Episode #17

Sensi Graves from Sensi Graves Swim

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In this episode of Beyond the Inbox, Sensi Graves, founder of Sensi Graves Swim, shares her journey from struggling with imposter syndrome and fear of failure to becoming the face of her brand. She emphasizes the importance of humanizing her business through authentic storytelling and showcasing diverse body types.

Graves believes that as an e-commerce brand, it is important to have a face for the brand, especially on social media, as it allows people to connect and lends authenticity to the business. She believes that showing a face helps people believe in the brand, and it allows for a direct connection with customers that can help with feedback and product development.

Graves shares that the customer journey for Sensi Graves Swim starts with building awareness around the differentiating factors of the brand and leading people into the story as quickly as possible. She uses a variety of methods to achieve this, including the Girls Who Rip series, which shows athletes and customers wearing their suits, highlighting them, and using their experiences to resonate with potential customers.

The brand's marketing strategy involves a mix of product-focused and storytelling-focused emails, with two emails sent out every week. The focus is on being intentional with the message and thinking about how to show the beauty and femininity that is being a woman. The brand also uses welcome series and automations to introduce customers to the brand and its differentiating factors.

Graves believes that sustainability is a critical issue for businesses to address, and the brand approaches new products by asking where it fits into the line and what purpose it serves. They also strive to make products as sustainably as possible and are continually looking for ways to improve. The focus is on progress, not perfection.

To elevate women in water sports and the brand's message, Sensi Graves Swim plans to dive into more storytelling around women in their community, highlighting more athletes and sharing community stories. The brand is also evaluating its entire line to see what pieces are working, what are not, and where to move forward.

Graves's message to entrepreneurs is to step into their power and know that showing themselves can help others shine their light and learn to believe in themselves. She emphasizes that authenticity is key, and behind the scenes, stories can help people connect with the brand on a deeper level.

In summary, Sensi Graves Swim is a brand that prioritizes sustainability and authenticity. It strives to humanize the business by connecting with customers through storytelling and showcasing diverse body types. The customer journey starts with building awareness around the differentiating factors of the brand, and the focus is on progress, not perfection.

Read the transcript:

Sam (00:03): Sensi, welcome to Beyond the Inbox. Thank you so much for taking the time to join us.

Sensi (00:08): Thank you. I'm excited to be here.

Sam (00:11): I wanna start by asking what inspired you to start Sensi Graves Swim. And how did your experience as a professional kite boarder influence your designs and brand mission?

Sensi (00:22): Yes. That's such an important question because I believe that why is that the basis of everything we do, whether that's in life or starting a business. And if you don't have a strong why, you will not navigate the ups and downs that is entrepreneurship. You'll just simply lose steam and motivation. And so originally my why was because I wanted to create a rad product. I was in the water every single day, kiting, surfing, coaching kiting. My swimwear was my uniform, and I was quickly growing tired of the options that were on the market. It was things that was either totally frumpy, stay put, swim, or stuff that was made to look flirty and beautiful. But that didn't stay put at all. And I wanted to feel empowered in my swimsuit. And I wanted something that made me feel confident and more importantly enabled me to go out on the water and do all of the fun things that I love to do. And so my why was to make an awesome product. But a few years into the business that evolved into empowering women in water sports, and now our why is helping our customers feel amazing in their bodies so that they can go out and do all of the fun things that this world has to offer.

Sam (01:34): When you originally started the brand, did you envision that your why would change as much as it has done?

Sensi (01:41): No, and I didn't know the importance of a why originally when I started, you know, I was like, okay, wait. Yep, I, this is a need I see in the marketplace. I'm gonna build something, let's go. I was 23 years old, I didn't know what I didn't know. And the more that you <laugh> learn, the more you realize what you don't know. And so that why morphed over the years to really enable me to keep going because as I said, entre, being an entrepreneur is difficult and it takes a lot of resilience and grit.

Sam (02:11): It does. And I also wanted to ask, what in your opinion, sets the brands apart from the other swimmer brands on the market?

Sensi (02:23): Yes, athlete driven and designed. You know, I'm a professional kite boarder that lends a lot of credibility to the brand. We've never had to prove or authenticity. Authentic is a word that's a buzzword these days, right? The more authentic you can be, the more people can relate to you. And for me, it was never a struggle to be authentic because I knew what I needed. I knew other women felt that way. And because we are so athlete driven and performance oriented, people know that they can rely on us and they know that we're credible and we're also really open and transparent. That's another part of the brand that I think differentiates us. We say, Hey, we need help doing this thing, or we're looking to improve in this area is we're not trying to sugarcoat anything. And now it's about the customer. It's about serving to the best of our ability. And I think that makes us really able to connect with our customers.

