In the last decade, roller derby has seen a full fledged resurgence in Detroit, thanks in large part to the efforts of the Detroit Derby Girls. These wheeled warriors embody Detroit’s unique blend of grit and glamour as they careen around the rink battling for first place.
As the industry continues to grow in Detroit and across the nation, entrepreneurs are seizing the array of business opportunities created by the sport’s growing popularity.
Enter Sarah Hipel – founder of the Austin, Texas-based Faster Skates company, that will soon relocate to Detroit and become the Detroit Skate Company. We talked with her about the booming industry, her company’s relocation to Detroit, and her undying love for four wheeled transportation.
Skating has been a part of Hipel’s life since before she can remember.
“My family says I learned to skate before I learned to walk or talk,” she tells us. “Back then I was Hell on wheels – completely out of control, smashing into everything and fearing nothing. Sadly, skating became culturally lame during my teenage years and I needed to keep my distance from the rink to salvage any bit of cool I could.”
While the sport may have lost its cultural coolness during her high school years, for Hipel, it was only a matter of time before she would reconnect with skating and commit to building a life around the sport.
About 10 years after she finished high school, roller derby found its resurgence in Detroit and Hipel soon found herself back on wheels and completely immersed in the fast developing skate world.
It was during this time that the idea for her company was born. The opportunity to launch Faster Skates came when the manufacturing company of her favorite roller skate wheels was on the brink of folding, and they were looking to dissolve and sell their assets.
“I offered to pay $1 more than the highest bidder, and to both my horror and delight my offer was accepted. In order to finance the purchase I had to sell all my assets and managed to scrape by working 60 hours a week make ends meet.”
Faster Skates creates roller skating products designed to stand the test of time by using the highest quality materials and processes, all built and manufactured in the US. They emphasize keeping products affordable over earning a high profit margin, and also work to educate the market on the advantages of that approach to business.
In addition to their product line, the company also offers a varitey of free and discounted services in an effort to help build the skating community.
“We’re here to prove that manufacturing can flourish with an open source mentality. Faster produces free skating videos and provides low cost hands on training for skaters. All of our web technology is open source and we strive to collaborate with and release as much technology into the skating community as possible. The underlying goal of this mission is to make training and products as accessible to all who are interested.”
Hipel has been building the company in her current hometown of Austin, Texas, which has a rich skating and roller derby culture. Despite the success she’s had there, Hipel says her time in Austin was just a small part of a bigger picture.
“I was never meant to stay in Austin. My time in there had a clear goal of making something of myself and this company so that I could bring something back to the City of Detroit. I think Detroit is the best place on earth for the relocation and expansion of Faster Skate into its next phase, the Detroit Skate Company,” said Hipel.
“The landscape for boutique manufacturing in Detroit is unmatched. From one end of the supply chain to the other, Detroit offers access to materials, facilities, machinery and skilled labor. This helps us kep our products affordable and produced locally.”
While the move was a logical choice for Hipel, not everyone in Austin aligned with her vision due to Detroit’s somewhat mixed reputation nationwide.
“When I tell other Detroit transplants in Austin about my plans to move back to Detroit they look at me like I’ve grown a third arm, but I think people just get stuck on the violence and poverty. I think it’s hard for people to think about going back to that kind of uncertainty.”
Naysayers aside, the company has started its transition. It will be some time before they are full operational, but Hipel is quite alright with the wait. She is committed to starting strong and ensuring that all the pieces are in the right place to make a positive impact on the City both personally and economically.
“It’s really exciting for us to come and contribute to the already vibrant roller skating community in Detroit.” she says. “I’m thrilled to bring a business back and contribute to the economy, but it’s of critical importance that the business be a good fit to the community, too.”
Besides launching her company here, Hipel is excited to return to some of the finer points of Detroit living, too. When asked what excited her most about living in Detroit, she said:
“In a single word. Baseball, buying a neat old house in the city, and having more color and style in my wardrobe. Life is a little bland outside of Detroit. Also, I don’t want to forget to mention Baseball. Baseball. Baseball.”
To keep up with the progress of the Detroit Skating Co. you can follow the company on Facebook and Instagram, or visit their website, which features product information, blog, and links to their videos.