Most fashion designers would cringe at the thought of bruises and scars covering their legs, but Estro Jen wears hers with pride. And instead of sky-high stilettos, she dons pink roller skates while the neon yellow shoelace tied in her hair flutters as she skates around her store.
The 28-year-old, whose legal name is Michelle Steilen, owns Moxi Roller Skates, both a brand of skates and a shop on 4th Street. She designs and sells high-fashion outdoor roller skates in everything from bold red zebra print to glittery cheetah and teal leather — the likes of which are hard to find elsewhere.
Stepping into the shop is like stepping into another world — one where the more outrageous the colors the better, and women with names such as Ann Munition and Punky Bruiser reign supreme.
A world where strong women are fierce, but also sexy. And Moxi skates are designed to fit those women.
“The difference (between other skates and our skates) is like watching black and white TV as opposed to high-definition TV,” Estro Jen said. “Our skates are colorful and fun, unlike the standard derby skates.”
Estro Jen’s love affair with skating began when she was a young girl, rolling around in her parents’ basement just outside of Philadelphia, Penn.
She thought the motion felt akin to flying and she was soon addicted to the euphoria — finding every hill, ramp or track she could.
Today, the city of Long Beach serves as her playground.
“She’s really a much more advanced skater than I am," said Mimi Masher, the store's manager and a fellow skater. "We do skate at the skate parks together but as far as street skating, she’s always a few blocks ahead of me."
The two often host “roll-outs” on Sunday nights, where women of all skill levels get together and skate through the streets of Downtown.
When Estro Jen turned 21 — the minimum age for joining a league — she took up the sport of roller derby and quickly adapted to it. Today, she travels all over the world coaching other women.
In a roller derby game, there are two teams of five players who all skate in the same direction around a track. Each team has a scoring player, or jammer, who gains points by lapping players of the other team.
It’s full of speed, contact and sweat as the non-scoring players, called blockers, use brute force to knock their opponents out of bounds. Body-slams send women flying with only knees pads, elbow pads and a helmet in between them and the hard track.
It was after she had begun playing derby that Estro Jen had the idea for Moxi Roller Skates.
“I just noticed that all of the skates were black and short and not what I expected a revitalized sport to choose,” she said. “You need a lot of agility and the chopped heel in the roller derby skates were not what I thought they were going to look like.”
She wrote a letter to a manufacturing company suggesting more fashionable skates. They responded that she needed to prove there were women who would buy them before they would agree to make them.
After she opened Moxi Roller Skates and was successful, the manufacturer agreed to begin production and her skates are now sold in more than 140 stores as well as online through Urban Outfitters and J&R Sports in Europe, said the company’s Chief Financial Officer Serena Steers.
Part of the shop’s success could be due to the fact that the roller derby culture as a whole has gown in popularity over the last few years.
Roller Derby originated in the 1930s and 40s, but died out in later decades, becoming more an entertainment industry than an athletic competition.
The first modern league was formed in 2001 in Austin, Texas. Today, there are between 400 and 500 leagues worldwide, said Juliana Gonzales, a spokeswoman for the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, which is headquartered in Austin.
The sport grew so quickly that the association actually had to close membership for a period of time during 2009 because its resources were so overextended.
“There is no reason for it to stop (growing),” Gonzales said. “The reasons people want to get involved are really about personal accomplishment, they are about community … they are about getting to play a contact sport and being inappropriate or unfeminine. I don’t think there is any limit to how many women are going to want to do that.”
According to a survey done by the association last year, the majority of derby athletes are between the ages of 25 and 34. Eighty-six percent of them have some post-secondary education and a little more than a third of players are married.
The resurgence even inspired a feature-film directed by Drew Barrymore. “Whip It,” which came out in 2009, tells the story of a misfit in Texas who finds an escape from her small-town life when she joins a roller derby league and finally finds a home.