Sam (03:18): I really appreciate what you're saying about authenticity and from my experience, I definitely got that impression when I was going through your emails and I saw an email from the brands recently asking to help fund the business. And I can imagine, and congratulations on hitting that goal, by the way, I can imagine that donating to something like that really makes you feel part of the brand.

Sensi (03:44): Yeah, and just being authentic with people. I think, you know, when I'm saying, Hey, we're looking at fundraising for our next production, because cash flow is always an issue. As a manufacturing brand, our customer's like, okay, yeah, I wanna support this. And that helps it feel more like a community rather than we're just trying to sell something. And when you're in it for building community and really actually listening to your customers, it not only enables people to get on your bus, but it enables you to operate from this place of, okay, I'm doing important work. I have people that believe in me. I can have conversations honestly, and it allows for more connection. So I really do believe in just transparency in the business.

Sam (04:27): I want to ask how the marketing strategy for the brand has evolved over time. And I think a good place to start is social, because I think social and community are often synonymous with one another. So can you talk about what role does social media play in the brand's overall marketing strategy today?

Sensi (04:46): Yes. Social media is huge, of course. It enables us to have that direct conversation, that direct communication with our customer. And to me it's about providing value. You know, I've, as a pro athlete, I have a social media page that's promoting myself, the swimmer's called Sensi Grape Swim. To be honest, in the beginning the swimmer was just called Sensi and I didn't wanna be the face of the brand. But ended up that there was a sandal company called Sensi Sandals, and they sent me a cease and des desist letter <laugh> when I was like 24 a year after starting it. Anyway, so that made me actually have to change the name to Sensi Graves, which ended up being a good thing because it forced me to be the front of the, the brand. It forced me to actually put myself out there and say, ah, okay, this is, this is what I'm doing.

(05:37): And so that really informed the strategy of connection with our customer. And as I said, I got really tired of social media for myself with being a pro athlete and having to put myself out there and you know, kind of that, Hey, look at me, look at what I'm doing. And so I changed it to be about service and education and how can we, both me as a writer on, on my individual Instagram, and then also as a brand, how can we actually provide value and not just make it about we're selling something, whether that's myself as an athlete or the swimwear, how can we really serve our customers? Because that feels better. You actually feel like you're making impact and making a difference, and it helps create the authentic connection. So now our social strategy has shifted into can we provide education around conscious consumerism, how products are made, how to feel great in your body, and how can we really make it more of a conversation?

Sam (06:40): I have so many follow up questions, so I think I wanna start with <laugh>. What was it like having to become the face of your own brand?

Sensi (06:50): As I mentioned, I was not wanting to do that initially. I was really like, Nope, I'm hiding behind. I named it Sensi because I thought the name was cool and that it was available. <Laugh> turns out there was a Sando company, but that's neither here nor there. So I was hesitant, you know, I didn't wanna make it about me. I didn't wanna put myself out there, I didn't wanna be seen because I was afraid of looking stupid. I was afraid of all those imposter syndrome things that come up that we have to deal with. And I was really hesitant to do it for a very long time. And so I, it took me a long time to really step into my power and know that that's actually showing myself was actually something that helped other people shine their light and learn to believe in themselves. And so it took practice. I had to practice being in front of the camera and practice telling my story and practice letting myself be seen. And that took overcoming fear failure, overcoming imposter syndrome and overcoming just the doubt that we all have as being humans and being entrepreneurs.

Sam (07:57): What would you say to anyone listening now that is thinking to themselves, yeah, well that works for some brands but not mine. Do you think there is a case to be made for any e-commerce brands can and should have a face for that brand, especially on social media?

Sensi (08:17): I believe so because I really believe that it allows people to connect. You know, there's so many sham brands now that are things that are just ordered from China and are being shipped and don't actually have people behind them, and they're really just junk. We, the world doesn't need more stuff. And so actually showing a face, whether or not that's the founder of the brand, but enabling the story to be seen helps people believe in it, lends to its credibility and auth, its authenticity. And then also allows you to have that direct connection, which is that feedback loop of, oh, do our customers resonate with this? Can we show them what we're launching and let's see if that there's actually a need for it. That's, yeah, I really believe in the power of showing the face of a brand.

