What it Takes: Sensi Graves Swim

Sensi Graves Swim

What is your company? How did you get started?

Sensi Graves Swim is a sustainable swimwear company for kickass women. We make fashion-forward pieces that are designed to move in. I’m a professional kiteboarder and my need for bathing suits that stay put, combined with a desire for stunning pieces, is what sparked Sensi Graves Swim.

I started the line when I was 23 years old and was working as a kiteboarding instructor in North Carolina. I sketched a few designs, ordered some fabric from New York and found someone to sew my first samples. It took a long time to actually make suits that worked exactly how I wanted them to!

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What is/was the hardest obstacle(s) you've had to overcome?

I’ve wanted to quit about 1000 times. One instance I remember in wanting to quit was during Our fourth production run of Sensi Swim. It was a nightmare. Since I didn’t have a background in manufacturing, the first three runs were interesting and, luckily, progressively less frustrating as I learned what to do and what not to do. By the fourth run, I was much more comfortable with my manufacturer and we had refined the process a lot. I went into our 2015 collection thinking it would be the best yet. Unfortunately, a step had been missed during the sizing process on a few of the different style bottoms. When the completed bottoms came out of production, they were TINY. The larges would fit a small, and the smalls… let’s not relive it.

I was beyond overwhelmed and discouraged, faced with a whole bunch of pieces that we’d have to send out to retailers and distribute online. It would have been easy to throw in the towel. However, I bit the bullet and called our retailers explaining the mishap, posted disclaimers on the website and dealt with customer complaints and inquiries over the next year. It was not a fun time but I stayed committed to the vision of the brand and kept the positivity going. Luckily, I’ve implemented more checks and we’ve fixed the problem moving forward. We’re constantly improving but I’m still learning every day.

What are near-term (and longer-term) plans for the future of your business?

Our near-term plans are to work on expanding our ambassador program. We work with individuals around the world to share their stories, while simultaneously getting the word out about our bikinis. Additionally, we’re working on expanding into a lounge -wear and cover-up line while also incorporating extended sizing. In the longer-term, we’re working on a take-back program for customers to recycle their swimwear. We’d really like to get to a closed loop cycle on our production.

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Who or what inspires you as an individual or as a company?

People that show up and play full out are truly inspirational! I’m continually inspired by the women in our community--they’re go-getters, athletes, adventurers, cancer-survivors, musicians, artists, yogi’s and all-around awesome humans that are living life, embracing vulnerability and spreading high vibes.

What do you look for in a new partner/company to work with?

When working with other brands, we search for those that have aligned values. I’ve learned (finally) to not try to make something work if the resonance isn’t there. Plenty of opportunities will flow your way and if you’re clear on what you’re looking for, you will attract it. We’re pretty steadfast in our beliefs and therefore it’s important to have partners that are working toward the same goals. It can be magic!

What impact do you hope or want to make on consumers, communities, society in general?

We have two big impact-driven goals within our brand. Number one is to help women feel more confident in their bodies and in themselves. Wearing a swimsuit is vulnerable and our society places a lot of pressure on women. We want to break down this idea that women have to be “perfect” to wear a bikini. We want to inspire women to move their bodies, so that they naturally (thank you endorphins!) feel better.

Secondly, we want to impact our communities to become more conscious consumers. Sustainability is built into the core of the brand and we are consistently working to do better. One component of that sustainability mission is education. As Maya Angelou said “we can’t do better until we know better.” Therefore, it’s our goal to spread as much information about becoming conscious consumers, the perils of the fast-fashion industry, and how important sustainable production practices are to our customers as possible.

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Can you share an important mistake/misstep you made in the business?

I did not do my due diligence with hiring a production manager. It was a number of years ago and I was feeling overwhelmed and just wanted to check “find a production manager” off my list. I hired the first person I interviewed. It ended up being a huge problem that took two years to undo but I learned a valuable lesson–do your due diligence, interview at least 3 people and higher slow, fire fast.

Can you share something about yourself (your business) that many might be surprised to learn?

I grew up 20 minutes out a dirt road and graduated with a class of seven from high school (no it wasn’t a private school). Our close-knit community was supportive and like an extended family, however the lack of opportunities for rural schools and kids is immense. I was blessed in that my parents instilled in me a love of education and a desire to see the world as well as the funds to afford college. Today, I’m passionate about providing opportunities and inspiration to rural schools.

Learn more about Sensi Graves Swim at https://sensigravesswim.com/

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What it Takes is a series of interviews with founders who were brave enough to take the leap, make mistakes, pivot, and keep going. This is What It Takes to be an entrepreneur. If you're a creator who is determined to follow a purpose or push the boundaries, then you’ve signed up to make mistakes, that’s the price of innovation.