigger picture. I feel like I also do that. But definitely the importance she places on friendship aligns with myself and my own personality.”
DL: “Janay is extra compared to Dede. I’m not that stubborn or bold—when I say bold, I mean her going to find a girl and then cursing them out and getting arrested. She’s super determined for her friends and who she cares about. I’m very caring as a person as well, but Janay and I are not on the same page when it comes to confrontation. But, we both enjoy skating. So, there’s similarities here and there, but those are the two main ones I would say make me different from her.”
Have you ever had any issues or instances of discrimination in the past as women of color within the skate society? If so, how have you worked to kind of overcome that?
AR: “I’ve always overcome it with other people—not that I’ve never done it alone, but I’ve never really experienced it alone. I remember one time when we were all in Texas together, we were doing a Skate Kitchen premiere. We were in front of the movie theater and some other skaters had come, these older men. They were trying to quiz us on who invented the truck and who did this and blah, blah, blah… just belittling us in a very condescending way. And I’m just thinking, where are all these microaggressions coming from? Where did you get the audacity to come over here and question us on our skate knowledge and how much we know? And I’ve definitely seen it in larger instances, but I feel like I’m always with my girls and that helps.
“Again, power in numbers. When we stick together, it’s a lot easier to feel protected and feel safe. Also, the gaslighting thing in the skate community is rampant. Boys like to belittle you and make you feel like it’s your fault that you’re not a good skater. It’s never, ‘She couldn’t land that trick because she’s learning,’ it’s always, ‘She couldn’t do that trick because she’s a girl.’ Not always, but from my past experience, personally.”
DL: “It definitely made me grow tougher skin, being around so many men and different backgrounds. Usually I’m with people or around people and we’ll speak up about it or somebody who’s friends with me will help me or come to defend me. And I’ll also speak up for myself. Usually I am just in a very conversational tone. I’m not usually like, ‘Oh, well you ...’ I’m not usually doing that, but I’m usually like, ‘Okay, you’re being disrespectful. And I don’t appreciate that.’ And usually someone is around me, helping me, like ‘Yo, back off, chill out.’ I mean, it happens all the time. Not to me in general [when it comes to race], but I know discrimination just happens entirely. So, it’s always kind of there, unfortunately. And we just have to combat it as best as we can and just call it out, you know?”
Who are your style and beauty influences at the moment?
AR: “It’s mostly my friends. They’re all artists and they’re always creating amazing things, modifying pieces, making new shirts and making new designs. So, I wear a lot of the stuff that my friends make for me or just make in general.”
DL: “Same. I don’t think I realized it until I stopped and thought about it. But while I am inspired by Solange, particularly, I also am inspired by a lot of my friends. I have a friend named Jack Greer, IGGY NYC. He just put out a whole new collection and it looks really dope. I was really excited about it. And then my other friend, her name is Gia Seo. She’s Korean, she’s amazing. Great textures and patterns and colors, just very creative.
“There’s also this one girl, she made these chaps for me. Her name is Shami Oshun. She’s really dope—she’s a young Black girl. She has a lot of dope stuff like mini skirts and like nice feathers and all that jazz. I also really like Dries [Van Noten]. I really like the patterns that they have and they use. Mugler is cool, too. I like that Italian company, GCDS, too.”
AR: “I love GCDS, too. I love anime and they’ve been doing all this campy, super virtual e-girl stuff and I’m really into that. It’s crazy, since these protests and movements have been happening, the change in the images coming out of the fashion world and how much more attention I’m paying now to who is a Black leader. And, also not just having like the face of the brand new Black leader, the production team, the marketing teams. Are they all white people or do they have any people of color in positions of power or are these companies just in blackface and just pushing those images to the world? I think there’s such a barrier in breaking into all of these industries and positions in the production and marketing levels. Just like me, personally knowing people that work in these industries and how few of us there are. My friends at Daily Paper, they make really cool stuff. I’m more a vintage girl. I love vintage shops and thrift shopping. My favorite vintage shop is actually in Korea. But I love Goodwill. I don’t really shop for clothes because I’m in art school. And I told myself that I wouldn’t spend money on clothes until I could pay off my student loans. For the past four years, I have only made very special exceptions to go shopping.”
