Katherine Donnelly | 06.15.2018

As part of Outdoor Project's Women In the Wild series this summer, I have had the honor of working with outdoor women from all over the industry to dig a bit deeper into who they are, how they got to where they are now, how they approach the outdoors, and more. These women are all rad in their own right, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, or how "badass" they might be. Whether they're mothers, daughters, sisters, professional athletes, beginners, weekend warriors, "instafamous," or anywhere in-between, their unique stories, journeys, opinions, and perspectives are incredibly valuable and insightful as Outdoor Project - and the industry as a whole - progresses and evolves to become more inclusive to every type of outdoors person. 

Through in-depth and often thought-provoking interviews, I hope to highlight these women's stories, their work, their adventures, and so much more with an eye toward giving them their well-deserved share of the spotlight while inspiring and empowering even more women to get outside!

In this feature we talk to Sensi Graves.

Most at home on the water with her kiting setup, this Woman In The Wild took matters into her own hands a few years ago when she dove head first into the design and entrepreneurial world and started Sensi Bikinis, "bikinis for girls who rip." Get the full scoop below.

Photo by Debbie Jean Hollomon.

OP: Give us the skinny on who Sensi Graves is.

Sensi Graves: I’m a professional kiteboarder and entrepreneur. I’m a writer, competitor and I own a swimwear company designed to empower women in watersports. But really who I am is a woman trying to spread love, light and consciousness. I value health, adventures, friends, family, good food, and protecting our environment.

OP: When did you first know that you were going to spend your life in the outdoors?

Sensi Graves: I was fortunate enough to grow up in the outdoors, and my parents instilled in me a deep desire to both protect and enjoy this beautiful planet that we live on. I grew up in rural Northern California, 20 minutes out on a dirt road. My three brothers and I were constantly outdoors and spent hours climbing trees, running around our property, building forts, swimming in the creek, and generally enjoying the woods. This set me up to be someone that thrives on getting outside.

OP: What does it mean to you to be a woman in the outdoor industry?

Sensi Graves: To me, being a woman in the outdoor industry means being another active member of a great society! It has no specific negative connotations, if that’s where this question is leading. I have been fortunate in that I’ve never felt subjected to crass sexism or made to feel lesser than because I’m a woman. My mom was an incredible skier (my dad couldn’t keep up with her) and taught me that women can be just as strong, if not stronger than men. I completely acknowledge and understand the issues many women have faced in this industry. There are certainly more men than women; however, my goal is to unite us as humans and bond over our love for the outdoors.

OP: What has the outdoors done for you, and how do you pay it back?

Sensi Graves: The outdoors and nature is everything. It’s supremely unfortunate that we have become so disconnected from nature, as a society. The outdoors make me feel at peace. They bring knowledge, breathtaking views, growth, and opportunity. The outdoors bring adventure and non-stop awe-inspiring moments. They promote being in the present and soaking up all that life has to offer.

Through my company, I donate 1% of sales to 1% For The Planet, a nonprofit that funnels the money to environmental groups of our choosing. I also choose to support businesses and buy products based on their environmental impact. One of the biggest things we can do is vote with our dollar, and those whom we choose to support will designate what values we find important.

OP: Conservation and protection of our public lands are central themes in today’s outdoor recreation narrative. As someone who spends a significant amount of time outdoors and on public lands, what role do you think outdoor brands - and outdoor enthusiasts, in general - should play in this evolving conversation and landscape?

Sensi Graves: While it’s easier for businesses to take a back seat and not become involved in politics, it’s become more and more apparent that corporations with money are running our government, and it’s therefore crucial for environmental brands to support what they believe in and donate money to the protection of our public lands. Not only will this ensure these areas are around for our further enjoyment and for future generations, but it also ensures that outdoor brands will still have a place in the market. If the public lands disappear, so does the need for camping supplies and hiking boots. If brands aren’t walking the walk, I won’t support them.

OP: Who has inspired you along the way?

Sensi Graves: My mother was a huge inspiration. She was strong, resilient and sweet. She taught me to love nature, be proud of my body and self, and that I could beat the boys (my bros in particular).

OP: What does adventure mean to you?

Sensi Graves: Adventure means pushing outside of our comfort zone. One of my favorite quotes is the famous, “It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong” by Yvon Chouinard. Unexpected circumstances help you to think on your feet, grow as a person, and bring you into the moment. Adventure means exploring the unexplored and discovering new things. It lights me up!

OP: What does the term "badass" mean to you?

Sensi Graves: A badass is someone that is living life on their own terms. They know who they are, know their values, and are unapologetic about their beliefs. They have compassion for their fellow humans and live a life that leads by example.

OP: How have you managed to align your career with your passion for the outdoors? And do you have any advice for someone who is looking to do the same?

Sensi Graves: Anyone looking to align their careers with their passions should start with their values. What in their lives are most important to them? Examples: health, family, freedom, vitality, growth, recognition, etc. It’s not always necessary or possible to have a career in an area that you are passionate about, but it is necessary to practice alignment with your set of values in your day to day living.

