Starting Again - Concrete Girls
Starting Again - Concrete Girls
Starting Again - Concrete Girls
Who are you?
I’m Charlotte Thomas (or Cole since I got married) and I am the founder / creative director of Concrete Girls. That's what I'm working on, I’ve been skateboarding for 20 years.
What is Concrete Girls?
It was originally a book project, basically I've been a skateboarder for a long long time. I broke my coccyx in 2013. I still wanted to be in the scene whilst injured. I just started taking photos for 5 years. It's so vast now but at the time the girls scene was small, it was a snapshot rather than a ‘scene book’ though that would have made it a much larger project especially now haha. It was completely self-funded, I'm really proud of it. It was a love project which was supposed to be in volumes, with the emerging scene being next. But with zero budget and money it kind of went out onto the back-burner.
Where are you at with Concrete Girls now?
Over the pandemic I shut it all down and I shut off, I lost my daughter during birth. It was my nightmare and with that grief I took it out on every positive connection I had to Concrete Girls. I destroyed it, took it down and got rid of what I attempted to create. I’m very open and honest about how sometimes people's behaviour when they lose someone closest to you especially your baby you aren't yourself at all. I was all ‘fuck the world, I don't need this shit.’
When you grieve you tend to destroy and not move on. That was all over a two year period but I slowly and only recently, maybe sort of 4 months ago, came back to life. My husband and my family pulled me to one side and got me to start being creative again through CG. I looked around and asked my friends whether Concrete Girls, right now, would have a place in skateboarding in the UK.
My question to people like Ry (Gray) and Sam went from ‘I’m old, I’m fat and where did Concrete Girls fit into all of it?’ to ‘Is there still a place for something like this?’ Everyone was positive, they told me it has a place and just as importantly I did too. They recommended going down the hardware route. I want it to be a skateboard brand but with Stef (Nurding) doing Salon, Danni at Girl Skate UK as well as Doyenne, I was worried about stepping on toes.
I always thought more is better, especially when there’s not a lot of women led brands?
To be honest I didn't want any drama. There can be a lot of bitching haha, but obviously that wasn’t the case. I got the graphics out there and people were into it.
I tried to keep the branding the same as the book but I decided to make it more me. The classic font with the board was thrown out and I didn't want to appeal to everyone. What's the point in doing that? It wasn't who I was, I collected sunglasses and red lipstick. I love Billie Holiday and the 50s it had to become a reflection. If people like it, they like and if they don't, well they don't. I didn't want that appealing thing.
When I first started this I was a bit of an asshole about it, I thought about the money and was gutted if no one wanted anything to do with it. At the beginning of the book Grey wasn't interested in any way and I took that to heart, but Henry was entitled to his opinion and knowing what I know now that's okay. It's okay for people to not like what you make. I love his work and didn't understand why he didn't like mine, I was offended because people didn't like what I was doing. I took everything way too personally haha. It might just not be someone's bag, it's not about being cool, there's room for everyone in skateboarding. It's now all me and I'll throw it out there.
"When you grieve you tend to destroy..."
The branding completely changed in that sense but I’ve become more focused on the team aspect rather than myself. I have a big soft spot for Barcelona. I lived there for a year after my time in Leeds, so I've incorporated skaters from there and the UK. I remember in the 2000s it was all that mattered, skateboarding was MACBA trips.
We have Kerri and Emma who have been around forever, Stef and Danni have their own stuff going on. I don't know where it will go but I'm not forcing it like I used to, CG will just grow organically if I let it, rather than force it.
It's interesting you've made deliberate separations from the book and board brand. Has one even fed into the other at all?
I don't even know to be honest, I've been told to engage more and use social media too but without sounding old, I hate the internet and social media. I’m a 90s kid, I find that side of running a brand completely fake and it's a shame. I understand that it has its merits, you can keep in touch with people etc but it doesn’t feel genuine. I couldn’t tell you what shapes or what experiences helped develop Concrete Girls because I just do it and if shops and skaters are buying it, like they did with the book, then I'm happy.
It's simple, it makes me sound kind of like a bitch huh? Haha
I think in my mind, I have zero confidence, and I think as much as I love Concrete Girls, I don't see comments or how it goes.
You skated in Leeds for a longtime do you have any Leeds/Hyde stories?
Well my nickname was 'Charlie Boardslide', I’d just slam constantly and tried so hard. I had zero talent too, but I'd just Boardslide the small rail. The guys would respect me for trying though plus we had a tight family, I'd push and push and push I’d never get it haha. I did get a Heelflip once which was filmed haha. I cherish that shit, it was on VHS, at least someone put that effort in for me.
I just loved turning up, I never felt like there was a divide. Sam, Tom, Dave, Leon and the older lot, we’d all just get on and hang out. Lois would come through who was amazing, I basically nearly failed my degree because of skateboarding.
A one minute video part is my story haha, but Lynners (Joe Lynskey) and Mikey Wright were in it so it made me stoked. I was hyped to look better than I was.
Are there any people or brands out there you think deserve more light?
The team are a reflection of that of who I wanted to show. Emma and Kerri have been around forever and they've been killing it. I'm a fan of of what Salon has been doing, instead of hiding anything (business-wise) Stef was integral helping me with getting the right source for boards. There's also Doyenne in Scotland, but they are on a whole other level.
It's been difficult for brands to source boards, when it came to you first run of decks was it hard to find somewhere?
Everywhere I approached in the UK was a "no" off the cuff. I needed smaller quantities so most of them weren't available. I went abroad to companies in Germany and Spain and again with Brexit it didn't make sense. I just asked Stef and she recommend iFive Distribution, they were a straight up "Yes!". I trust Stef, she's a woman who has gone through all of this before, she's savvy and I highly value her opinion. I got two custom shapes to figure the sizing out and I was happy with the feel, strength and quality and in the end if I was happy with it then I went for it it. If I ride it, then it's fine.
Adam was lovely and it was important to me to have a British made board for CG.
Just touching on Stef's help, what do you think ally-ship looks like within skateboarding especially as women starting independent brands? Is there anything more that can be done?
Buh thats a tough one, I had to ask my husband to use our wedding money to get the boards. Financial backing is everything, I'm so poor whilst doing this project. Some of the other larger sport brands ruin it for me, skating should be soulful, real and genuine. As much as I think they have their place, they are all about domination. If you're going to attempt to dominate or monopolise then why not help bring up smaller brands at the same time and bring them along the journey. Without the skaters and tiny brands there's no soul for them to use. Supporting woman in brands goes beyond just flowing a hundred girls 'x amount' of shoes that destroy the planet. Why not ask them what they want to do and make things come alive?
Skateboarding isn't all about product, I won't use the word 'community' because I hate that word. Just support humans, the Women's scene is still small but that's because we don't know everyone who's running brands. Celebrate and talk, even shout about the people behind the brands.
Things are coming back around though, I'd like to see every small brand elevate each other up. It's not about how many followers you have online, that doesn't mean anything. If you like what each other are doing get together and push it, we don't need to have a massive face online to warrant or deserve help from one another. Why be obsessed when the algorithm is controlling what people see. You wouldn't see us trying to promote ourselves with Penny or non-skateboarding brands for clout.
Yes! We don't need to see someone thanking Polo Mints.
We won't be as successful as we want to be because we won't reach out to ASOS or Urban Outfitters, they don't care about skateboarding. Anything mainstream or massive won't get our help and we don't want theirs.
Let's just all work together and get together more, it doesn't have to be financial or for social gain.
For their social bits hit up their instagram - https://www.instagram.com/concretegirls/
Images provided by Charlotte Thomas
Interview by Fraser