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Brujas: Each One Teach OnePhotography Annie Powers

Skate collective Brujas swaps fashion week for teach-ins

For its latest collection, the New York natives want to encourage free-thinking to challenge the system

Make no mistake about it – Brujas is not a no-boys-allowed skate collective, a commentary on female skateboarding, something that was devised as a backlash against Supreme, or anything else you may have heard. Sure, it’s easy for media outlets to capitalise on the novelty of “cute girls riding decks,” but for Arianna Gil – one of the founding members of the politically-minded collective – Brujas has “completely evolved past this female skateboarding narrative.” “It’s almost like the last thing we ever talk about,” she shared, sitting down earlier this week. 

While in the past Brujas has been described as an “all-girl” or “feminist” skate crew, its members prefer not to be pigeonholed. Rather, they are here to aid you in the complete rejection, upheaval, and overthrow of everything you thought you knew about authority, policy and even that desk chair you sat in at school. Employing an inherently punk attitude, Brujas aims for total warfare and rejection of any authoritarian, sexist or gendered regimes. Last spring, when they saw a slew of massive retail companies create female-centric skateboarding campaigns that clearly ripped off the Brujas ideology, they responded in the best way they could. “If you're going to take our shit, we’ll make our own,” says Gil.

To launch their newest clothing collection – called Each One Teach One and “inspired by the Mississippi freedom schools of the 1960s, Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, and the uniforms worn by the Brujas at Catholic school on the Lower East Side” – the crew has organised a series of Teach-Ins on September 9. With workshops spanning courses such as “Mapping and Striking in the Edu-Factory”, “Theater of the Oppressed” and a writing workshop called “We Want Poems That Kill”, the collective has created their own world designed to empower youth. If there’s one takeaway, it’s to “be able to analyse and understand the way institutions function and dream up other ways of existing and other ways society could be.” 

Members Arianna Gil and Ripley Soprano tell us more.

How did Brujas start? Was there an idea or manifesto that you based the founding of Brujas on?

Arianna Gil: It was a house party three summers ago. There’s a skate shop called Casino and they were filming their own video. We were hanging out with the boys from that skate team and we would go with them to film, but they never included us. My friend Sheyla Grullón and I started the concept and birthed it as a house party for skaters in the Bronx. We never had the intention that it would be girls only. Some of the kids from Casino were involved and rolled with us. It’s a common misconception we created this space to be about gender disparity and to talk about being women and being radical, but the founding Brujas skaters were actually Sheyla and me and three other boys.

How do you react to companies that culturally appropriate skateboarding to fuel a corporate sense of “cool”?

Ripley Soprano: Anything that is cool is produced on the margin and is always being absorbed into the centre. It’s the process of how trends happen. In some ways, it’s indicative of who has power. It might seem like these companies have power, but it’s us that produces value for them, not the other way around. Obviously, it’s fucked up that things are mined from the margins, but it means that we do have more power than we think we do. It’s clear that Brujas is a part of skateboarding culture, we are not distancing ourselves from that.

“For us, our political activity and our political organising have been the most important part of our lives since we were teenagers – way more important than skateboarding and fashion” – Arianna Gil

Arianna Gil: Skateboarding is incredible because it’s the one cultural centrepiece that actually encompasses lifestyle in a really robust way. Skateboarding is a genuine lifestyle. Because we’ve been inspired by the way that other skate brands and collectives have integrated the other elements of their lifestyle, we have to bring in things from ours that are way more defining than just kicking around in a skate park. That’s why we take our parties really seriously and our politics. For us, our political activity and our political organising have been the most important part of our lives since we were teenagers – way more important than skateboarding and fashion. That’s why Brujas is more interesting than other traditional skate collectives. The idea of a skate crew is so old, it’s like a graffiti crew. It’s tried and true since the 90s.

Can you talk more about the Teach-Ins that you are doing during NYFW?

Arianna Gil: Right now we’re about to launch a framework and a project that really encompasses our intentions. The project that we’re launching for fashion week is a way of us communicating to people what Brujas is about at its very core, which is a place of learning and education.

You’re using Foucault’s Discipline and Punish on prison reform as a basis for your curriculum, which is a pretty high-theory subject...

Arianna Gil: It’s also easy to understand when you can just break it down. We’re trying to make it easy to digest and understand how different institutions have the same kind of discipline and same kinds of intentions in controlling bodies and minds.

Ripley Soprano: We like to think that our 1971 collection started with Foucault’s idea of prison as a disciplinary apparatus that generates and produces racial subjugation and domination and exploited labour forces. Now we’re moving on to Foucault’s theory of the school and its function as producing stratification. This is our blueprint of our understanding of how society functions.

What were some of the lessons that you think were missing from school growing up or some lessons that you remember really resonated with you?

Ripley Soprano: On the first day of school, my teacher took out the chair that you sit in that has the desk attached to it, and was like, ‘What is this, why do we use this, how is this producing the student as a subject and how is this enforcing discipline and control in the classroom? What is it, as a structure, teaching you about how learning is supposed to happen?’ It was literally a Foucaultian exercise. 

What are you seeking to teach?

Arianna Gil: Liberation and theory.

Ripley Soprano: A lot of the people who started Brujas all went to the same high school called Beacon, and were all New York City public school kids. At our high school, there were these really incredible educators. We ended up becoming super politically involved really young. Brujas is a pedagogical project now. The idea behind Each One Teach One is putting out a line with a curriculum that I designed – a lot of it is stuff that you wouldn’t find in a regular high school curriculum or even some of the most liberal universities. It’s all really participatory and it’s being put out as an online course that people can actually take and send in assignments. They won’t get grades but they get to be a part of what Brujas is about. I can’t see other companies putting out a curriculum with a line of clothes for fashion week. 

Ripley Soprano: We’ve come to this mature conclusion that the worth of the project is about learning. 

It seems like you learned at a young age that you can think for yourself and you don’t necessarily have to accept what authority tells you.

Ripley Soprano: That is exactly what we would like to try and impart. It’s anti-authoritarian in ways that are supposed to be teaching people that they can reject the institutions out there.

“It might seem like these companies have power, but it’s us that produces value for them, not the other way around” – Ripley Soprano

Arianna Gil: We’re not a traditional brand; clothes are secondary to what we do. We’re finding a way to fund critical thinking. If we can sell our clothes and give people a way to identify with a political ideology and movement, and approach to culture making that’s very positive, then the majority of our ideas behind creating an entity is to continue supporting people dreaming and radically producing good ideas.

What advice would you give to young people who want to create change and push back against systems that have been put into place?

Arianna Gil: My advice is to always contextualise everything that you’re doing. In order to become an effective organiser, you have to understand the legacy of the world you’re operating in. Do your research, it’s really important. Millennials swear we have everything figured out. I can say I’m a queer, mixed-race Latino woman from the Lower East Side therefore I understand. But it’s not like that. Brujas is what it is because of Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider and Ian Reid’s Sex, Hood, Skate – all the people who came before us.

Ripley Soprano: Examine or explore other people’s truths that are different from yours because that’s what makes things truly intersectional.

What is it like having the Brujas event in the midst of NYFW?

Arianna Gil: We’re from New York so all that stuff automatically doesn’t mean that much. We grew up with punk shows and basements and around rap producers. It’s so awesome to say this is our fashion week event.