When it comes to swimming, I’m somewhat of a late bloomer. When I first started training for my triathlon, I’d wear the smell of chlorine like a badge of honor: It meant that I had stuck to the day’s training schedule, rising in the dark to trade the warmth of my bed for the rude awakening of a cold-water plunge.
But after a few weeks, the romance quickly faded…not unlike my hair color. To add insult to injury, my skin was also feeling itchy, tight and irritated.
In my search for an effective, inexpensive (hey, all that tri gear isn’t cheap) solution, I stumbled upon TriSwim, a line of chlorine-out hair and skin care that worked like a charm. So much so, in fact, that I tested the other two products in SBR Sports, Inc.’s portfolio —Foggies (anti-fog cleaning wipes) and TriSlide (spray skin lubricant) — with the same success.
That’s when I knew I had to speak with Karen Allard, company founder, mom of four and competitive triathlete. She called me from her home in Southern California to answer a few questions I had about her products, how the company came about, triathlon tidbits (her fave race is Ironman 70.3 Vineman), as well as advice for women who want to break into the field.
Kinetic Fix: Tell us about your athletic background & how you got the idea for SBR Sports, Inc.
Karen Allard: I come from a long line of entrepreneurs and grew up business-minded. I was a triathlete, a USET coach, and I owned a triathlon team in Southern California, which meant I was always in a pool, sometimes four to five days a week. My hair was just getting trashed.
I saw a need for a salon-quality line that would take away chlorine without stripping hair, but I also wanted to keep the price low for athletes (because the last thing they want to spend more money on is personal care products!). We take such good care of our equipment and nutritional needs that we often neglect skin and hair care — until it’s too late. So what started as more of a project turned into a business.
KF: How did the product line grow from there?
KA: Well, I have a marketing background, along with psychology and art, which is a good combination when trying to market to niche group! We only had a few thousand dollars, so we put samples in Ironman bags, and things blossomed from there. We started with TriSwim shampoo, body wash and lotion — and six months later, we had a request for conditioner.
All of the products we create are out of a need — I figured if I need it, then other people would, too. For example, before TriSlide, we used to put our wetsuits on with Pam. I didn’t believe the vegetable base would really break down neoprene until it happened to me one day: I went to take my wetsuit off, and it had disintegrated on my shoulder into a black tar.
I liked the spray application, and I liked using silicone to prevent blisters on my feet, so we combined the two. It was originally meant for wetsuits, but it has amazing anti-chafe properties, so anyone who is an athlete can use it — like my son, who plays lacrosse at college and uses it to prevent chafing at the seams of his uniform.
And Foggies came about during an open-water swim. I was about to hop in the water, and I needed a clean cloth to wipe the tear drops out of my goggles, but I didn’t have anything. So, again, we combined the two — you get a controlled application of anti-fog that dries on the lens without a need to wipe it off. When it hit the market we had some doubters, but once people try it they see how well it works.
KF: What’s been the most challenging part of the journey thus far?
KA: Not only do we have to get the product into the market, but we also have found a need for education about the effects of chlorine. If people aren’t swimmers, they tend to see the line more as beauty products than necessities. But, over time, chlorine can be destructive to your hair and skin — just look at what it does to your swimsuit!
KF: So why is TriSwim more effective than just taking a shower with regular shampoo, soap and water?
KA: We use sequestering agents that isolate the chlorine molecules, surrounding them so they can be rinsed off and down the drain. Soap, because there’s no sequestering agent in there, basically ignores the chlorine. Our products are designed to target not only chlorine, but also salt water and bromine, which is often found in hot tubs.
Also, it’s important to address some misleading information: A lot of beauticians tell athletes to use clarifying shampoos, but that actually does more damage to hair. Clarifying shampoos are specifically designed to take away things like gels, mousses and hairsprays — not chlorine. Plus, you’re only supposed to use them twice a week, but a lot of athletes use them every day. It totally strips hair. TriSwim is specifically formulated to take away chlorine, then add moisture and hydration back in.
KF: Switching gears for a final question…as owner of a female-fronted endurance company, do you have any words of wisdom for other women who want to break into an industry that’s still somewhat of a ‘boys’ club?’
KA: Most of the owners of businesses in the fitness market are still men, yes. But I’ve found that if you know your stuff – and not only ‘talk the talk,’ but also ‘walk the walk’ – it does level the playing field. That, and keeping a good sense of humor helps, too!
Thanks very much to Karen for taking the time to chat. For more information about her company and its products, visit the SBR Sports, Inc. website.