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EntrePROneurs: Business Savvy Professional Triathletes

  • By Holly Bennett
  • Published Mar 7, 2014
Photo: John David Becker

Necessity is well known as the mother of invention, and no one understands the needs of triathletes better than the athletes themselves. We profile three of our sport’s top professionals—Alicia Kaye, Hillary Biscay and Jesse Thomas—who, in addition to achieving success on the race course, have created thriving businesses borne of needs that each experienced as they pursued their athletic dreams.

Hillary Biscay

Tri claim to fame: 63-time iron-distance finisher, Ironman champion, 2013 Ultraman world champion
Entrepreneurial acclaim: Smash (Smashfestqueen.com), triathlon, cycling, running and casual apparel for women

Between her own prolific long-distance training and racing, and the roster of athletes she coaches—something she’s done from day one since taking leave of a Ph.D. program in English and teaching at USC to pursue professional triathlon—Biscay has never been one to sit idle. “I need something else on the side besides just training and racing,” she says. “I know some people do better when they can focus 100 percent on training, but I would go insane.” And since the launch of her Smash apparel line in 2012, this go-getter has been firing on all cylinders 24/7. “There’s no downtime, but it honestly does not feel like work, ever,” she says. “I love all my projects.”

Smash stemmed from Biscay’s failed attempts to find the exact technical gear she dreamed of among existing brands. “It seemed like every couple of years a new company would come out and make a couple things that were heading toward what I envisioned and wanted to be training and racing in, but not quite nailing it.” As a sponsored athlete, she had the opportunity to provide feedback to several brands but still never saw her wish list quite come to fruition. This became fodder for conversation with one of Biscay’s best friends who happens to have a design background: Michele Landry.

“For years, every time we got together we talked about the latest gear for women—what’s out there, what’s good, what’s bad, what’s still the same,” Biscay says. Finally, in May 2012, during yet another such conversation, the women said to one another, “Let’s just do this ourselves!”

Biscay serves as the brand’s “human billboard,” marketing mind, technical adviser and warehouse. Landry brings the apparel business experience and artistic side, translating Biscay’s visions into fun and functional designs. Their biggest challenges come from the learning curve of manufacturing—keeping up with demand, exploring cost-effective ways to expand overseas, and first and foremost, keeping their commitment to quality. “When you’re dealing with something that someone is going to be wearing while sitting on their bike for six hours, it’s got to be perfect,” Biscay says. “I’m not going to screw something up that someone’s going to race an Ironman in—period!”

Smash is currently available online and via “traveling trunk shows” at race expos and in communities where the demand is high. But it’s not just women getting in on the action. A handful of men, led by Biscay’s husband, pro Maik Twelsiek, insisted on having their own Smash kits. “We had these dudes saying they would race in women’s kits if we didn’t make men’s. So we made a few,” Biscay says. “We’re very much trying to be a women’s brand, but if our cheering section wants to wear the same stuff, then that’s OK!”

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