How have you been surviving filming while in college?
AR: “I couldn’t tell you. I don’t know how I did it, I guess I just had to. I don’t think I had a choice, this is what I want to do. I believe in this product, I believe in my friends, I believe in our stories. I think the world needs us right now to be sharing, especially like in the way in which we’re sharing is through positivity, support, empowerment, and shunning violence and negativity. I know that’s the way I want to move through the world, with Skate Kitchen as well. Me and Dede are also part of a book club. We created this collective called Black and Here, and it’s about educating the Black community and giving them opportunities to have discussions with other Black people. It’s kind of an academic setting, but it’s also a social setting and not putting too much pressure on it. We’re reading Assata, the autobiography of Assata Shakur right now and that’s been lovely.”
How do you think growing up in New York City has influenced you in the senses of style, beauty and personality as a whole?
AR: “New York is definitely a melting pot of everything you could possibly imagine. And we see a lot of people from different places in the world and it fuses together within the fashion world. So, you have people from Philly making clothes with people from L.A. who’s collaborating with a graphic artist from Spain. And it definitely diversifies all the different types of styles. And that also increases the inclusivity of the fashion world because everybody can be a part of it. The fashion world in general has a few problems with it [inclusion] in the general sense, but the scene in New York is very accepting of new ideas. And it’s always really innovative because New York… I’ve just never seen the speed at which fashion evolves anywhere else than in New York.”
DL: “Now, I always think ... It’s hard for me to explain this because it’s hard to see yourself. When you’re in something or when you’re around something, it’s hard to see what’s around you and what you’re in. I can’t tell myself, someone else has to. So when I say that, I mean that having these conversations with different people around the world and just, in general, the country, it really opens my eyes. And it helps me understand my environment.
“Just off of a few questions that you asked, I’m thinking, Wow, I really do have a connection with this city. And it’s pretty powerful. And it shaped me to today and we have so much here. I’m not saying I don’t need to look outside, but there’s so much already here to reference to; to talk to or read about. It’s just crazy. There’s a really big connection that I have, and I’m very grateful for it. I meet so many great people being here today, being a part of Betty, being a part of Skate Kitchen. That’s the serendipitous nature of New York.”
How does skate culture impact your style? What does your skating uniform look like?
DL: “I am going to go skate right now, actually. I don’t like wearing shorts because if I fall, I don’t want to scrape my legs. I try to wear some lightweight pants, something breathable, and then a t-shirt. Usually, if my top is baggy, I’ll try to do my bottom’s tight. But I don’t skate into skinny jeans, though, because I just can’t do it. Some people do it, but I’m just like, it’s hot as shit and you’re jumping. So, I’ll alternate.”
Indigo experiments with beauty throughout the show a lot. And overall Janay, as well, turns out a few beauty looks. So, do you both experiment with beauty, and if so, what are your favorite brands or influencer?
AR: “Definitely. Indigo’s style is based on my own style—the bleached brows, all of the silver chains, those are actually ones that I wear in real life. My friend from Korea makes them. I think we all worked really closely with the makeup artists and the hairstylists to get the looks that we wanted in creating these characters.”
DL: “I do sometimes experiment with beauty, but not so much because I’m usually doing something active to where it just sweats off. So, I don’t do anything too crazy. Colored mascara is fun, it’s very simple, and stays on. Cool eyeliners or stickers are cool. But for the most part, it’s pretty chill day-to-day. You know, when I have somewhere to go, that’s when I’ll get a little bit more intricate. But for the most part, it’ll just be like pops of color that I know can stay on and won’t have me looking crazy by the end of the day.”
Top photo: Courtesy of HBO
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