Melbourne label Pearls ushers in a new era of women’s skateboarding

“A skate brand works differently than a fashion brand – your team’s skate is just as important as your designs.”

As a woman, you are discouraged from certain activities. Riding motorcycles, playing tough sports, lifting heavy things – anything that might cause you to cry or break a bone, really. And thankfully, over the past decade, women and non-binary people have been actively working against “sensitive” stereotypes.

Tobi Stanley is one of those people. The founder of the Melbourne-based skateboard label Beads, Tobi learned to sew from those who know best – the elderly. After honing his design and production skills, Tobi decided to combine his great passions: sewing, skateboarding and screen printing.

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After being picked up by Vans’ North American women’s skate team, Pearls exploded into the local skate community. Tobi shares her experience founding one of Melbourne’s best-known women’s skate teams.

Tell us about you. What is your background in fashion?

I started sewing around the eighth grade. I joined the Janome Sewing Club in Bunbury, where I come from. It was me and a group of 70s – loved it. I remember doing a jumpsuit with neon paint all over it. I think some ladies were pretty scared of my clothes [laughs].

After school I studied a Bachelor of Fashion majoring in Fashion and Textiles at Curtin University in Perth and then went on to study a Diploma in Graphic Design at RMIT here in Melbourne. I have also been working in the screen printing industry for about 10 years now.

How did the label start? Tell us about the processes and the challenges.

I’ve been skateboarding for about 10 years. At one point, it just felt right to combine my passions: skateboarding, screen printing and making clothes. Initially, I thought I had to be completely prepared before I started, with a full brand identity and all the right skills. But as the months passed, it seemed impossible to feel confident.

In early 2020, the North American women’s skateboard team Vans came to visit Melbourne and film a video. I thought, ‘it’s now or never’. So I decided on the name Pearls and finalized the initial graphics for my first t-shirt.

Some Vans team members bought the tees; I was overwhelmed with the support they had shown for a small unknown brand. Then Fast Times and Hemley Skateboarding took over the brand soon after. Looking back, I don’t think I would ever feel ready – you have to go for it and learn as you go.

What were you trying to achieve from the project at the time? How has that evolved and what are you trying to communicate through the brand now?

I feel like the brand has always had the same direction – I wanted it to highlight the crew I skated with; the truly talented people who I felt deserved attention. And I felt that being a woman – and the team being all-female or non-binary – I could expect to look after them well.

I also wanted to create designs that weren’t entirely focused on the male perspective; although skateboard clothing is generally quite unisex. I really think about what my friends would wear when I design, and I usually show them the range of drafts to get feedback on the aesthetic and their favorite fits.

How would you describe Pearls to someone who has never seen it before?

I would just say it’s a buddy skate brand from Melbourne. In terms of design, Pearls is all about bright colors, basic shapes and oversized cuts – sometimes an element of humor in designs.

Where does the name come from?

Years ago, I wore a lot of pearls. I loved that the pearl necklace was so timeless. The name was on a long list of potential names, and I really looked up the word. I liked how all the letters fit together, the letter down (p) and the letter up (l). It’s fun to create graphics. He also had the right amount of femininity to suit the brand and the team. In fact, I haven’t worn a pearl necklace since I chose the name. [laughs].

What are you most proud of in your work on your label?

I am the proudest of the team. I think everyone on the team is an amazing skater; they really push the new era of skateboarding. A skate brand works differently than a fashion brand – your team’s skate is just as important as your designs.

I feel so lucky that such great skaters and friends want to work with me on this. I can’t wait to release the Pearls skate video, I think it will really showcase the team, the skate and the brand aesthetic. I think this will be the proudest moment for all of us involved.

Who do you think is the most exciting in Australian fashion right now?

I think Hodle Skateboards has by far the most exciting designs in skateboarding in Australia. They are really innovative and they have an amazing team. I also really like what Luka Rey made with her swimwear brand in Western Australia. She makes very individual cuts, all made to measure, which is so necessary for swimwear. Some of her fabrics are also made in collaboration with local artists, they are beautiful. I can’t wait to see this brand grow.

Dream Australian collaborators?

I would like to collaborate with Passport Skateboards and Hoddle skateboards. But if I could work with a high-end brand, I would love to collaborate with Miu Miu – dream.

How can we buy one of your parts?

The Pearls website and at Fast Times, Beyond Skate, Hemley Skateboarding, UPS Skate Shop, Passport Store and Gallery, 335 Skate Supply, Lowdown Store and Laate Store.

Start browsing the Pearls collection here.

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