Last time you hit up your local sk8 shop you were probably replacing a deck, maybe getting new wheels or buying some new clothes. What's the likelihood you were buying soap?
"At a skate shop?"
Meet Alicia Grosso who started out as a student, crossed over to become a teacher, then theater dynamo, author and creator of Sk8kleen soap for skaters.
That's an interesting conglomeration of skills and interests best explained by Alicia herself, below. Sk8kleen is a soap shaped like a skateboard wheel. It's not just a round-shaped soap - it looks so real you might just pop in a set of bearings!
Alicia, thanks very much for agreeing to this e-mail interview. Let's get started...You've created a very unique product, Sk8Kleen - soap shaped like skateboard wheels. How did that come about?
I've been making soap since 1995, and in ‘98 I thought it would be cool to make glycerin soap in the shape of skateboard wheels. My friends had kids who were getting to the age where they were skating all the time and still didn't take a shower every day. That situation worked great with my sk8kleen idea, and I made up the tag line, "it's lame to reek."Back in the day many of us looked at roller skates and thought those wheels might be put to more creative use. How did you become interested in skateboarding?
My history of being interested in skateboarding started for the most part when I was a student at the Univ. of Washington in the early ‘80s. Prior to that, my only exposure to it was watching my older brother Richard struggling with a board with metal wheels on our asphalt driveway in the early ‘70s. I've been teaching at USC since 1995, and over the past five years or so more and more students are skating, including lots of long boards and a few articulated boards that look like a lot of work.So, here's an obvious question... Do you skate?
Nope. I keep thinking Some Day. It is totally fear on my part. I have an old beater in my studio, and sometimes I'll stand on it, and then I remember about that gravity thing and sensibly step off. I am very inspired by Barb Odanaka and her "Skateboard Moms." Although I'm sure I'll be a hazard to myself and others, hopefully at this year's Mighty Mama Skate-o-Rama I'll actually take a lesson.As a teacher you must have been exposed to many of the diverse scenes the kids were into.
When I was in college, the main drag at the UW - University Way, called "The Ave" by locals - was always kind of a scene; unique shops, rockers, late day punkers, a few hippies, arty people, homeless, college students, etc. There were very few skateboarders, and they were mostly very young and punk-ish. I was very political and into in the Seattle music scene, which was, I suppose, proto Grunge.
By the time I started teaching in 85, what I'd seen the start of on The Ave had bloomed into a full-on Thing. Punky-looking boys carried skateboards around, and would skate at lunch. Some of them were really good. I looked more like them than any of the other students or faculty.What subjects/disciplines do you teach?
I worked hard to create what became an amazing high school Drama department, and some of the skaters gravitated toward it along with the more "usual suspects": Drama weirdos, performers, creative types, etc. I wasn't scared of them or annoyed by them as were many of my colleagues. To be fair, I was only twenty three. Now, at USC, I teach theatre classes including tech, directing, prop design and stage makeup.
At Woodway High, there were three guys I really got attached to, and two of them became very helpful stagehands. I'd let them skate in the make-shift theatre, and told them if they bailed I'd have to totally disavow them. I liked to do photo shoots on the roof of the school, and they'd go up there, too. One of the guys had some Bones Brigade tee shirts and stuff, but most of them looked a lot like the kids on The Ave, the only "branding" being stickers on their boards. There was one girl skater, her skating was only one facet of her unique personality.Tell us more about this "girl skater". It sounds like you had quite an affinity for her.
She was so smart, funny, talented and very political. And she could shred. We were coming out of the misery of Regan years and descending into the darkness of the Bush years, and she was already speaking out as a high school freshman. I've seen her a few times since I moved to California in 1990. One time she was still in high school - I left when she was a sophomore - she came down to visit her auntie. I had a friend give her a surfing lesson in Venice. She totally got up right away and had a couple of good runs. The last I heard, she's an attorney fighting the good fight.Back to the soap. Are you primarily a skateboard soap maker or is skateboarding just a small part of a larger soap empire?