Sam (09:07): So I want to go back a few steps and talk about your marketing strategy as a whole. Let's say I land on the website for the first time. What is the typical customer journey? Is someone making a purchase immediately? Are they joining your email list? I know you have a quiz on the website as well. Can you walk me through some of those potential journeys that a potential buyer might take?

Sensi (09:33): Yeah, so as people come into our world and see what we have going on, I think a lot of it is just having awareness around the differentiating factors of our brand. And the more that we can tell that story, the better. And so people might see us through a pop-up shop that we do, or they might see us through a Instagram ad that we show, but I really think that the, the journey starts with, oh, what's this thing? Okay, how is it different? Because there's so much noise out there that really leading people into the story as quickly as possible, it's really important for us. And so we have a, a variety of ways to do that. But one thing on our website is a series called Girls Who Rip, which is showing people in because we we're an active swimmer company, so showing swimmers, kiters, wake borders, surfers, people that are wearing our suits and highlighting them and using the athletes and the customers that are wearing our product as a way to show and resonate with potential customers where they might connect and where they might be able to see the suits in action and how it might be for them or not.

(10:49): Because that's another component of it. You know, we're not for everybody and not every brand should be trying to be for everybody.

Sam (10:56): So I had some questions around the girls who rip community. So can you share any success stories or moments that are worth highlighting?

Sensi (11:06): Hmm. To me it's that impact of showing what's possible. You know, when we share other people's stories and when we allow ourselves to step into the spotlight, either as founders or faces of the brand, it enables us to influence people around us to expand their idea of what's possible. Because we don't know and we can't imagine ourselves as doing things until, until we see it, right? It's like really hard to imagine yourself as an astronaut until you know that that's a career possibility. <Laugh>, I mean, we all have seen astronauts before, but you know what I mean? Like you can't imagine yourself starting a podcast until you see someone else doing it and you're like, oh, actually I could do that thing. And so I, I think the coolest thing for me is just sharing what's possible as a human because we get inspiration from everyone and everything around us. And the more that we can highlight new interesting, cool things that are just inspiring, then the more that we can expand the potential of the people in our communities.

Sam (12:15): I think it's so important to highlight your customer's wins. And I'm curious, how are you going about finding these customers? Are you reaching out to them manually on social? Are they emailing you in replies to campaigns? What does that process look like?

Sensi (12:32): Mm, yes. All sorts of different ways. We actually get a lot of new customers from referral traffic. So we've get, we get highlighted on different blog posts or featured in online articles that brings in a lot of new customers. People find us through different events that we're a part of. We're very active in the Kite community. And so, you know, as a Kitter people, that's how our business really launched in that foothold. But people find us through different online features. And then I would say the second biggest drivers events. So us having a booth at a kite event or me as a speaker now that I do inspirational speaking, being featured at an event, it's all kind of, you know, everything really feeds and goes into one another, but it's just been slow build of customer acquisition through more gorilla marketing. I think you can either put in a lot of time or you can put in a lot of money to gain new customers. And we've gone the time route for sure, 10 years in business <laugh>. But for us it's a slow build, lot of word of mouth a lot of organic connections and then referrals online.

Sam (13:45): So assuming someone runs on the website and they decide, yes, this is for me, maybe they make a purchase or maybe they draw in your email list, what happens then once they've opted in? Are they getting a welcome series where you are introducing the brand story and maybe pitching a product?

Sensi (14:01): Definitely. We definitely use automations. We definitely use welcome series. I think from that point it's all about introducing them to the brand and the, our, I think our welcome series is four emails spread out over a couple weeks. And so it's telling my story, that's the intention of the first couple. It's who is Sensi, why did I start this? What they can, what the differentiating factors are in our brand, you know, sustainably made, made in the US carbon neutral no plastic packaging designed by an athlete and it's saying, Hey, this is what we're doing. Does this resonate with you? If it's for you, awesome. Welcome to our community here. Other ways you can connect with us. We also do a lot of cross marketing, so putting our text list into that welcome series email, I'm introducing some of our highlighted Instagram posts in that welcome series. So it's kind of all fi feeding into one another. We just wanna bring people into the brand and show 'em what we're all about and hopefully help inspire them to feel stoked and amazing.

Sam (15:08): I had a question around what kind of customers are you getting because you started the brands to solve a problem you were experiencing as an athlete. Are you having different kinds of customers coming from different pain points? So similarly athletes that had the same problem as you? Are you getting other types of customers? Can you talk more on that?

