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At first blush, it sounds kind of weird.

Jenna Transtrum says sometimes she’ll just find herself staring at people. Or more precisely, staring at their clothes.

“We were at a Costco one time and I saw this girl in our shorts and I’m just staring at her,” she said.

Then there was that time at the gym. But this time it was the pants.

“I actually approached her and asked her about her leggings,” she said. “She said, ‘Oh they are so great.’ ”

Retail reconnaissance or just giddy excitement? Both descriptions are probably apt.

Transtrum, 29, and her sister, Maddie Carr, 28, both graduates of Maria Carrillo High, are owner/operators of Senita Athletics, a burgeoning women’s athletic wear company based in Scotsdale, Arizona. They call the moments when they, or their friends, spot gear with the little cactus flower logo on them, “Senita sightings.”

“It’s been really fun,” Transtrum said. “It’s a little bit of a ‘pinch me’ moment.”

It’s fun, it’s clothes, it’s design, but it starts with sweat. Transtrum and Carr are athletes. As students at Maria Carrillo, when they were both Lowders, the sisters played soccer and ran track. Jenna Lowder Transtrum’s name is all over the Redwood Empire record books in sprints. She still owns the sixth-fastest 100 meter dash time, holds the third-fastest 200 meter time and the fourth-best 400 meter time.

She finished 13th at the CIF track and field meet in the 400 meters in 2006 and was on the 1,600-meter relay team that finished 10th.

And Maddie Lowder Carr was an all-arounder on the Pumas’ soccer team, a kid that would play wherever she was asked — and excel.

Both ran track at BYU. But neither graduated with degrees in business or retail or design. So a clothing line?

It came about like this: It was 2015 and Transtrum was living and working in Scottsdale. She was married and had two kids. She was busy and she was tired.

But as she and Carr, who had also just had a child and was also living in Scottsdale, started to get back into post-baby shape, they were struck by what Transtrum described as the polarity of the women’s athletic wear market. You could either shell out $100-plus on quality leggings or spend $20 and watch the stuff fall apart at the seams.

“Maddie and I ran track in high school and college. We know what quality is like, we know what the standard is,” Transtrum said. “We felt like the really high-quality stuff, like Lululemon, was over $100. We felt that we couldn’t afford to pay that or wanted to pay that for something we were going to sweat in.”

So Transtrum started tinkering.

“I had an itch to start a business,” she said. “I just wanted to do something instead of changing diapers all day.”

She started researching fabrics and designs. She didn’t know what she didn’t know.

“I was very naive, too, at the time,” she said. “I was taking things one day at a time. I didn’t even have a formal business plan. I really believed in the product. I felt like there was definitely an element of me being naive and not understanding what I was getting into, but also, if I want this product then maybe other people would too.”


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She invested $30,000 of her young family’s savings into the first shipment of clothing. She didn’t take out a loan and she didn’t take on investors — she wanted to maintain financial control.

But she also makes clear that her family was not relying on this new venture to put food on the table. There was a freedom in that.

Still, she had very real responsibilities that she had to balance.

“In many ways it was horrible timing,” she said. “I had two children under 2.”

But in other ways, the timing was perfect.

According to Global Industry Analysts, Inc., the global market for sports and fitness clothing is projected to reach more than $231 billion by 2024. The study found that items such as yoga pants and active wear have performed stronger than other categories for three years straight.

Senita Athletics, officially launched on Dec. 1, 2015, has no brick and mortar retail outlets. You will not find the cactus flower logos in shops. They sell via mail order and are heavy on social media.

The first shipment sold like crazy. The money was pumped back into another round of orders and designs.

It was clear almost immediately that Transtrum needed help. She turned to her biggest cheerleader.

“I brought Maddie in soon thereafter I realized I couldn’t do it alone,” she said.

Carr started with customer services and communications. Now the sisters have a 51/49 split stake in the company.

Senita sells the idea of sisterhood. It’s all over their marketing and videos on Facebook and other social media.

“Everyone has that woman in their life who is the shoulder they can lean on and we really try to emphasize that in our marketing,” Carr said. “Everyone needs that person. I hope people feel that we are creating a community.”

They have expanded from shorts, leggings and tops to an inventory that includes athletic bras that nursing moms can use. All of their shorts have pockets — for a phone, or keys, or a pacifier. There is an element of practicality that all new moms, or old moms for that matter, can relate to.

It’s working. Transtrum said Senita turned a profit six months in. The sisters began taking a salary one year into the business. They now have eight employees. The problems they have are the problems a young business wants.

“When we first started Senita we had all of the inventory in my garage. It was 130 degrees,” Transtrum said of that first Arizona summer. “We can’t be packing orders in the garage, we won’t make it through the summer.”

They turned to a third-party fulfillment center, but soon grew too large for them.

“Orders were getting delayed,” she said. “We had to make the call to move into our own warehouse.”

There was a lot of learn as you go with Senita.

“Sometimes it’s something as simple as the quantities we order,” Carr said. “We thought, ‘Man, we should have ordered twice as many.’ The fashion industry is always changing. It’s hard to predict what people will love.”

But Transtrum and Carr do know what people care about. And it’s not always the look. Consumers are increasingly concerning themselves with how clothes are made. There is increasing worry that affordable translates into inhumane working environments or poor controls on environmental impact.

“We do manufacture overseas,” Transtrum said of their Chinese manufacturing deal. “You hear the word factory and it’s a trigger word.”

“It’s a big issue. I respect that,” Transtrum said. “It’s not like that, even in China. Their labor laws are tightening up and they can’t get away with that legally. The factory is up to code, they are very fair in their wages.”

Transtrum acknowledged the tension between providing a product at an affordable price while not taking advantage of unfair manufacturing practices.

“The low price point is kind of our schtick,” she said. “Even if we can manufacture in the United States, it would be hard to source materials.”

These are the things that Transtrum and Carr continue to figure out as they grow their business within a growing industry. They sound confident — the formula of sisterhood and sweat seems to be working well so far. “Senita sightings” and the occasional moment of stalking are likely to continue.

“Senita has had more success than we ever thought,” Transtrum said. “But we still kind of manage to have a really flexible life. We get to play with our kids a lot. We are moms and playing but also own a really cool business.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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