As soapmaking is my part time thing, I work slowly, and have had time to get sk8kleen to a place where I really like the way it looks and works. I have a number of other soap endeavors, which you can check out at annabellaandcompany.com Maybe the moms who buy sk8kleen for their stinky skaters will check out my other stuff.I totally dig your packaging. At first glance they look like any set of wheels in a sk8 shop. Did this develop over time or did you set out to make a complete sk8 soap?
I went to shops and looked around online and got the idea for the shrink-wrap packaging. The soap mold is cast from a real wheel - an old thrashed Ricta I bummed off a kid at a skate shop - so the dimensions are the same. The soap is flat on the back, though, but it's cool because as you use the soap, the edge wears off and it looks more like a real wheel that gets smaller as you use it. The first prototypes of the soaps were just slices cut off a round log made in a plastic pipe, which were ok, but I really wanted them to look like real wheels.
Grind is black with ground up oatmeal to look like asphalt. It smells like oatmeal with honey. Pool is clear blue, and has a fresh, "oceany" kind of scent. shred is neon green with a tangy, sagey scent, and sweet is neon orange with real Valencia orange essential oil - it smells like a fresh orange. All of them except grind are translucent.
I make a "special edition" soap for Mighty Mama called "mama." It's clear purple with glitter and smells like orange blossom. The other two products are a lip balm and a salve.
The lip balm is called lipslide, it is mostly olive or soy oil with some beeswax. If you're outside a lot, your lips get chapped pretty easy, so I made it to help with that. And the salve, rekt, has a lot of tea tree oil in it, which is supposedly antibacterial. It totally stinks, but it seems help keep infection away and it helps soften scabs so they don't crack. Of course, if you get major carnage, you need to have it looked at for real.In September 2006 Lyn-z Adams-Hawkins was pictured on the front page of the New York Times in an article about student/pro athletes. As a teacher, how do you feel about young sk8 pros having to balance education, sk8 careers and a potential future outside the sk8 industry?
I have mixed feelings and ideas. I know that I hated high school, and I couldn't wait to get out. If a kid has something they're really good at and can't think about anything else, maybe regular school isn't what they need. Lots of kids get great home-schooling as an alternative. An education is not optional - everyone needs to know how to read, write, do math and think critically. I also think that traditional education isn't for every person. For example, it would make sense to me for big sponsors to provide teachers or tutors or other targeted educational methods for the athletes they sponsor. Ultimately it is up to the parents, and it would be good for everyone if the parents had viable, useful options.Last year, 10-year-old Nyjah Huston won the Tampa Am contest and stands to make more money than most of his friend's parents. Do you think it's harder for an athlete to come into his/her fame at such an early age?
Money and attention is a freaky thing. It can unhinge even the most sensible seeming person, let alone kids who have an as-yet undeveloped personality. Good parenting, responsible managers, agents and promoters can make all the difference for a kid. The kids are not stupid, it's just they are not at a developmental stage where it is reasonable for them to make life decisions. It makes me sad and scared to see kids trying to manage without strong, sensitive and responsible guidance. I greatly admire parents who make the effort to truly see their kids as they are and act accordingly.Will Elissa Steamer's recent addition to the Zero team open doors for other female skaters to advance onto mainstream teams or is it still a "boys-club"?
My most recent direct experience with skating is with the Mighty Mama Skate-o-Rama, and that is totally woman- and girl-centered. Watching some of the guys at the park stop and stare at what these "old ladies" and "little girls" can do made me very hopeful. I must say that there is a lot of misogynist language and imagery in skate magazines and websites, and it grosses me out. The way to eradicate exclusion, sexism and violence toward women is to model respectful behavior, and I'm disappointed that there is still so much ugly shit out there.Many sk8 retailers/manufacturers see the female skater demographic as an untapped market and are trying to angle more products towards women. Are there any companies in particular that you feel are REALLY doing something to benefit and/or advance female skaters?
