I live in a small town on the enchanting Columbia River in Northern Oregon called Hood River. It’s such an inspiring community full of like-minded people who love being outdoors and creating good in this world. Although we are only an hour from Portland it feels like we live in a little bubble of awesomeness.
Work opportunities are hard to come by because there is not a lot of industry in the area unless you are an orchardist, farmer or wine maker. Therefore, most people that are fortunate enough to live here have to be creative with their careers and either work remote, commute or start their own businesses. On any given day you will find the coffee shops full of entrepreneurs squeezing in work before they get out on the river or the mountain. Being active and being out in nature are priorities here while striving to live a simpler life connecting with friends, neighbors and local business owners.
That’s why I’m so honored to feature one of Hood River’s biggest success stories, Sensi Graves. Sensi is not only a badass woman running a swimwear brand, she also takes full advantage of the Hood River elements as a professional kiteboarder.
I haven’t taken up kiteboarding yet so I can’t say too much about it except that it looks so terrifying and so exhilarating at the same time. I do, however love a good bikini, especially one that stays on when I’m in the water wakeboarding, paddle boarding or surfing. The Sensi Graves Bikini line is full of functional pieces that perform well and are made with beautiful fabrics and prints.
Learn more about Sensi, her motivations, her dreams and what it’s really like to be an entrepreneur and a pro-athlete in this probing interview.
Your brand, Sensi Graves Bikinis, is about more than just selling swimwear, it’s about promoting an active lifestyle. How important do you think being outdoors and being active is to a person’s wellbeing and overall happiness?
I believe that being outdoors and active is immensely important to everyone’s wellbeing and happiness. Being out in nature, you find peace and connection that you can’t get anywhere else. Interacting with the world around us is uber stimulating but taking the time to be outdoors is relaxing. Breathing in fresh, clean air has a meditative effect and it helps us build love and respect for nature and the many other beings that inhabit this planet.
Additionally, being active is huge! Being active is healthy, makes you feel better about yourself, reminds you of your strengths and enables you to take advantage of so much that this world has to offer. Moving, even just a little bit, every day is crucial to our overall health and wellbeing.
As a professional kiteboarder, you talk about how the sport connects you to the elements. Does this type of connection with nature influence other parts of your life?
As a kiteboarder, I love the connection I feel with the wind and the water. You’re utilizing the elements to power you and you’re engaged in a way that feels good and stimulates you on so many levels. I believe that you can find this type of connection in many interactions with nature. It just takes getting outside and exploring!
The drive to want to protect my playgrounds filters over to every part of my life. In my business, we’re a 1% for the Planet member, which means we donate 1% of sales to environmental groups of our choosing.
Do you feel pressure to perform and constantly push yourself to be better as a professional athlete? How do you handle this type of stress? What’s your process for self-reflection?
I definitely feel pressure to perform! You can’t rely on your past successes. You always have to be improving and even though you may have won the last contest or performed well during one photo shoot, the next one is always looming and it certainly a struggle to feel like you’re enough. I’m a competitive person and therefore intrinsically motivated to want to improve my performance. However the stress factor is very real. I combat it by focusing on myself, the only thing you really can focus on. I visualize doing my best, focus on fueling my body right and train as best I can.
It’s helpful to know what you’re competition is doing, whether that be in sports or business but it’s definitely not helpful to obsess over what they’re doing and compare yourself to them. You’ll never feel like enough. I try to shut down all comparisons before they have a chance to form. Sometimes that means limiting my social media intake.
You decided to start your beautiful swimwear line out of necessity to have a suit that stays on when you’re kiteboarding. Would you have ever thought that you’d be designing and selling bikinis for a career?
No, I never thought I’d be designing swimwear! Given, I’ve always loved swimwear and the freedom and confidence I felt while wearing a bikini growing up. However, design and fashion were not a part of my background. In college, I was a communications major and thrived in the social, marketing and writing aspects. However, learning the fashion industry was an entirely new beast and I’ve grown more in the last 5 years than I ever thought I would.
Being a professional athlete and business owner seems like a dream life. What are some of the benefits of living a unique lifestyle and what are some of the struggles?
It always looks that way from the outside! I am so thankful to be given the opportunity to pursue my business and I attribute much of my success to the foundation that kiteboarding has given me. The support I’ve received from our industry is immense and I am so thankful to the brands that support me (Liquid Force Kiteboarding and Ride Engine especially) and to my customers that believe in the brand.
The benefits of my careers are the freedoms I have with planning my own time and the world exploration that I am fortunate enough to partake in. I am immensely lucky that I’ve been able to visit so many places around the world, whether for contests, on photos shoots or for business trips. I also relish the platform I have and the influence and inspiration I hope to provide to many others.
However, there are certainly struggles with both aspects of my life. Some days you feel like a failure and when you’re not meeting your goals, business or sports-wise, you can easily get de-motivated. As an entrepreneur you are truly on this roller coaster of ups and downs and often it feels like you’re on this uphill battle that never ends. It can be isolating. Sometimes I wish I had a more steady paycheck and wasn’t the one worrying about the finances of a business. You are constantly putting out fires and you have to be supremely self-motivated.
Once again, I believe that remaining grateful and engaged is the best way to live, no matter where you are at in life and I am truly thankful for the life I’ve been able to create.
How do you stay motivated to keep growing your business on a daily basis?
Great question! Stay motivated as a business owner is, for me, one of the hardest parts of the job. As I mentioned, there are huge ups and downs and you sometimes want to throw in the towel. I stay motivated by looking back at customer feedback and reflecting on what I’ve built. I am so thankful to be able to create a business that I love and provide something beautiful and useful to my customers. I love that I have this opportunity. Reminding myself of our wins as a business, staying true to the vision and looking back at how far we’ve come, helps keep me motivated.
As an entrepreneur you sometimes sacrifice the stability and security that a traditional job provides. How do you overcome the fear of being an entrepreneur?
You most certainly sacrifice stability and security and that is why entrepreneurship is not for everyone. Fear is something I am working on overcoming because it can be debilitating. My most recent focus is coming from a place of love. Two forces drive our decisions, love or fear. I try to approach everything from the positive side and how it benefits my customer, myself and the world at large.
What’s your ultimate dream for the Sensi Graves brand?
My dream is to build the business to a nationally recognized brand that empowers women in their bodies, provides an awesome product and does so in a sustainable way. Our major upcoming initiatives are revamping our fit guides, launching an essentials collection and utilizing all recycled materials in our 2019 production run.
By creating a great product, you hope to empower women to be confident in their adventures. As a role model for women what makes you feel most confident?
I feel most confident when I’m taking care of myself. When I’m working out and eating well, everything falls into place. It does take daily reminders and practice to remember to embrace ourselves and not judge and it’s something to be constantly working on. But when you’re engaging with life and exercising, your endorphins will get going and you’ll naturally start to feel better.
What role does community play in your professional and personal life?
Community is a huge part of my life and I believe in the value of a strong community. In kiteboarding, our community is the best and you can travel around the world, connecting with passionate, like-minded people. That support and enthusiasm is one of the best parts of the sports. In my personal life, my friends and community help support me, keep me lifted up, help me work through my problems and enable me to live the best possible life.
At this time, what provides the most meaning in your life?
Great question. Right now, the most meaning in my life is derived from a gratitude practice. I have so many things to be thankful for. We all do. Remembering those things helps me to be happy now, helps me live in the moment and gives me a better perspective on the world.
Photo Credit: Debbie Jean Hollomon