Sensi (15:31): Yeah, primarily we get people that are looking for swimsuits that don't move, swimsuits that stay put. So people that I've found in their sport a lot, so definitely a lot of athletes and active women that are like, okay, I need something that is designed specifically for an athlete or specifically to move in. We also get moms, so people that wanna run after their kids and don't want things that are going to be moving all around. Those are our two biggest customer groups. But then we also get, I would just say women that wanna feel good in their bodies and that are looking for pieces that are comfortable to wear. We don't put hardware in the suits and we don't design them with a lot of moving parts. So their intention is to be a second skin really feel comfortable in. So I say that's the third component because sometimes to be honest, saying that they're for athletes can be intimidating for people. If, if you have an idea around, oh, I'm not an athlete, and then you don't wanna subscribe to that, so it's really, you wanna feel good in your body and you wanna be able to move in your swimsuit, then we're talking to you.

Sam (16:45): What kind of buyer behavior do you see once someone has made a purchase? Is this a product that maybe people want to collect if it's part of a series? Or is it something that they maybe buy once a year? What does that look like?

Sensi (17:02): Hmm, great question. We actually have a really strong returning customer base. So a lot of repeat customers. We find that when we launch new prints and new collections, that's when people come back because they wanna see the new that the kind of fresh season stuff. We actually have people that also buy just the basic pieces. So swimsuits, even though we make them with the best quality fabrics that we can find and their intention is to last as long as possible, they wear out naturally over time have not solved that problem yet. And so I would say most people buy at least one new suit a season, if not two over the course of a year. So they're either looking to replace a worn out piece or they're wanting to collect that new fresh colorway.

Sam (17:55): That's really interesting. And that ties into a question I had around how you are planning your email campaigns. I can see you're very active with your emailing and what does that process look like? Are you sending emails as in when you have ideas or are you scheduling them around certain seasons? Can you talk more on that?

Sensi (18:15): We definitely schedule them <laugh>, everything is scheduled. We do a big marketing calendar and we schedule out two emails every week. And so it's based on that consistency, that cadence broken down by quarterly planning. And obviously when we have launches that goes into the quarterly planning, but we map out the entire year, break it down by quarter, then break it down by month, like what's the story that we're telling this quarter? What's the story we're telling this month? What are we highlighting? Are there any sales happening? Are there any launches? And then we kind of fill in in between. Then the goal with having two emails each week is one to be product focused and one to be more storytelling focused. So I have a series as the founder that is the scoop with Sensi. So our weekly email series that's more about what's going on the brand, what are we doing, what's the story that I am experiencing as a founder, whether that is production woes or what goes into making a suit sustainable, like more behind the scenes types of things. Because as I said, we're really, our intention in all parts of our marketing is how can we serve, how can we make it engaging and how can we just have a lot of fun in the process? You know, <laugh>,

Sam (19:37): I can imagine you get a lot of, but also

Sensi (19:39): Have a product

Sam (19:40): <Laugh>, I can imagine you get a lot of positive feedback from the branded emails where you're talking about the founder story.

Sensi (19:47): Yeah, people love to see behind the scenes and that's why going back to that authentic piece when we are honest with what's going on and, and how hard running the brand is, and especially manufacturing that connection, just a lots of people be like, oh, okay. Yeah, because you know, Instagram used to be now less so, but used to be just like this very shiny place that perfect lives. And you, we have, we have so much jealousy and comparison that happens when we look at that and when people are like, oh, actually, even though you looks like you're doing amazing behind the scenes, you're struggling, okay, that makes me feel better. Okay, I can connect with that. And that allows the customer to actually say, ah, okay, <laugh>, this is a real brand <laugh>. I think it's it's real humans. I know.

Sam (20:36): I think it's so important to humanize the brand like that. So I commend you for doing that. That's a really important part of your marketing from the sound of it.

Sensi (20:46): Yeah. Thank you.

Sam (20:48): So I wanna switch gears a little bit, and it's related to something we've talked a little bit about this idea of having a sustainable business model. And my question is around how do you strike a balance between growing a business but at the same time being mindful of not making more stuff and staying sustainable and environmental?

Sensi (21:09): Mm, that's such a good question because that is really the struggle. And originally when I launched my brand, I, I almost didn't launch it because I didn't wanna just produce more things and I didn't want to add just bad products to an already saturated market. But then I thought, you know, if we can do this in the right way, we can be a leader for other brands to follow. And if we can influence consumer behavior and create more conscious consumers, and that's something that we should do. So we approach new products from a standpoint of why, where does this fit into the line? Why are we making this piece? What purpose is it serving? Is it replacing something that is not working well? Is it allowing our customer to do something different? What's the reason behind doing it? And from that standpoint, then we can build the story of, okay, this is something else that we actually want to allow us to do a certain thing.