I don't know. I tend to be suspicious of just about every kind of marketing, and I'm constantly questioning my own marketing. I observed a couple of product reps at the Mighty Mama event who were stopping girls to talk to them about how cool it is for girls to skate, followed with a pitch for the website and stickers. I sponsor the event to sell soap by letting people know it exists, not to physically grab people, girls or boys. I hate being grabbed and subjected to a sales pitch, and I don't want to do that to other people. And I have to say how much I liked seeing the sk8kleen stickers I'd set out on the check-in table on a helmet or deck. Since I make it all myself, it is very personal - sk8kleen is never going to be huge, and that's fine with me.Much of the interest in the women's market seems to result in soft goods. Are there any companies that you feel are really helping female skaters via technical innovations? [Putting a corporate sk8 logo on a spaghetti-strap tank top isn't really a grand advancement for women. :)
I don't know for sure, since I don't buy skating gear because I don't skate - yet. I have, though, shopped for cycling stuff and seen skate clothing made to a woman's proportions that are not overtly skimpy or sexy, and that comes in both skull and flower patterns. Don't discount soft goods, because there are real differences in physiology. I don't know enough about the geometry of skateboards to know if changing the ratios for, say, a woman's different center of gravity and generally longer legs is happening. With more girls skating, hopefully more will grow up to design and make gear specifically designed to meet the needs of women and girls. And I don't want to disregard people who are already doing this, I just don't know enough about what is out there. I never thought I'd get this old and have this still be an issue. Everyone should be able to find gear that is meant for their dimensions.You've been a sponsor of the Mighty Mama Skate-o-Rama. People must be stoked about your soap - after all, who doesn't use soap?!?
Well, the idea behind sk8kleen was to get the little ones who don't use soap to use it because of the connection to skating. There is that age, you know, when you have to grab a stinky kid and force him or her into the shower. And there are some people who are totally grown up and totally reek. It is natural to work up a sweat, and even if you do take a shower every day you can get to smelling pretty bad. But going around all el repulsivo all the time is completely gross. If you don't want to support corporate soap makers, learn how and make your own. Just take a fucking shower already!Having written books about soap-making (The Everything Soapmaking Book & Soapmaking: A Magickal Guide) have you considered writing a business oriented book about the Sk8kleen story? We'd buy a copy!
Nah, there's not much more to say about it. You can, though, learn how to make soap like the sk8kleen soaps by reading the Everything Soapmaking Book that has just come out in its second edition.
Swedish pancakes - really thin and rolled up with brown sugar and real butter. C'mon over and I'll make some for you, show you how to make soap, then you can give me a skating lesson.What bands do you like these days? What was the last CD you bought or downloaded?
My taste in music is random and ridiculous. I'm a big old DK fan. Also Judy Collins, Patti Smith, kd lang, Indigo Girls, Alison Kraus, Mary Chapin Carpenter... I adore both the Dixie Chicks and Green Day for figuratively and literally telling Bush to fuck off. I listen to them a lot out in the Sheddio - the shed built onto the garage where I make soap and stuff. Welsh folk music, both antique and contemporary - love that. The last album I downloaded is "Childish Things" by James McMurtry. "We Can't Make it Here" is an important song.Any shout-outs?
Hey to those Woodway High School skaters. Are you still alive? And a big thank you to Henry in Portland.Here are a couple of quick off-the-cuff preferences. Which, if any, would you choose?
Skate the Planet wants to thank Alicia for telling us about her unique products, her background and tollerating some of the odd questions we tossed at her.
For those skeptics who don't think saopmaking and skateboarding have much in common, don't forget that within twenty questions Alicia got political, used profanity, understands the culture of sk8, digs punk rock and may very well punch ya in the grill. STP thought she was a really nice person and cool as Hell!
Just because you don't make it as a pro skater, don't give up. Sk8kleen is proof that you can take anything you love doing and make it a part of skateboarding. If you're out skating and someone hits you in the head with a wheel-shaped soap, don't get pissed - it's just part of Alicia's outreach marketing initiative. And rmember - "it's lame to reek".
Be sure to check out the Sk8Kleen website as well as Annabella & Co., featuring all of Alicia's soap endeavors, and snag a copy of her book, The Everything Soapmaking Book. Check out our product review of Sk8kleen soap.
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