Inside every box of Moxi roller skates is a quote from Michelle Steilen's mother: “Be passionate about what it is that you are doing and happiness will always fall at your feet.” The motherly advice proved prophetic for Steilen, the founder of a brand of skates sturdy enough to glide down the X Games' 62-foot-tall “mega ramp” – which one of Steilen's team members will attempt this June – yet playful enough to bear the Hello Kitty logo.
Growing up in Philadelphia, Steilen was raised at skate parks. Her father, an antiques dealer and skateboarder, made sure she always had a pair of roller skates, even when the other kids discovered trendier Rollerblades.
Now 30, Steilen moved to L.A. in 2005 after graduating from Temple University, where she was a cheerleader and majored in cognitive neuroscience and English. She worked as public relations director for a sports marketing agency in Manhattan Beach. As a member of the L.A. Derby Dolls and a co-founder of the Angel City Derby Girls, she was better known as “Estro Jen,” a pun on her supposedly raging female hormones.
But the men's black low-top skates worn by the derby leagues “were super ugly,” and Steilen saw an untapped market. “There were still all these women who just wanted to roller skate and look good doing it. I figured there were probably a lot more of those women than what roller derby was showing me,” she says.
Around that time, she'd been working with a Riverside roller rink to build a website where roller derby leagues could buy and resell old equipment. When the rink went bankrupt, she bought the website and continued the business from a rented back corner of a children's clothing store on Long Beach's Retro Row.
The skate shop was a success, and Riedell, a leading manufacturer of roller and ice skates, took notice. In 2008, the family-owned company agreed to manufacture Steilen's brand, which offers candy-colored and leopard-print leather skates with urethane wheels that are intended to conquer pavement rather than hardwood rinks. Her brand, Moxi, soon opened a store of its own on Retro Row.
Last November, Steilen sold the retail shop to fellow skater Shayna “Pigeon” Meikle. She wanted to focus on the bigger picture: selling, marketing, licensing and franchising the Moxi brand.
Steilen rose to Internet fame last year when she was filmed skating down flights of stairs, hurdling over fences and jumping onto downtown L.A. park benches in a video for skateboard company Bones Bearings. The footage notched nearly 450,000 views in less than a week.
But Steilen is better known around Long Beach for her unusual set of wheels, and not just the ones on her feet – she drives a leopard-print converted ice cream truck. From it, she rents out roller skates for private parties and impromptu roller discos with her Moxi skate team, a crew of mostly female skaters from around the world.
Looking back on her days dressing up as a pin-up girl and spinning signs outside her shop to drum up business, Steilen says, “I didn't know what I was doing. I still don't know what I'm doing. But it makes for a good story.”
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