(22:13): And then more importantly, how can we make it as sustainably as possible and how can we continue to improve? Because, you know, sustainability is certainly a green buzzword now, and you can greenwash your business by saying, oh, we're sustainably made by because we use this certain material. But when you dig down to it, what does sustainability actually means? It means that it's never ending. It's, it's never depleted. And that is not the case actually with anything that I've seen, you know, any manufacturing it, we're using materials that come from the earth and are we truly sustainable? No. So having that yardstick continually move out and say, okay, what are the pieces that we are looking at improving right now is really important to me. And being honest to that, you know, saying, okay, our bar ups that we use, that we put into the pieces, are they re recycled? Are they sustainably made? No, they're not. Does anyone in our community have an idea for this? How can we improve this? So keeping that at the forefront that we're not going for perfection, we're going for progress, helps define the narrative of how and why to just make product

Sam (23:29): Progress, not perfection. That's a great way of putting it. I have another question. This is based on something I read in another interview that you did, and I can imagine this is a challenge as well. So how do you balance the desire to showcase women in bikinis? We're promoting a message of empowerment and inclusivity and more to the point, how do you represent diverse body types and promote body positivity?

Sensi (23:57): Great question. Yes. This is why I wanted to launch the brand in the first place because at that time, this is a decade ago, it really was only in, in swimmer marketing, women on the beach, women in very hypersexualized positions being super scantily clad. There's a time and a place for that. Great. But that did not make me feel empowered. And so what we wanted to show was movement, women actually doing things, engaging with their environment. You know, their was, what was it, Billabong or Hurley, a couple years ago. They had on their website like the men's board shorts, and then right next to it they had a landing page for women's swimwear and the, and the photo on the woman was landing piece, a photo for the man was a guy surfing. Like, which one of those is more empowering and actually demonstrating possibility.

(24:48): The surfer, let's show women actually surfing and doing things. But to the body positivity point, it's about definitely showing different body types and being inclusive with sizing to demonstrate that this is something for not, not necessarily for everyone, but for the woman that wants to move and feel good in her body. It, it's really important for us as a brand to show that you don't have to look a certain way to wear a swimsuit. It's, it's more about how you feel. And yes, we are an active swimwear company, but when you don't, when you feel shame in your body, you limit what you participate in. And so the more that we can show different sizes, you know, a number of years ago we started shooting with plus size model simply because I was like, we, we need, we make double extra large suits, we need to show people in these suits. And I remember a few years into launching the brand, people thought that we were only made for small athletes. And I was like, we need, if we're making product for a wide range of people, we need to show them using that product in a wide range of environments and on a wide range of bodies. And so it's being intentional comes down to being intentional. What, what's the message that we wanna put across? And then thinking about how do we actually show this that also shows the beauty and femininity that is being a woman.

Sam (26:21): And I can imagine that comes back to this core value of authenticity and showcasing that in your marketing materials on social media and so on.

Sensi (26:32): Exactly, exactly. It's telling stories and it's highlighting rad humans doing rad things.

Sam (26:40): So we've talked about where you were, you are looking to the future. What are your goals for the growth and development of the brand?

Sensi (26:49): Yes, it's actually to eve elevate women in water sports even more and elevate the message and how we represent that. So we're going to be diving into more storytelling around women in our community, highlighting more athletes. And instead of just sharing my story, share community stories through relaunching the Girls who ripped series through highlights on our Instagram through conversation and really taking market feedback to dictate the position of our products. And as I said, it's really, we're right now, we're, to be honest, we're evaluating the entire line and we're looking at what pieces are working, what's not working, and where do we wanna move forward. And then it's I think for me, capitalizing on, on the position I'm in now, which is having a team to support the brand and build myself as a speaker and mentor because I'm passionate about helping people feel good and helping them believe themselves. So that's what I'm focused on and where I'm going to be positioning myself as Sensi Graves Swim continues to grow.

Sam (28:03): Well, I think that's a perfect place to bookend this conversation. Where can our listeners learn more about Sensi Graves Swim?

Sensi (28:11): Sensigravesswim.com, also on Instagram at SensiSwim. It's s e n s I swim, s w i m and then my personal Instagram is Sensi Graves.

Sam (28:23): Perfect. Well, Cinci, I've really enjoyed this conversation and I've learned a lot. Thank you for being open and honest with me, and I wish you all the best in the future with Sensi Graves Swim.

Sensi (28:34): Thank you.