OP: We are seeing a shift in what the term woman or female might bring to mind (LGBTQ), both in the outdoor community and throughout the world. What does being a woman mean to you? Femininity?

Sensi Graves: This is a sensitive subject, and I believe it’s subjective to the identifier. I associate being a woman with having an inherent sense of compassion for all beings and with being a mother. I associate femininity with strength and grace. Being a woman is not dictated by how one dresses nor how one carries themselves but by how one feels.

OP: What mantra or set of words do you live by?

Sensi Graves: "No matter the weather, always bring your own sunshine." This is one I’ve practiced since high school. Most recently I’ve incorporated: “I live an awesome and relaxed life full of projects that I love and enjoy.” We create our reality, and that’s what I want my reality to be.

OP: In a perfect world, what does the outdoors (the people, the places, the community as a whole, etc.) look like to you? And what can outdoor brands and media companies, such as Outdoor Project, do better to help get us there?

Sensi Graves: The outdoors, to me, looks like collective respect for our environment and the fellow plants and animals that inhabit this world with us. It looks like enjoying this big, beautiful world with hearts and minds wide open.

Outdoor brands can support getting out there and enjoying it, because what we enjoy, we feel called to protect. And as mentioned previously, brands can also donate to environmental groups.

OP: What is one thing that you never leave home without?

Sensi Graves: A hair tie.

OP: Let’s talk gear - What are your thoughts on women-specific gear? Love it, hate it? Are there any companies out there doing it right? And how so? When does it matter to you most to have gear specific to women versus unisex products?

Sensi Graves: It depends. Different body types need different types of gear, and therefore products that are designed for my body (a woman’s) are extremely useful and more pleasurable to use. What I don’t like is when brands come out with a women’s-specific product that’s not any functionally different or better than the men’s or that doesn’t do anything to support their female athletes. Simply making a product for women because you feel like you “should” actually does a disservice to women. Additionally, marketing to women should be empowering and inspirational and not the gag-worthy "t and a" that’s so prevalent right now (but shifting!).

Patagonia is always leading the charge in gear done right. Period. Oiselle is also serving a strong female customer.

It matters most to have gear specific to women in terms of items that are worn on or close to the body. As a professional kiteboarder, I enjoy wearing harnesses that are tapered to fit a woman’s body because it fits me better and enables me to perform at a higher level. The same logic applies for backpacks, clothing and shoes.

OP: What is the greatest piece of advice or direction that you’ve ever received, and what’s the story behind it?

Sensi Graves: Whoa. The greatest? A few come to mind.

My business coach, Melanie McClosekey, says “chunk it down.” Meaning don’t get overwhelmed by the big picture. It allows you to take bite-sized pieces of your project and make progress toward your big goal without feeling overwhelmed. Marie Forleo says “everything is figure-outable,” which is another tactic that I employ to not get overwhelmed.

OP: If you could give one piece of advice to yourself when you were just starting out with Sensi Bikinis, what would it be?

Sensi Graves: Don’t second guess yourself. Believe in yourself, and believe in what you’re selling whole-heartedly. Dream big dreams and have the audacity to chase them down.

OP: In a world seemingly run by online personas, how do you approach social media, and how does it play into your lifestyle - both work and play?

Sensi Graves: Social media is both a bane and a boon. I love it for the fact that I can glean inspiration, I can get what feels like a peek behind the curtain of other people’s lives, I can discover and learn. But it can also feel very draining. For both my business and personal accounts, I feel like I constantly have to be interacting and posting. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to value my time more and more, and the less time I can spend on social media, the better off I am. Therefore I try to approach social media from a place that serves my customers and myself. I try to add value, be myself, and enjoy social media in small, contained bits. If I catch myself scrolling for no reason at all other than boredom, I put my phone down. Being conscious of my social media consumption has helped me to live in the moment even more.

OP: What’s next for you in the coming months and years?

Sensi Graves: I’m currently finishing up samples for our 2019 collection, and we’ll be working on studio shoots, making the lookbook, and soliciting retailers for the next season over the next few months. Next month I have my second kiteboarding competition of the year in Hood River, Oregon, and so I will be training for that as well. Over the next few years I want to get my business to a place where we’ve closed the loop on swimwear. We recycle excess fabric scraps and have a program where we take back old swimwear to be recycled. I want to promote conscious consumerism, reduce our reliance on plastic, and spread a healthy-living message. Living my best life, baby!

OP: The title of your autobiography would be...

Sensi Graves: Zest. Squeezing the most out of life. (You can tell I’ve thought about this).

OP: In your next life, you will come back as...

Sensi Graves: A superhero.

OP: If our readers were to take one thing from this interview, what would you like it to be?

Sensi Graves: You can make an impact and a difference. Every little bit counts, and you are a rockstar.

Follow along on Sensi's adventures through Instagram, and make sure to check out Sensi Bikinis here.

Feature photo by Vincent Bergeron.


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