When you step into Madame Quad, a store in Hong Kong’s main shopping district of Causeway Bay, you’re immediately confronted with walls of roller-skating paraphernalia, custom Vans sneaker skates, vintage-style Moxis, floral brake pedals and helmets in every colour and shade. It’s not unusual for customers to be greeted by a staff member on skates, either.
But Madame Quad isn’t an ordinary skate store. It’s also a community hub for the women who make up Hong Kong Roller Derby – a sports team that, pre-Covid, competed in worldwide derby tournaments. Madame Quad’s co-founders, Milanie and Snooky, met through the team in 2017 and had always dreamed of opening a store where members and amateur skaters could try and buy skating equipment without dealing with the fuss of online orders.
Before Madame Quad opened its doors in May 2019, finding a store in Hong Kong with a full stock of skating gear was nearly impossible. ‘We would group our orders to save on shipping fees,’ says Snooky, who’s also president of Hong Kong Roller Derby. ‘It was such a painful process – you’d have to wait for the skates to arrive and if there was anything wrong with them, you’d be screwed. Sending them back would be a nightmare.’
When Snooky’s family-owned retail space became vacant, the two decided to launch their passion project. ‘We took a gamble. People like the AC guy told us we were crazy,’ says Snooky.
Another incentive to open Madame Quad was to recruit more members into the derby team. ‘It was a chicken and egg thing,’ said Snooky. ‘Without a shop or community, we couldn’t grow the sport and, at that point, we were like: we need a bigger league. We need more people skating and we need to start playing each other. That wasn’t feasible without a space.’
‘Without a shop or community, we couldn’t grow the sport.’
With roots in the US, roller derby is one of few female-dominated sports. The contact sport involves two teams of 15; each league must consist of more than 60% women to qualify for competitions. It’s a sport that, first and foremost, defies sporting norms and empowers women. ‘I was attracted to roller derby as a young, closeted queer person, seeing Elliot Page kick ass,’ says Milanie, referring to the film Whip It, which popularised the sport. Milanie began roller-skating in Cape Town, where she grew up. ‘In roller derby, women can be strong, unapologetic, fall on their asses, get back up and just keep fighting, you know?’
But the majority of people walking into Madame Quad aren’t necessarily aware of or interested in roller derby – at least initially. ‘Most of the people coming in would have at least a pair of roller-skates or rollerblades growing up,’ says Milanie. Thanks to viral videos on TikTok and Instagram, the sport has risen in popularity over the past year, particularly as Covid-19 has led many people to take up socially distant (and nostalgic) activities.
As for the community at Madame Quad, it remains as tight-knit as ever. ‘I think everyone at some point in their life has felt rejected or like an outcast and I think this community channels that,’ says Snooky. ‘If you had at any point felt left out, this is somewhere where you could feel included.’